My Interview with Chef Don Zajac
My first email from Chef Don went like this, “Your recipe is interesting for the Caesar Salad. FYI, here the correct version, Bon Appetite!”
Well, I thought to myself. These professional chefs don’t mince words. I checked out his recipe and it looked like the real thing so I emailed back and asked him the history behind it. He replied, “I’m somewhat of a Caesar fan and a professional Chef, too. My research was found In Search of Caesar, the best reference to the Caesar Salad. Just click on Chef Don’s Caesar’s Salad to see his version of this classic.
I then emailed Chef Don to ask him to participate in my Novice to Pro interview and he was kind enough to agree. Below is my interview with Chef Don and we are working on one of his favorite recipes for Pacific Sable and Mango Strudel that I hope to post in the near future. Enjoy, RG
Chef, did you cook growing up?
Yes, coming from a Polish Family with history of being in the business, it was natural.
What made you decide you would become a professional cook?
Passion and Desire. When I was growing up, my folks always preached to be happy at what you do for a living. “You’ll work for the remainder of your life, so be happy with what you choose.”
Where were you trained and how difficult was your training?
I had a passion for what I wanted so the learning came very easy. I went to Joliet Junior College which at the time had a highly accredited Culinary Arts Program. Also, at that time the school had a very long waiting list. Like everything, cycles run high and low. The school had some rough times and are working to be competitive again.
Would you do it again?
Now with the host of Culinary Arts Programs throughout the U.S., there are many more opportunities. This includes institutions of education and attainable financing. A drawback of going to a Junior College environment is that many of the students are trying to find themselves. For myself, I knew I wanted to be in the “business” and I already had a history with reference to college. At Joliet, the discipline lacks both for the student body and the academic courses. However, I’ve had the opportunity to work with peers who went to places like the C.I.A., the New England Culinary Institute and Johnson and Wales who couldn’t cook their way out of a paper bag.
Best piece of advice you would give a home enthusiast?
Know your limitations and build slowly your skills. Quality, passion and love must go into everything you do.
Best cooking tip for a novice?
Never skimp on quality ingredients. Also, never use “cooking”wines. Cook with what you drink. Never be afraid to ask questions.
K-5 Kitchen Aid
What is a K-5 Kitchen Aid?
A K-5 Kitchen Aid, simply, is a 5 quart mixer. It’s very versatile and convenient. Given the size, it’s very easy to locate in a designated station. Also, I have the the ability to create small batch soufflés in real time, no prepping ahead. Normally, in hospitality, you’ll use a 20 qt., 40 qt., 60 qt., 80 qt. mixer. Which has too much capacity. Also, the K-5 has all the attachments you’ll need for anything. It slices, shreds, mixes, kneads, whips, grinds, etc. I could go on and on because the limits are endless. Suffice to say, this piece of equipment is very valuable.
Funniest kitchen incident?
Well it’s really wasn’t funny then, but, one time a cook was lighting a pilot light and threw the lit piece of paper they were using to light the stove in the garbage can. The can caught on fire in the middle of the rush.
Favorite food to cook with?
I love to use Pacific Sable when preparing a fish course. It has wonderful characteristics and is always pleasing.
When at home, what do you like to eat?
At home, I make a variety of charcuterie that includes a well flavored Bratwurst. So, I would say: Bratwurst, simmered in Celis White Ale and grilled over hickory, served with a side of spicy Creole mustard, warm Yukon gold Potato Salad and Jicama Coleslaw.
Your favorite cookbook?
A tie between Paul Bocuse’s French Cooking, the other is Pates and Terrines
Thanks for the interview Chef Don.