This week's Hail to the Chef, (Hello to the Chef--as requested by the chef featured today) is Chef John Paul Khoury, CCC, the Corporate Chef for Preferred Meats, Inc.
His company provided the goat meat for the Celebrity Chef Event last Friday. He also stood by during the competition and gave me some really nice compliments on my dish.
1. What made you want to become a chef?
I have always been interested in food and have had no food phobias even from an early age, I ate pretty much everything and was quite adventurous from at least the age of 10. I come from a Lebanese family and we were always cooking fresh good food like lamb, veal, tripe, etc. My first food service job was at Sidewalk Pizza at the age of 16. I was in and out of the business doing various things including going to broadcasting school and being a radio DJ. At the age of 23 I helped a friend open a restaurant and have been in the business for good since then. At first it was a means to an end, then as I got older and realized I was good at it, and had the privilege to work under some great chefs like Richard Thompson, and Masa Nishiyama. It was under Richard Thompson, who was sous chef under Maurice Peugeot (of Maxim’s in Paris’ fame), that it became my passion.
2. Where did you receive your training?
I actually got trained on the job. One of my first mentors was Richard Thompson who had worked in numerous top notch establishments such as the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, and the California Club in L.A. He really gave me the foundation especially in classical sauces and I became a saucier for a long stretch. I eventually received continuing training at CIA Greystone where I honed charcuterie skills and also took classes on French bistro cooking, Spanish cuisine, and others.
Sous Vide Goose breast & Goose Confit Darphin potatoes- cherry/mustard fruits sauce, herb oil
3. Who have you worked with that you have really admired?
I would say the Chef I admired the most was the one I worked for the longest- Chef Masa Nishiyama. A consummate professional and world class chef, he was the chef that really gave me a solid foundation of professionalism and focus. With Masa I really learned organization and high paced execution.
Another person that I have not actually “worked” with but have conferred extensively with over the years is Harold McGee, author of the kitchen classic On Food and Cooking. A wealth of knowledge resides in Mr. McGee and it has been a pleasure to tap this through not only his books but correspondence and conversations.
Liliputian Breakfast - Quail Eggs on Toast with Quam (Quail ham)
4. I understand you are now the corporate chef for Preferred Meats in Oakland. What is a typical day like for you?
Where to start? I try and develop business by making direct appointments with chefs and meeting them face to face. I also manage these developed accounts. I get in product and work with it preparing dishes and getting background information on the product and its protocols, I take pictures. I also use this to write the newsletter and also develop content for our web site at www.preferredmeats.com. I will travel to see farms and meet farmers to evaluate their husbandry protocols and also to develop the relationship with the farmer that is so necessary. I also conduct Chef interviews like this one with our clients for our newsletter and cross promotion purposes. I also handle our accounts in Hawaii which means I have to go there a couple times a year- hey somebody’s gotta do it! And I’ve probably missed a couple things too like helping out our drivers on occasion and personally delivering product, plus other odds and ends- no job too small when it needs to get done. These are things that can happen on any given day.
5. What are/who are your primary cooking influences?
That’s a good question as I’m basically technique oriented. I pull from classical French a lot and then try and modernize it a bit. I love rustic fare, wood fires, cast iron, smoke and elbows on the table as much as possible. I also dabble with the hydrocolloids a bit too so I’m not pigeon holed into any one thing but I gravitate to classical technique and rustic fare. I took the FB (Facebook) ‘What Chef Are You Test’ and I ended up as Albert Roux if that means anything.
Seared Hanger steak with white bean Berkshire bacon salad and herb sheets
6. What are your favorite and least favorite foods to prepare?
I love to cook MEAT! I also love French bistro fare. I’m not so big on Caribbean cuisine, not a real fan of rice and beans. I can cook just about anything though with some success. Oh, I’m not a cake decorator for sure!
7. Please tell me about your most overwhelming moment in the kitchen.
Two overwhelming moments.
1)I was making a big batch of carrot mousse to poach for I think it was a banquet when I first started with Hyatt, and the mixture got too cold and when I pureed it the cream whipped instead of incorporating and turned into this awful mass of what ended up being the soup of the day!
2) One night we got buried on the line and we did not get the necessary help that was promised from the main kitchen and I went down hard and started slamming pans onto the stove as I flew- problem was that it was an open kitchen and it got like everyone’s attention. I had to go into the walk-in to cool off. Not my proudest moment!
8. Who are your favorite chefs or famous chefs?
Escoffier, and Jacques Pepin were the first two but then over the years it’s been not one particular Chef. I mean when Jean-Georges Vongerichten first started doing infused oils it was eye opening and my cuisine lightened up a bit, then David Burke got me thinking about alternative center of the plate presentations, etc…These days Heston Blumenthal, Eric Ripert, and Grant Achatz have awakened different aspects of cuisine in my mind and given me inspiration. It is no means limited to these though, in fact the chefs I do business on a week to week basis serve as a good source of inspiration to me.
