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).