Cooking is much like golf – it can make you feel like a God when things go right while making you mad as a hatter when they go awry. Likewise, when you golf with people that are better than you, your game is often elevated beyond your usual play. The same applies to cooking. Cooks and chefs are a relatively transient bunch. There are several reasons for this, but the most common rationale is for the continued growth and perfection of their craft. To truly become a top caliber chef, one must work closely under the most skilled and talented chefs they can find. Charlie Trotter is said to have worked in well over 100 professional kitchens in his early years of cooking. Mind you this is not corporate America when job hopping is frowned upon, but rather a chef’s resume displays more who you have worked for and in what capacity instead of how long you stayed in one place. The resume will get you a conversation with the chef – your skills under fire will get you a job. Talk is cheap in the world of kitchens and having graduated from a culinary school carries relatively little weight (I refused to hire anyone out of culinary schools – even though I was a graduate myself).
I once had a chef-instructor tell me that I should never work in a kitchen that wasn’t rated in the Top 5 of the city I was living in. I took this to heart and that piece of advice accelerated my craft more than anything else. My first professional kitchen job (which I worked nightly after a full day of classes) was at San Francisco’s Jardiniere– brainchild of Chef Tracy Jardin and then ranked in the Top 3 restaurants in America’s greatest food city. Let me first say – I have no idea why the hell these guys hired me. The Guatemalan dishwashers were ten times more skilled than I was but whatever I got the job and my true culinary education began.
I had heard of kitchens like Jardiniere before, known as “hit squads” – this band of renegades was nothing to be fukd with. Everyone in the kitchen was a samurai – total bad-asses that came to work everyday looking to dominate “Their World (Station i.e. grill, saute, pantry, pastry).” Working in this environment taught me to take pride in my work and approach it with a caliber of arrogance that mediocrity was unacceptable. Yes many chefs are arrogant and complete control freaks (while at work) – you have to be to be successful in a business where an immigrant from South of the border will do your job for half the pay and twice the hours.
After graduating, I had the privilege of completing my apprenticeship at Abacus in Dallas, TX. Once again I had set my sights pretty high – at the time Abacus was the most progressive kitchen in the city. Much like Jardiniere, this was a “hit squad kitchen.” Though for the most part we were all very young, 22-28 year olds from varied backgrounds. Unlike Jardiniere, we fukn loved each other and would kill for each other. It was in this kitchen that I believe I became a chef – we all did. This is where the concept of “animal style” came about – we walked in that door every day looking to prove that we were the best cooks in the city and WE WERE! Led by the “HNIC” Tre Wilcox – an absolute lunatic in all the best ways. He ran the line like Mike Singletary ran the ’86 Bears’ defenses. Tre pushed us just as we pushed him to be better, to think bigger, to try to prove something every night – it worked. Eventually, one by one he cast us out – I remember the conversation to this day. “Slavo – I’ve got nothing else to teach you, it’s time to grow baby.” I’d been fired without really being fired and I thank him to this day for that (sometimes I hate him for it, but not often).
What’s the point of this babble? My dear friend and HNIC has grown himself, taking on a new challenge. Tre took over the kitchen of Loft 610 in Plano, Texas several months ago and let me tell you, the boy’s only gotten stronger! Finally, Tre has his own home and he’s opening it up to you. Offering the chance to get in the kitchen and learn from him and some of our old hit squad. This isn’t where you sit in uncomfortable folding chairs watching him cook in some overhead mirror – this is elbow to elbow, knife in hand working beside some of the most talented and entertaining cooks I know.
This series will be six interactive cooking classes. The class will be divided into 4 teams which are headed up by Executive Chef Tre Wilcox, Executive Sous Chef Jermaine Brown (the best grill-man I know – ask him why he’s so pudgy though), Sous Chef Jason Skinner and Loft 610 Pastry Chef Kara Blair (formerly known as Red Girl the Bread Girl – if she’ll share some of her foccacia recipes, you are truly in luck (and send them to me b/c she won’t share with me)). Each team will spend the day preparing one of the 4 courses. At the end of the day (around 5:00 pm), all students are allowed one guest for dinner and wine. This usually turns into a bit of a party so prepare to have fun. The Loft 610 chefs will not teach the guests by using recipes, they will teach you techniques that are valuable and useful to be a great home cook. The cost of each class is $350 which will include a Loft 610 apron, hands on training, dinner and wine with a guest.
Jump for the joy of cooking.
Southwestern Cooking (March 21, 2010)
Let’s kick up the spice and break out the chilies. Learn the flavors of the Southwest, mixed with New Mexican, Native American and Spanish. As the spring rolls in and the temperature begins to rise, the Loft chefs will make it hot with plenty of spicy, contemporary Southwestern cuisine.
Thai and Japanese Food (April 11, 2010)
Master the flavors of Thailand and Japan with a cooking class that focuses on the unique cultural mix of these areas. Learn simple techniques in preparing raw fish dishes and cook ethnic cuisine using easily found ingredients. This class will also have a sake service.
Passion for Seafood (May 23, 2010)
Every summer the excitement in Alaska brews thousands of commercial and sport fishermen who travel from all over the world, chasing the legendary wild salmon. Chef Tre will have some of the finest salmon from the Copper River flown in for this special class. Salmon from the Copper River are renowned worldwide for their meat’s elegant red hue, health benefits and rich, savory flavor. There will be several other seafood items the chefs will be working with during this class.
Grilling, Smoking and Roasting (June 13, 2010)
This easy, fun and laid back class is all about hanging out by the grill and cold beer. Learn about grilling over the perfect fire, knowing when to grill or roast, cooking times and temperatures. The team of Chefs will share their secrets that even the experienced grillers can benefit from. Finger-licking baby back ribs and big boy steaks are sure to make the menu.
Summer in Greece (July 11, 2010)
Enjoy a class filled with authentic and modern Greek cuisine. This class will be featuring Mediterranean light style of eating. Chefs will use ingredients like tomatoes, squash blossoms and lamb to create wonderful dishes for the evening.