Every time you enjoy food from the Dining Commons, there’s a chance tha Executive Chef Art had something to do with it. Whether its setting up out front and preparing sushi while enjoying sake shots with students or taking requests and making authentic Indian cuisine for his vegetarian patrons, he remains busy as ever. I sought him out in his office to find out more about the man that has my taste buds dancing.
Where are you from? I grew up in South Utica. I grew up about a mile and a half away from here. I used to come here as a kid to go swimming in the pool. I used to go to basketball games, listened to WPNR; they used to have good music back then.
Did you eat your veggies? Pretty much. It was different from now. When I grew up you had one meal for dinner, and if you didn’t eat that, you pretty much didn’t eat. I have kids now, so when they want something a little different, I’ll make it. Back then, if you didn’t like it, then fine, but you were asked to try it. That’s why I tried everything and I like everything.
Where did you get your training? I was lucky enough to work with some very talented people; I always tried to learn something from them. I worked for a catering company for a while, which made it easier for me to do a number of things, whether it was working a bah mitzvah, to doing backyard barbecues, to doing wedding receptions, to doing breakfast/lunch/dinner items, to doing cocktail parties so a wide variety of things.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef? I think it was in 1988. I went to school for advertising and communications. After I graduated, I spent a summer in Nantucket. I worked in a restaurant out there and it just worked. It was fun, I enjoyed it. Instead of selling advertising and putting stuff in magazines or print or billboards or radio, you use that creative outlet to put things on a plate. It’s a little bit more intimate. If I prepare you a meal, it’s more intimate than seeing an ad on a billboard. You can use your creative outlets in the same way. Also if you work in a restaurant, you eat well. The subculture that came after work was fun.
What do you mean by “subculture?” When you work in a restaurant, it’s busy. You work until midnight, so in those late night hours, you go out with everyone you work with and unwind and hang out.
Favorite memory of food? My dad cooked a lot, particularly bread dough. There was a certain pan you put it in. Where I lived, there was a stool in front of the oven, so watching the bread rise, and cutting it and panning it and baking it… Just the smell of the fresh bread; every time, it takes me right back. We’d always go out and pick berries, digging up horseradish, looking for wild mushrooms. That was time spent with my dad that kind of had a relationship with food. You’re out there spending time with him and picking berries, and making preserves. Just that whole process from gathering to eating, it was always memorable.
Favorite equipment to use? [Drags out box of gadgets and equipment] Pretty straight forward, I don’t have too many but I like this hand held immersion blender, this fresh juice squeezer, microplane for zesting. I like the blender for smoothies, sauces, dressings or soup; its always my go to thing. I used to have a coffee grinder, and I used to heat the spices up and blend them in there, like black pepper, cardamom, coriander seeds and you’d open it up and whoof; it kinda excites.
And your favorite food to make? Pretty much all of them. If you ask me to cook Italian food, or Asian food, or American comfort food, or Spanish/Latin food – I’m pretty much open to everything. I enjoy cooking them all.
Funniest kitchen incident? Uhm. I don’t know. I guess the camaraderie we had with the staff. You never play with service, and a kitchen is not the best place to prank people, with all the knifes and heat and grease.
Fair enough, any advice for aspiring chefs? Yeah, be a dentist. [Laughs]. You work 3 days a week, and half days at that. But yeah, be simple and don’t be afraid to try new things. I always try to keep it simple, and just realize it’s not easy. People see these chefs on TV, but in reality, it’s not that glamorous. It’s an 80-hour work week, and you’re working weekends and nights and holidays. It’s more difficult than you anticipate, like everything.
In case all this talk about food has got your imagination and taste buds going, here’s 100 cheap and easy recipes for all you dorm chefs out there.