Thursday, July 01, 2010

Hail to the Chef: Shane McMahon, La Provence Restaurant

In today's edition of Hail to the Chef, Shane McMahon of La Provence Restaurant (Roseville) takes charge of the kitchen. I have been looking forward to interviewing Shane for a long time, as La Provence is one of my definite favorites in the Sacramento area.

1. What made you want to become a chef?
I started cooking at home at an early age helping to make dinner, although it was simple stuff like baking potatoes or heating up soup, it was fun to be able to contribute. Visiting my grandparents and watching my aunts make tamales and enchiladas at Christmas, the way everyone worked together and had fun doing so is what food should be about. I enjoy the restaurant environment. There is always something to do which means you are constantly on the move.

2. Where did you receive your training?
I attended Western Culinary in Portland, Oregon. I cannot say that is where I received my training though. I started washing dishes at 13 and worked my way up. I have worked with so many great cooks, and a few bad ones, each one taught me something. I still learn new things from my staff everyday. It's an on-going process; I never want to be in a place where I am not constantly challenged by the guest, staff and myself.

Who have you worked with that you have really admired?
I worked in a high volume seafood place in Portland and there was this guy Antonio. Bar none the best and fastest expo I have ever worked with. I never saw him lose his cool even with a full 300 seat restaurant. Warren McLoud is another. He was my chef on a luxury train I worked on for a year. Always smiling, laughing, patting you on the back with his huge ham hock hands. He taught me how important it is to value those you work with no matter what their position. Which brings me to the crew I work with now. The best ever, I would not be doing this interview if it weren't for them.

4. What is a typical day like for you at the restaurant?
I love this question because it is one of the least glamorous answers. First thing in the morning I wander through the walk-in and see what we have for the day’s specials.Once that's rolling it’s on to paperwork, invoicing, ordering, and reconciling all the fun stuff they don't talk about on T.V. Then it’s preparing the pre-shift meeting for staff, tasting the specials and talking about the day's events and focus.Lunch happens and then it's on to dinner prep, talking to purveyors and staff. We host many events so there is always something to plan for, talk about or a menu to write.

What are/who are your primary cooking influences?
My family is the biggest influence. Whether it is my Mexican background, or my wife's Italian background, I was lucky enough to visit Provence and experience the culture and simplicity of how they live. They take pride in the terrior of their food and drink something that we as Californians try to emulate. I am surrounded by a love of food not just eating, but how it gathers people together for a time of reconnection, laughter, healing.

What are your favorite and least favorite foods to prepare?
I love wintery foods. Stews, braises, one pot types of dishes, ones you eat that warm you to the core. Can't say what foods I don't like to prepare because I would eat everything I cook.

7. Please tell me about your most overwhelming moment in the kitchen.
When I worked at the seafood restaurant in Portland we had the biggest Mother's day I had ever worked. Starting at 2:00 I didn't stop moving till I had to take my corporate mandated 1/2 hour break. It took me 45 minutes to regain my spot on the line when I came back from break. It was crazy; I think we ended the day at about 1500 covers.

8. Who are your favorite chefs or famous chefs?
Alton Brown, I like that he teaches you the whys and hows. Thomas Keller for his technique. My mother-in-law Kathy, for her food means love and family.

9. White wine or red wine? Do you have a favorite wine varietal/label?
Red for sure. I am partial to spicy Zinfandels. Truth be told, I have a hard time spending large amounts of money on a bottle of wine. For everyday drinking, I stay in the $10-$20 a bottle range.

10. What is your "can't live without" kitchen tool and why?
My Steel; it is one of my pet peeves to have dull knives. I probably use it too much but I cannot stand picking up a knife and have it bounce off the skin of a vegetable or have to saw through a piece of meat.

Please tell me how you go about planning your menus.
I plan based on the season, our style of food and what I think will sell. It’s funny, you can put a dish on special and it will be very popular, but put it on the menu and it is suddenly less popular! You have to find the balance between staying true to the cuisine and pleasing your guests. As a French restaurant there is a stigma of too small portions and complicated food. We try to be the opposite. Provençal fare is simple.

