Monday, February 12, 2018

A Conversation with Chef Paul Deiana-Molnar

First, thanks for talking to me, Paul. Full-disclosure, one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was prepared by you—so thank you again for that! What makes one a chef?

Passion, commitment, sacrifice, consistency, being knowledgeable, and humble.

Passion:  You have to wake up every day with that drive to want to do this.

Commitment:  You have to give everything to this because it not only is mentally taxing but physically.  10-14 hour days, (or longer) could be 6 days a week or longer, it can happen when your busy time is, and this is a turnoff for some people.

Sacrifice:  I tell people who want to get into this business, it’s not as glamorous as tv makes it out.  We work holidays, weekends, early mornings and late nights.  You not only make the sacrifice but your family does as well because of the hours that we keep and how you might not be there birthdays or holidays.  Spouses are a special breed because they have to be understanding and realize what this business entails.

Knowledgeable: You have to know how to cook, I believe you need to understand cooking principles, flavor profiles, food cost (yea, we are responsible for actually knowing how much it costs and how much we should sell it for), and mentor. 

 Humble: I say this because we are known for our egos and as someone who can attest to it, success feeds the beast.  I always remind myself that you are only as good as your last meal and everyday brings its challenges.   We just can’t let all of that success go to our head because that’s where small mistakes can turn into big mistakes.

What got you interested in becoming a chef?

Basically, this is what I’ve always wanted to do.  When I was a kid, I did the usual, fireman and police officer, but later decided that wasn’t for me.  I’m third generation foodservice, my great grandfather was a pastry chef and my father was a waiter at a exclusive restaurant in Manhattan. When I was 16 I got my first chance to work in a kitchen at a summer camp in upstate NY and fell in love with it.  The movement, the craziness, the energy.  Its addicting because if you like being active and being on your feet, I can’t think of anything else I want to do.  

Do you come up with your own recipes or use others? Or a mix?

I go with a mix.  I’ll do research on a menu or dish and find several and take all components and measurements from several and make one recipe.  I’ll start following that recipe but once I’ve gotten comfortable with a dish, I might change some things to better enhance it or make the recipe more conducive to doing the volume we do at the stadium.

What's your favorite type of food to eat?

I’m an eater, so I pretty much like all foods.  As a chef, you have to try everything (perk of the job) so it all depends. 

What's your favorite food to make? 

Pasta is my go to dish most times because it’s very easy/quick to make.  Lamb and venison are some of my favorite proteins to eat and to cook (when it’s my day off).   

Many restaurants have the same things on their menus.  What items or combinations do you wish you saw more of?

I like seeing the house made stuff, homemade pickles, meats, sausages, and breads.  I know it’s hard to do depending on the restaurant, but I love this stuff.  

Is there a chain restaurant you're impressed with right now?

I think I’m more impressed by restaurants doing more to buy more natural/less processed foods are being sold.  Panera and Chipolte are both 2 chains that are doing this and working out the kinks with meeting the needs of their business. I see this happening more and more in the coming years, it’s going back to basics and real food. 

Do you cook a lot at home or are you done with it once you get back from work?

I don’t cook that much at home because I just spent 10-15 hours in a kitchen so when I do come home, its simple.  My rule is I need one day after I’m done working and haven’t cooked, I’m willing to cook.   Everyone needs some down time away from whatever they do and my wife is kind enough to do most of the cooking. 

What's the most surprisingly delicious thing you’ve eaten?

Head cheese which is basically a cow’s head that is cooked and formed into a block.  It was at one of Mario Batali’s restaurant but once I tasted it, I really didn’t share it with anyone else.  This comes back to good food/technique and it was well worth the money spent on that meal.

What's the fanciest meal you've had that was just awful? 

We went out to a restaurant in East Aurora, NY when we lived in Buffalo and the food was just bad.  The food was cold, took forever, and the quality wasn’t there for what this placed was billed to be.  It’s an “institution” in that area, expensive, and normally I would give someone another chance but that’s an expensive second chance.

Any favorite cook books that you use?

Flavor Bible: its great because it shows what foods go well together, seasonality of items, and it’s a great resource.
Garde Manage from the CIA
Chacuterie The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
 Any book from Thomas Keller, him talking about techniques and ingredients is incredible.

