This month, we’re catching up with three of Worcester’s most talented Executive Chefs to unearth their trade secrets. From serious pickles to water baths to ugly vegetables, these chefs are dishing out the truth about what goes on behind the scenes at their respective restaurants. At Mass Foodies, we jumped at the chance to get an all-too-rare glimpse inside the minds (and kitchens) of the culinary elite. We knew you would too.
Executive Chef, deadhorse hill
The Secret: For a chef, there’s no such thing as a day off, but supporting staff members in their pet projects (even the messy ones) will extend a your reach exponentially.
Cooking is not my day (night) job. It is my life. Making our menu better and more interesting consumes me. Nature will not wait for you to come back from a long weekend. The bread starters need to be fed, the nuka pickles need to be rotated, and the veal hanging in the walk in needs to be butchered…today! On Mondays, my “day off,” I shop for the restaurant, read books and watch videos pertaining to the week ahead. Responding to emails, sourcing product, planning future projects and dreaming of dishes yet to come fills the few hours I spend away from the restaurant. There is no other option. “c’est la vie”
I have a secret weapon, as well: my staff. We do our very best to hire passionate people and provide guidance, tools, and support to let them run with their ideas. My sous chef Robin crushes handmade pastas, ice cream, and desserts all while holding the kitchen together. Robin is my right hand girl; she is a certified badass. My old, old friend Derrick hails from North Carolina and excels at southern comfort foods. Liam, our GM cook, has a degree from WPI so his science background is key to producing quality and consistent house made butter, creme fraiche and tofu. Nate is the bastion of sandwiches, keeper of our pickles. (Our pickle program is serious business.) Julia assembles a wine list that rivals any restaurant in the country for natural and small production wines. Sean, my handsome business partner, can convince the toughest guests to order something they have never heard of, enjoy it immensely, and think it was all their idea from the start. Our CFO Bert is the absolute linchpin in our operation; he keeps me reigned in financially, while never impeding on creativity. Our Front of House greets you at the door and keeps you in their hands throughout your entire experience. We have the best dishwashers in the universe – all of our handmade and vintage plates thank them everyday. Without the people to use the tools and products we have, nothing would happen. I hope they know how much I appreciate them.
Executive Chef, VIA Italian Table
The Secret: Use an immersion circulator to eliminate guess work in the kitchen and a vacuum sealer to enhance flavor intensity.
Let’s talk about cooking with the immersion circulator and the vacuum sealer. They go hand and hand but they are also used separately. The immersion circulator is a machine where you can take something like pork tenderloin and add whatever flavors you want to it, place it in a bag to vacuum seal it, and submerse it in the water bath you have set at a very particular degree with the circulator. The immersion circulator allows you to cook the tenderloin within a .001 of a degree of what you want. This technique takes the guess work out of the chef’s hands and cooks everything perfectly from tip to tip.
The vacuum machine that you would use to seal the tenderloin is great for other reasons too, such as a quick pickle, compression, or simply adding tremendous flavor. For instance, if you were to take an ordinary tomato and compress it, the tomato cell structure breaks down and you will have a more intensely flavored tomato. You can also add other flavors into an ingredient this way. For instance, I like doing watermelon with a vinegar mixture and serving that with a nice piece of pork belly and feta cheese. We prefer to call these “tricks of the trade” rather than “dirty little secrets” but this is what happens behind the scenes that an average diner would not know, and I think they might be surprised. It’s kind of like making ice cubes of your favorite drink and using those instead of frozen water so your drinks don’t get watered down.
Executive Chef, Sweet Kitchen & Bar
The Secret: Make use of peels, cores, and ugly parts of vegetables to minimize waste and maximize the growing season.
At Sweet Kitchen & Bar, we are able to source the best possible local ingredients year-round by using every part of everything by pickling, curing, freezing, canning…
Apples are a good example. We go through about 60 pounds of apples every week and instead of throwing away the cores and peels, we cook them down with apple cider and spices to make homemade apple butter which we cook with, bake with, and serve with toast for brunch. Each case of apples yields enough core and peels to make a few gallons of apple butter. In similar fashion, we candy our orange and lemon peels for use in cooking and baking. We dry fruit and freeze fruit when in season. We pickle vegetables. We cure meat. We save carrot tops all year to make pesto for our Salmon dish. All of these things prolong shelf life, let us use local ingredients year-round, and cut waste.
It’s no secret that local chefs can accomplish a great deal when they work together. All three of the chefs featured in this article are collaborating on the No Kid Hungry – Share our Strength Dinner, held at the 111 Chophouse on March 27th. Tickets will be available online. The dinner includes The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Niche Group, Sweet, Sonoma and deadhorse hill.