12. If you had a different career choice, what would it be?
I would either still be in the Marine Corps or in law enforcement.

13. What are the most important things to remember (can be relative to anything) while working as a chef?
Never ask anything of your staff that you wouldn't do yourself. In reality, if you simplify it, we are all just cooks.

14. What is the most important thing you have learned in your culinary career?
The ONLY reason you are able to come into work every day is because of your staff, front and kitchen. Without an intelligent, trained and caring staff you can easily fall by the wayside. You don't get these kinds of people by putting yourself on a pedestal or playing tyrant. Your FOH (front of house) staff can make or break you no matter how good your cooks are. There is no use in fostering the usual separation that sometimes exists between the kitchen and the front of the house. Taking care of your employees is your best investment as they; in turn take, care of your guests.

15. What has been the most gratifying about working at La Provence?
I have been able to help open the restaurant since day one and have been a part of its growth.

16. What is the most unique dish you have created?
Hardest question so far.... I don't know that unique is an easy term to follow, as French cuisine can be pretty clear. I did make a Monkfish liver Roulade that was pretty tasty, like Foie Gras with a hint of the ocean.

What is your favorite dish that is currently on the La Provence menu?
Hands down our Navarin d'Agneau Printanière. Fresh spring lamb stewed with Côtes-du-Rhône white wine. Served with baby vegetables, fava beans, English peas and fingerling potatoes.

18. Please describe the best meal you have ever had.
Any time I am able to sit down with my wife and two daughters and eat as a family is the best meal, something that in today’s world doesn't happen as often as it should, for any family. Food brings people together for many reasons, to simply eat, to re-connect, to laugh and play, and to heal. We form bonds over a good meal; it’s something that few forget. Everyone has a favorite meal story and rarely is it only centered around just the food itself.

Now featuring in the restaurant!
BBQ Week & Summertime Treats! June 29th – July 4th, 2010

In Provence, like Roseville, summers are hot. So instead of heating up the house by cooking in the kitchen, outdoor barbecue thrives. Celebrate the heat and Independence Day by enjoying BBQ with a French twist!

(Available for dine-in or to-go)

Dinde: House-made turkey kielbasa on a sweet roll with piment aïoli and sauerkraut. $12

Porc Rôti: slow-cooked organic pork served in the southern style on
house-made white bread with cole slaw and a “pucker” BBQ sauce. $13

Poulet: smoked all-natural half chicken, basted with honey Dijon sauce. $15

Saumon: troll-caught King salmon, grilled on a cedar plank, rémoulade sauce. $17

Le Ribs: slow-cooked baby back ribs, grilled and basted with house-made root beer BBQ sauce. $17

Sides (Choose two sides to accompany your entrée)

Jicima Slaw: crisp jicima, Napa cabbage, carrots, honey dressing
Grilled Sweet Corn: local corn on the grill, truffle infused butter
Old Fashioned Potato Salad: an American classic
Baked Beans: Mom’s family recipe with three beans, sausage and apples

Everyone Likes S’mores!
For those who have forgotten how much fun this can be! For dine-in only at dinner or to-go anytime!
S’mores Kit: house-made s’mores kit (four servings) $12

Pick up a bottle of refreshing house wine in our deli to-go at 33% off!

Pick up a bottle of refreshing house wine in our deli to-go at 33% off!
Rosé 13.40
Côtes-du-Rhône* (white or red) $15.41
Côtes du Ventoux $13.40
Côtes du Luberon $18.76
Gigondas $22.11
Châteauneuf-du-Pape $26.13
~above wine prices include 33% discount~

I personally recommend the Côtes-du-Rhône White! :)

In addition, here is a special menu to celebrate Bastille Day. Click on the image below to enlarge:

You can "like" La Provence Restaurant on Facebook here, and follow them on twitter here.

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