9. White wine or red wine? Do you have a favorite wine varietal/label?
RED! I am a huge fan of Rhone wines and Pinot Noir.
10. What is your "can't live without" kitchen tool and why?
Besides my chef’s knife I’d have to say my chef’s knife! Oh, OK
probably my Cuisinart food processor, there is so much you can do with it…but wait, no…my Kitchen Aid is far more impor…no, my mandoline…dang, I can’t decide!!
11. I noticed you worked for Dawson's at the Hyatt, Downtown Sacramento for 10 years. Please tell me a little about that.
It was great under Chef Nishiyama as myself and David Nelson, who is an instructor at the Cordon Bleu now, were the chefs de cuisine for a good part of this time. David was AM and I was PM. Masa allowed us to write our own menus and order what we wanted to and he didn’t have to worry about DAWSON’S. We were passionate, had a great crew and other cooks were working hard to get into DAWSON’S so we usually got the best cooks worked into our line up. We received numerous nominations and awards for Best of Sacramento and it really was a special time for the restaurant and our crew. The waitstaff was stellar also with a number of career waiters- that really makes a difference.
12. You also have a blog called "On the Back Burner". It looks like there are a few famous faces on there. Please tell me about it.
On the Back Burner is my musings about food and humor. I post dishes and technique and also incorporate chefs I have interviewed for Preferred such as Michael Chiarello and Roland Passot. My blog comes with a disclaimer saying that it does not necessarily represent the viewpoints of Preferred Meats, that way I can take shots at the Olive Garden and Taco Bell!
13. If you had a different career choice, what would it be?
Perhaps a teacher, a broadcaster, or a builder. I enjoy all of these things. I think you excel when you have an interest and a passion for what you are doing.
14. What are the most important things to remember (can be relative to anything) while working as a chef?
Along with discipline, technique and integrity, people’s dignity needs to be kept in tact especially in stressful situations. One cook’s 70% may be the other’s 100%, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses but you only succeed as a team.
15. What is the most important thing you have learned in your culinary career? MIS EN PLACE!
16. How did you get involved with the Celebrity Chef event and InAlliance? We were asked to do it one year and it was so successful we’ve done it ever since!
Angus Tri Tip with onion jam, mustard caramel, and Tunisian olives
17. You selected goat leg as one of our secret ingredients. Why?
First, goat is an ingredient that is a bit uncommon in these parts and leg because the loin would have been too stinkin’ easy! I mean it was a competition and I think it helped the chefs push the envelope a little. I mean you were there, right?
18. Tell me about Preferred Meats. How did the position with them come about?
It actually started out with CulinArte’ Bonewerks, the artisan glace company out of Green Bay, WI. They approached me while I was at the Hyatt Regency in Sacramento and wanted me to try their products, then the opportunity came up to rep their product as the quality had won me over. Well, the distributor happened to be Preferred Meats and before you know it one thing lead to another and now I’m working for Preferred with CulinArte’ as part of my product line!
Preferred is a company with product that I can feel good about, and stand behind. A lot of chefs are using smaller farmer produced sustainable products and that’s what Preferred is all about- it feels good to be able to help get these types of products also into Sacramento as our main operation is Bay Area. Preferred’s CEO Bala Kironde has a different philosophy that is very quality and family oriented. It really is a high end mom & pop operation and very hands on for everyone involved. I mean I have most of the farmers that produce our sustainable breed specific meats on my speed dial. We connect the ‘Farmer with the Chef’, which I think is not only cool but the way it should be.
19. Can people buy directly from Preferred Meats via http://atmytable.com/?
Absolutely, in fact the consumer will receive the same quality that our chefs receive at their restaurants! Oue wholesale page is www.preferredmeats.com and retail for the consumer is www.atmytable.com
20. What has been your best meal ever?
That is a hard one to completely define but the one that stands out now is the French Laundry, but not for the reason you may think. Although the cuisine was exceptional the service took it over the top. There have been so many though it is hard to isolate, I guess the Laundry sticks out also because it was $1500 for the 4 of us!
I had a killer pizza at Hot Italian not long ago and I can’t get that smoky crisp crust with the prosciutto and cracked egg on top out of my head- so simple yet if it resonates that long with you and you have to go back to have more then perhaps that was one of the best meals ever, no?
Thanks to Chef John Paul for playing along!! I will definitely see you next year at the Chef Challenge, but hopefully soon before that! You can read more from him on his blog "On the Back Burner".