14 Questions for Chef Paul
February 3, 2024

This is a man, who has a passion for great food.

Whether it be Waygu A5 beef from Japan, the freshest fish from the North Atlantic Sea, or the most perfect French Fries from a fast-food restaurant down the street.

Great food has to earn its reputation, and with that, of course, comes expectations.

And Chef Paul’s holds them to it.

Nothing passes his lips without a thought of how good it “should be”.

With that in mind, we sat down with Chef Paul before a recent dinner service, and queried him about topics ranging from food and service, to life in general.

And here’s what he had to say…

 

Q. What was the greatest lesson you learned when working for Chef Jean Banchet at his restaurant, La Francaise, in Chicago?

A. Discipline and do it right, no short cuts, you had to keep doing it, until you got it right.

I worked every station there over 3 ½ years. I knew I could never become a Sous Chef there because you had to be French. The highest honor you would be allowed, if you weren’t French, was the “graduation station”, which was the station directly next to Chef Banchet, and then, to be the lead “expo” (expediting) station, opposite the line, because the French guys didn’t speak English well enough to coordinate the orders coming in and out of the kitchen.

Q. What has been the most “impactful” or useful cookbook you have ever owned.

A. Hmmm. Well, there has been more than one, but the first one I gravitated towards was Jacques Pepin’s La Technique. then, I re-wrote La Gastronomique. I literally, hand wrote down each recipe in that book as an 18-year-old. It took me about 5 years. I would read it, then write it all down. Which was my way to really understand it, and lock it in. I would retain it much better if I wrote it down for myself. It was like 10 binders. Word for word. Everything I was writing down I was actually like I was doing it at work with Chef Banchet, because even HE did everything by the book!

Q. What is the most commonly asked question by the diners at Cuisine, when you greet them at their table?

A. Well?, usually I ask the first question! Something like, how was your evening, how was your experience. I’ve never searched for a compliment. I want to know about their experience.  I never want to put any pressure on them to compliment the food, (because I’m standing in front of them.) I even want to know if they had a bad experience while walking up the front steps.

I’m on the line… I touch most everything, I know what’s going out from the kitchen. I want to be sure that they have a great experience.

Q. So, if you weren’t a Chef, what would you be?

A. A Stock Broker. I love the stress. I get adrenalin. It’s why I love working on the line in the kitchen! I love it! It’s not for everyone. The success of a good night is the “set up”, the Mise en Place. If you’re not completely set up, you’re in trouble. But I get things COMPLETELY set up and organized, which makes it pure fun.

Q. A lot of Chefs nowadays wear Chef coats of ALL different colors. You ALWAYS wear white. Why?

A. Tradition. Traditional white, and that goes back to the French tradition. It shows professionalism, cleanliness. I’ve seen Chefs with dark jackets wear them more for than one shift. White… you have to keep clean. I only wear them one shift, then, they’re washed.

Q. What are some ingredients you just don’t prefer to use or to cook with?

A. Ant eggs? Things like that…I’ve tasted them and they’re fine but it’s not really about me. It’s what I think my guests will like. I stay away from things like that. Live eels for example. I’ve had them here, but they just don’t sell.

Q. You’re invited to a tailgate party or a picnic. What is Chef Paul bringing.

A. A bottle of wine… LOL! But honest, it would all depend if I am cooking it once I get there, or, if it’s something cold. What temperature it is outside…. I’ve done a few (LOL), and I think the most popular thing I’ve brought was Rack of Lamb.

Of course, the pressure is on. They know I’m a Chef. It’s so hard, so difficult, to do the kind of food at a tailgate party, that I can do here at Cuisine. It’s more than twice as hard.

Q. What is your go-to, indulgent, Fast Food?

A. McDonald’s French Fries. When they’re hot, crispy and salty. I’ll tell em that right away, and I’ll wait. Even if it’s a drive through… I’ll pull over to one of those parking spaces and wait. I’m sure I’m not the only guy who does this because they’re not surprised.

Q. Mystery Basket Competitions. You see them everywhere. From TV Food Network reality shows, to professional Chef competitions. What would be your 3 ingredient Mystery Basket from hell!

A. How many hours do I get to cook? (1 hour)… Ok, then I’d say any tough muscle meat would be difficult. Actually, there aren’t many ingredients that I haven’t had to work with in all the Mystery Basket Competitions I’ve done. And, of course, while I was studying of the ACF Master Chef exam, I did quite a few. Nothing I’m “afraid of” though.

Q. If you had to change from cooking French or Contemporary French / American cuisine, to the cuisine of any other country, which country would you choose?

A. I like the flavors of Japanese food, and I like the cleanliness of it. And I mean that not just from the sanitation of its preparation, but in the flavor profiles also. It’s really clean, direct flavor. It’s not manipulated too much; it uses a lot of natural flavors… so I think I would gravitate towards that. And generally, it’s healthy.

Q. The French have been known for their amazing sauces. What are the 3 sauces you make most often?

A. A Citrus Butter Sauce, always some type of Vinaigrette, and then, an Espagnole Sauce of some type, a derivative of the Espagnole. Those are my 3, can’t live without.

Q. Michigan has a rather short growing and harvest season. If you had to choose 1 month of the year to be your favorite, what month would it be.

A. August. The huge abundance of fresh produce, the tomatoes and corn are fantastic. I’ve mentioned this in a post last year, I’d put Michigan produce in August up against anyone. I guess, late summer is my answer. But, everything can be grown hydroponically nowadays. It looks great, but it just doesn’t taste great.

Q. When you’re out dining, which do you tolerate less, poor service, or poor food?

A. When I go out somewhere, I kind of know what the food is going to be, so my expectations there are already set on the food. I guess, I would have less tolerance towards (poor) service.

And it’s mostly about effort. If I feel that the individual’s not doing their job because of a lack of effort, it’s disappointing.

But, on the other hand, if I know they’re going above and beyond, I love it. I appreciate it even more than the food, probably… at that point.

Q. Last question… What would you say is the most misunderstood thing about Chefs?

A. Hmmmm?…That we’re not ALL grouchy… (LOL)..

But seriously, so many TV cooking shows have promoted this “toxic” kitchen culture. That’s not realistic anymore.

I think the biggest misconception, if you really think about it, is the guests don’t realize how much a Chef needs to know.

It’s not just cooking. You’ve got to know how to manage people, work with people, you’ve got to budget, you’ve got to be a great teacher, set examples, have an even disposition….there’s SO much more involved in being a Chef that most people realize.

 

As our conversation ended, with phones ringing in the background, servers polishing glassware and the background noises of cooks busily setting up their stations, it was time for Chef Paul to get back to what he loves.

Being a Chef.

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