As a mentor, Dubuque G&CC’s Executive Chef is proud to play a small part in his cooks soaring careers.
Everyone has a destiny. And realizing your destiny is a rare and beautiful gift.
For chefs, there are many paths you can work toward ranging from fine dining and country clubs, to independent restaurants, hotels and casinos. Some chefs know exactly what they want and how to get there. They go to school, get the right externship and soar to amazing heights.
It’s rare, but it is possible.
Others, like me, simply went to culinary school to learn how to cook. I wish I would have known what I wanted my path to be—but I didn’t. When I went to school, I had no idea what fine dining was or what Michelin stars were. I thought I wanted to work on a cruise line, but quickly realized I didn’t, so I came home. I spent years going in the wrong career direction, grasping at whatever I could to learn more about food and technique. I watched YouTube videos, read magazines and books. I was lucky to have jobs where I could experiment with dishes by running specials. I did this all the while staying in Northeast Iowa (which is definitely not a culinary mecca, by the way).
Eventually, I found my way to Dubuque Golf & Country Club. And I realized this was exactly the right fit for me. Even though I’m not likely to win any Michelin stars or James Beard awards, I am afforded the unique opportunity to use each day to become a better chef than I was the day before. What other segment of our industry allows me the freedom to create amazing food, and still have the flexibility to be home at a decent evening hour to spend time with my beautiful wife and wonderful kids?
When I started here at the club, there was a guy that worked on the line. He had tattoos head to toe and a scowl that made me uneasy. As I watched him, I could tell that he definitely knew his way around a kitchen, but he was unhappy with his situation. He let his anger get in the way of his talent. He craved culinary knowledge and he was not getting any at the time. His assumed I had no idea what I was doing and that I was too big to work the line. It didn’t take long after I started to show what I could do and his anger toward me turned into curiosity. As we worked side by side, I started offering him tips and suggestions and together we bettered each other.
We worked the line together for months, and even though I was teaching him technique, he was helping me raise my game to another level as well. He helped me execute the ideas that were stuck in my head.
I recently watched an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix where Grant Achatz, the chef/owner of Alinea who is known for his innovative, emotional, and modernist style of cuisine, tells a story of when he wanted to leave Charlie Trotter’s restaurant. Trotter flat out told him there would be no record of him ever having worked there. He left anyway. And look what he became.
I want the people who work with me to become the best they can be. I want them to understand that we’re creating food together. And that it’s supposed to be hard work, but it’s also supposed to be fun. We must help each other grow, not hold each other back.
Working with that cook showed me how much fostering an environment of learning and collaboration is the key to becoming better myself. There is no better way to become better than to teach others what you know.
He eventually came to the conclusion that maybe culinary school was an option for him. He made the leap and moved to Minneapolis to attend Le Cordon Bleu. He has since graduated and now works for Heyday, a top restaurant not only in Minneapolis, but in the country. I couldn’t be more proud. To hear the joy as he talks about the things that he learns day in and day out is a far cry from the negativity that he had not too long ago.
For me, mentoring has become its own reward. (Next up is my 17-year-old niece, who has been hanging out with me in kitchens since she was in 4th grade. I’m perfectly comfortable knowing that someday she will be my boss.)
The dish I have created pays homage to my first mentee, who now works at Heyday, a New American eatery with small plates, a classic cocktail program and a rustic, low-key vibe. He talks endlessly about how they have huge supplies of foraged ingredients to use. And while I’m no forager, this dish has elements of foraging.
It features an orzo pilaf with asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, and morel mushrooms from Chef’s Garden. The pilaf is topped with beautifully seared scallops. There is a vinaigrette made with oil that I used to confit wild pheasant back mushrooms. There’s also fresh truffle, champagne vinegar, and barrel aged fish sauce. I used dehydrated blood orange and a garnish of Chef’s Garden microgreens with Rare Tea Cellar truffles. I like to imagine that it tastes like the forest in the spring with a touch of the ocean. And it maybe that’s just my imagination getting the better of me when I describe it as such—but where is the fun in that?