Soul of a chef
This is for my Mother, Gloria Jean Roig, who passed away exactly one year ago due to cancer. I hope today to give her the recognition she richly deserved, but never received in life. This is the case for many mothers, in a world where we recognize people the ability to hit a ball, or play a part in a movie, we largely forget who the real stars, heroes and role models really are. Thank you Mom, for everything.. it seems such a small thing to say, and it certainly doesn’t do justice to the emotion behind the statement. I’m thankful for having the best Mother anyone could ever have…and for instilling in me a love for food that has surpassed everything in my life. I hope you are smiling today, as I am through my tears. I try everyday to honor you in all that I say and do. You are responsible for everything I am today, and all I will ever be, no words can truly express how much I miss you but I don’t think any are really needed are they? Whenever anyone offers me credit or recognition, I will always kindly defer it to you.
What’s your Cucumbertown story?
Well, essentially I’m just another food blogger, looking to stake his claim to a tiny bit of cyberspace and call it his own, I guess. I am a retired chef, and I was searching for that way back into dealing with food,and since I am in college for Mass Communications, a blog seemed like the perfect marriage. I had only had my blog up for a week or so and I got an invite to check out Cucumbertown, and I was impressed. Listen, I’m a chef, first and a techie, like third or fourth,…I’m not a computer illiterate, but the whole blog thing was a totally new thing for me. I saw Cucumbertown as a way to easily type, store and access my recipes, but it is so much more than that, its a worldwide community of chefs and cooks sharing ideas and recipes. You just can’t beat that kind of network.
Who is responsible for your love for food? And more importantly love for cooking?
That’s easy, my Mother. No question about it. My mother found joy in cooking, and so do I. I totally believe it was a hereditary thing. I never saw myself being a chef growing up, but during high school, I got my first kitchen job, a dishwasher…ugh. I almost quit a dozen times, but somehow I stayed. Then, one ridiculously busy Friday night, the owner of the restaurant calls me from the dish area. He showed me how to clean and cut a tenderloin of beef, and the rest is history. I took to cooking like a duck to water. I used to come in on my days off and learn to make sauces and soups with the Chef, and he played a big role in helping me take those first steps as a budding cook.
Have you passed this passion on to your children as well?
Its still a bit early to tell with my son, he’s only six. I have two older daughters, each of them can cook when they want to, but as of yet, it doesn’t seem like either of them has been bitten by the food bug. But then, neither did I at their age. We still have time. If either of them decides that this is the path for them, first I will weep for them, then I will set about helping them become the greatest chef they can be.
With over 20 years in the restaurant business, what insider secrets can you tell us?
Wow… too many to list. The food industry is very cut throat, you have got all these young chefs trying to shine, and still work together as a team. Its chaotic and stressful, and anything less than perfection is not accepted. You have got egos and creative personalities. You have seen Hell’s Kitchen right? That’s not just made for TV. I have worked for chefs that make Gordon Ramsay look like a host on Sesame Street. It can be a real challenge to focus on the food. It truly takes a special kind of person to work in the culinary industry, if you don’t love it, it will eat you alive.
For a new cook, what kitchen skills should he or she learn to develop first?
Knife skills and proper seasoning. The first comes with practice, and the second with confidence. Sadly, a lot of cooks never develop the art of seasoning properly. If you have to reach for your salt shaker, I have already failed.
What’s the one dish that never fails with anyone and everyone?
Lasagna, definitely. I have my own special recipe and method that I have developed over a number of years. I have a great love for Italian food. Come to think of it, I haven’t made it in a while. Thanks for reminding me.
What’s your nemesis dish?
I really don’t have one, but the one thing that doesn’t come out as consistently as I want is homemade bread. I worked in a bakery for a few years, but somehow, I haven’t been able to translate my success to home baking in smaller batches.
What is your signature dish?
Definitely Cuban Slow Roasted Pork Belly. I have never seen anyone make pork belly in this manner, and it’s everything you can imagine from a piece of pork. Even the crispy skin is reminiscent of chicharon,the crispy pork skin found on cuban-style pork roast. I could go on, but you really need to try this recipe.
Whose dishes on Cucumbertown have you been eyeing greedily?
Passione per Cucina, definitely. I have a strong affinity for Mediterranean cuisine and Italian is very close to my heart.
Cucumbertown is my…
Helping hand in recording recipes and making them available through social media, and my source for sharing recipes with people all over the world.
James Andrews is on a journey. A chronological evolution of his family’s food. It’s a wonderful project to go back to your roots and learn where your palate comes from. Read all about his journey here and try out his recipes too.