The better cook I become the less tolerant I am of Hot Pockets, mac and cheese, chicken fingers and the like.  Can you eat just anything, or did you become finicky?

I get that but working in the food industry, there are a good amount of times that you eat whatever is available (chicken fingers, burgers, pizza, pasta, etc) or other items because it’s a quick fix.  We like to think that in foodservice we can all sit down and have nice meal or we have the time to cook better but employee meals sometimes depends on what’s available, time frame for the day, who’s cooking it, and how crazy it is. 
I’m finicky/respectful when it comes down to actually going out for dinner because I’m paying for it but I’m also understanding.  I’ve been to places and saw how crazy it is and understand because I’ve been there.  I do get picky if the food isn’t the quality (fast food, fast casual, mid level restaurant, or fine dining) that they state it to be.   

Have you ever had any cooking disasters or embarrassing moments?

We all do.  I remember that I was working somewhere and I was making a 3 layered chocolate cake (1 layer chocolate, orange chocolate, and white chocolate) on a sponge cake base.  I mixed up the bins of sugar and salt and all I can say is that it was not a good surprise when you bit into it.

I like to end with advice from the expert on what the readers can do today to bring your expertise into their lives.  What is your advice to all of us cooks at home that want to improve our skills?  A technique, a cooking tool, something to try, a new recipe--anything at all.  

First off, don’t be intimidated by cooking.  I always hear that people say that they can’t do this or that or this ingredient is so exotic.  Do some quick research about the technique or ingredient before trying.  Chefs do this all the time and I will tell you that I go to you tube to sometimes watch how to do a specific technique or what works with an ingredient. Have fun, try it out, and enjoy.  If it works great, if it doesn’t, go back and see what you did right and what you did wrong.  Don’t do anything that you’re not comfortable with and think about doing different techniques in baby steps.  Also, don’t be afraid to try something.  I tell my staff that even if you might not like it, you have to try it once (especially if you are making it for guests).

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Conversation with Female Martial Arts Instructor, Yevette Huchinson

Yevette, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First things first, what got you in to martial arts? 

My son received the diagnosis of “ADHD” at age 6 or 7. His Doctor had terrible office management and he himself had no bed side manners at all. Funny how that sticks with you after 20+ years. However, he gave me one outstanding piece of advice. “Put your son in martial arts, I hear it really helps with focus”.  While that was our last visit to this Doctor, I followed his advice and starting looking for a school. I watched his classes for about a month and knew I should be out there too.  My back ground was figure skating and gymnastics so I liked the independent work as well as a setting with fellow students.

What arts do you train in?    

My foundation is Taekwondo and Hapkido, but when there is an opportunity to train in anything else I do. There isn’t an art I’ve tried that I didn’t learn something from. I mostly enjoy trying a style that is very different from what I’m comfortable doing. I have great respect for ground technicians for their flow, boxers for their foot work discipline and throwing arts for their use of energy.

In your experience do you find that you must alter your teaching styles between men and women?

I don’t think I alter my style of teaching depending on the gender of my student.  My style is more of a coach rather than that of a traditional instructor.  I do teach to each student individually.  Every student comes to you for a different reason.  Some examples may be increased self-protection skills, or to build strength, some train to build their confidence.  Sometimes a student (male and female) trains to help restore themselves from emotional battering. A lot of times they don’t immediately share their real reason for stepping on the mat, so I study them to learn about their physical and emotional benchmarks. Then I can work on challenging each student on their level.  We all know that skeletal structures are different between men and women. Learning those differences and teaching techniques based on their body structure is key to producing their best.  In my experience, the better instructors recognize these differences and train their students with this approach.

I find in my training that often men want to be gentle when training with women instead of doing us a service and going full on.  Do you find that in your training?  And if so, how do you get them to overcome it?

Typically, men, good men, are wired to care for women and be protectors.  (And I have a huge respect for that).  It’s hard to get a man to just let that go and swing on you.  It’s trust on both sides and you have to build up to it.  We start at a lower force and move up gradually.  You can’t train in this approach if you don’t allow both to slowly build their trust in their training and their training partner.

Have you encountered any hurdles as a female martial arts trainer?

