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Restaurant: The Grey Plume, Omaha
Experience: Mother’s Good Food, M’s Pub, V.Mertz, Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops (Omaha); Tru (Chicago); taught at Metropolitan’s School for the Culinary Arts (Omaha)
Education: Culinary School at Illinois Institute of Art (Chicago)
What are two meals that define who you are?
My first meal at Tru, when I was 16 or 17, and in Chicago for a cooking competition. It was a great learning experience, but I totally bombed it. To try to make me feel better, my mother took me out to eat, and this meal changed the way I thought about food. The most memorable part might have been the foie gras torchon with truffle coulis and mango relish. It was one of the first times I’d had foie. I was struck by the fattiness and the creaminess, but also the brightness of the Cognac that it was cured in. I thought, “I need to know how to do this.”
At the Grey Plume, I’d pick our Donaldson steelhead trout, which is from Blue Valley Fish in Sutton, Nebraska. It’s so fresh; it’s out of the water less than 12 hours before it’s served to our guests. We pin-bone them, put the fillets back together and grill them. We baste them with a fish jus, almost like a lacquer. We serve them whole, with their head and tail, on house-made crème fraîche spaetzle, with a seasonal vegetable.
What’s your secret-weapon ingredient?
George Paul Vinegars. George Paul Johnson produces artisan vinegars from Nebraska-grown grapes. They make their way into just about everything we make, whether we’re braising vegetables, finishing a soup or pickling local produce to get us through the winter. One of my favorites is his balsamic, Emilia. It’s extremely fruit-forward, yet mellow. I would, honest to God, put it up against any Italian balsamic.
What’s one technique everyone should know?
Cutting chives. It requires having a sharp knife and an even stroke, and not bruising the chives as you cut them. That way, they stay bright and vibrant and green.
What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
The Joy of Cooking. When I was a very young cook, still living in my parents’ house, my parents gave me an old copy they found in an antiques shop. I cooked a lot of one-pot meals out of it. Now it sits on the restaurant’s bookshelf.
What’s your favorite food letter of the alphabet?
B for butter. We churn our own with cream from a local farm called Burbach’s Countryside Dairy, out of Hartington, Nebraska.
What’s your favorite food website?
Sea2Table.com. They work with small fishermen all over the country the way I work with my local farmers, and they’ll ship fish directly from the port to us. It’s all sustainably harvested, and they’re able to provide the name of the fisherman, the boat, the time it came in. It’s great for us in the Midwest, where we have access to some of the best meat and produce in the country, but it’s hard to find seafood that hasn’t been on a truck for a week.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.