January 19, 2006

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Food: The secret lives of chefs

After the restaurants close, most cooks hit the drive-thru

By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

Think that the chef at your favorite upscale restaurant must have a gourmet kitchen at home, the pantry stocked to the hilt with the freshest exotic ingredients, a refrigerator full of mis en place herbs and vegetables, chilled Rieslings and top cuts of meat?

That when they get home in the wee hours in the morning they fire up their stove and in a few moments are cooking wild salmon to be served over field greens that sit washed and waiting in the crisper or searing steak to toss with bleu cheese and greens for a quick late-night supper?

Think again.

While some chefs do have gourmet kitchens with granite countertops, marble baking stations, professional-grade ovens and Sub Zero refrigerators, most chefs’ stoves are cold and refrigerators bare save a bottle of wine, stray condiments and maybe takeout from last week.

As for dinner, which in most cases is after the restaurant has closed for the evening, the choices top chefs make are not sexy or clever, but downright fast and cheap. Just like the rest of us after a long day at work, many turn to fast food.

For Richard Vareschi, chef and owner of Richard’s Bistro in Manchester, where guests dine on orange glazed duck and almond-encrusted red snapper night after night, dinner means a cheese pizza from Zesto’s in Hampton washed down with a Diet Coke.

“What can I say? I am a single guy and I do not like a lot of ethnic foods, especially the way it is prepared around here, so pizza works for me,” said Richard, who admits that occasionally he will order Domino’s delivery.

In Hudson, Dynamite Sushi owner Felix Ho has an empty refrigerator at home.

“I never eat there, never,” he said.

As a habit, he tries not to eat after 9 p.m. and stays away from pizza and breads and processed foods. His two weaknesses, though, are Chick N’ Chip in Nashua, which his buddy owns, and breakfast in a local diner.

“I just love a big breakfast out with my son,” said Ho.

Another chef, Brian Siembor of Taste of Europe, a tapas restaurant in Manchester, also tries to stay away from eating too late, but if he does, he heads to the 24-hour Red Arrow Diner with co-workers.

When Scot Kinney, owner of Unwine’d in Manchester, gets to unwind, it is often 2:30 in the morning and few restaurants are open. Out of necessity, he says, he grazes during the evening at the restaurant, but never ever sits down to eat a meal.

“This is a demanding business. I can not remember the last time I turned my stove at home on,” said Kinney. In his refrigerator, he said, is a gallon of Poland Spring water and coffee creamer. If there is ever anything else, it is a to-go container from a restaurant, but it usually ends up in the trash.

A staff meal at the end of the shift is what Zoltan Kosa, chef at The French Bistro in Milford, eats. He has instituted the meal as a team-building measure and enjoys eating with everyone and talking about the night. Other than that, he rarely eats fast food and has just three things in his refrigerator at home: good cheese, good wine and good bread.

“I am always working. There is no time for me to cook at home or to eat out. But, I tell you, I could not live without those three things, no way,” said Kosa.

At The Black Forest Café in Amherst, dishes such as monkfish with tomato lemon coulis and pork Normandy tempt diners, but for executive chef Jeff Abbott dinner is something quite different.

After working with food all day, he finds a pepper and onion pizza from the Wilton House of Pizza does the trick. He takes it to go and enjoys a Heineken while he waits.

“I don’t cook for myself very often, if ever,” said Abbott.

At another tapas restaurant, Manhattan on Pearl in Nashua, executive chef Mike Dussault has a regular meal. It is not from the menu, but a small turkey with pepperoni, spinach and tomato on hearty Italian bread from Subway at 2 a.m.

“I ask them to toast the sandwich twice. They know me now because of that,” said Dussault.

“When you see food all day long, you just can’t cook for yourself. Plus, it always tastes better, no matter what it is, when someone else makes it,” said Dussault.

Jodi Geiser, executive chef at the Bedford Village Inn, agrees.

“When I was single, all I ate after work was frozen pizza, maybe a hotdog,” she said. Her refrigerator contained ginger ale, water and ice.

Today, Geiser lives with her boyfriend. He has a 9-to-5 job and, says Geiser, is an excellent cook.

“I am so spoiled now because there is always something wonderful in the refrigerator waiting for me,” she said, adding that she eats a full meal when she gets in at 11 p.m.

“I think it’s hilarious when people say to me ‘You are so lucky you are a chef, you must have the best pantry,’” Geiser said. “In fact, that could not be farther from the truth. And, I never turn the stove on at home, save special occasions.”

At the Centennial Inn in Concord, executive chef Adam Sainsbury passes on the staff meal and waits until he is out of work to grab a bite.

“It seems that the better the restaurant, the worse the chef eats,” said Sainsbury. “Maybe it is because we put all this effort into making great meals for other people that we cannot eat at all.”

When Sainsbury leaves the inn, he heads to Taco Bell for Chaloupas. “Nothing like some class D meat late at night,” he said.

These chefs are not alone. Culinary doyenne Julia Child had a weakness for McDonald’s French fries when they were fried in beef fat. When she moved to the West Coast, she sang the praises of In-and-Out Burgers.

Mario Batali has said he craves lard, which is salt-cured pork fat. Even Martha Stewart, although not one for greasy fast food, likes to eat radish sandwiches with butter on white bread when she does not feel like cooking. Perhaps one of the most peculiar food habits is that of the late MFK Fisher, who would sear tangerine pieces on the radiator, then place them in the snow to crystallize before eating.

Comments?†Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com  




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