Where we started: Martial arts training was provided by men to men for combat.  Fast forward a few hundred years and the answer is yes, there are some hurdles. When you walk in a new place or introduce yourself to someone you’re making opinions based on the information you have so far.  Now picture a 6’2 210lb gentleman looking for classes and being introduced to the chief instructor and owner, a 5’3, 130lb me.  I often have to work hard with my words and skills demonstration to prove that he has stopped at the right place.  However, if this same gentleman came looking for classes for their child, I unfortunately may have an advantage.  In today’s society, (and I hate this assumption because it lowers the guard) men are losing trust among parents with their children and as a result, someone seeing a combination of male and female instructors is positive selling point.  In other areas I have been honored with opportunities to teach at major corporations, federal law enforcement agencies and local organizations in my area. Most recently, I taught at a martial arts summit among 20 or so other instructors. I was the only female instructor in attendance. I was thrilled to “make the stage” as I worked hard to show this group my capabilities, but sad that more females were not alongside me. Of course, this has only fueled my desire to push more women to grow in their art and be an example of what we bring to the table. Yes, there are hurdles, but we will clear them.

What's your most embarrassing moment while training?

Ripped pants, being knocked silly by a 16 year old boy just drilling some punches, being asked why I’m crying by your husband, sparing a 60+ year old student and bring a great sidekick which doesn’t even move him (yes, I made him an instructor), the list could go for a while. Probably, my most embarrassing moment I never shared with my students. I was to the breaking demonstrations of a rank test and I failed to break some of my stations with my most reliable techniques. As a result, I had to drop from 2 one inch boards to 1. I was first embarrassed that I failed to complete the breaks, but later was more embarrassed at my ego.  I was presumptuous and it came back to bite me in the ass.      

Have you had any big injuries that left you cool battle scars?

Black eyes, broken toe, jammed this and that, but nothing visible to start a good conversation over. Still working on it.

In talking with some of your students, you've had some pretty interesting testing for your belt levels.  Tell us about a few of those.

I create each black belt test to the student. I showcase their unique abilities and push them to their limits. I like to be creative with the test so we usually leave the comfort of the school to do so. Most recently, I took a few students to my favorite park on a Friday night, in 38 degree temperatures. On my favorite hill, we did sprints, lunges, and front kicks. As a team they carried a two inch battle rope around their course. If any part of the rope hit the ground, there of course was a burpee penalty. With this rope, they ran, figured out how to each cross the monkey bars, step ups, and yes lots of burpees because the rope did hit the ground. They saw challenges and worked together to respond which was the theme of the night. Respond. Saturday morning we spent a few more hours at the school continuing their test in a more traditional manner but it is the Friday night they always talk about.

Who do you admire in fighting/training?

Just speaking of the folks I’ve worked with, about 6 individuals make my short list. I choose these folks for these reasons: 1st They are immersed in their craft and it is evident in their skills. 2nd They share it for the right reasons without a self-serving attitude and ego. 3rd there is no BS and no fluff.  No need for names. I pay my respect by continuing to show up for their classes, camps and clinics as often as I can.

Is there a martial art or aspect of martial arts that you currently do not do, but if there were enough hours in the day you would totally do?

If there were enough time in the day, I would immediately add stick fighting, Jiu Jitsu and Yoga to my schedule. I know, polar opposites of one another and yet I see how they work perfectly together.

Do you have any other unusual hobbies or interests outside of martial arts?

It’s not really a hobby, but I’ve recently taken on the role as a school teacher. I home school our middle school daughter and love it. It’s not easy and YouTube has been my best friend to refresh on math but totally worth it.  I love to fish. I love to battle the big ones and then cook them for dinner. Kayaking is one of my favorite things to do to relax on the water and camp fires is a favorite pass time at night.

We always like to offer our readers/followers something they can do right now, to taste a little of what it is you do. What's one thing you would tell our readers they can do to get started in martial arts right now, from home?

If your readers are interested in starting martial arts I would offer this as a starting point. Write down all the reasons you want to do this. Interview schools, take free classes and after you find your fit, get on that mat and go for it. You will be amazed at what you are capable of.  

Thank you so much for taking the time!

A Conversation with Chef Paul Deiana-Molnar

First, thanks for talking to me, Paul. Full-disclosure, one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was prepared by you—so thank you again for th...