Student Spotlight : Michael and His Recipe for Grilled Skirt Steak and Quinoa Pilaf with Kale & Bacon

Michael (right) before Tough Mudder race
Michael (right) before Tough Mudder race

I asked one of our former students, Michael, a few questions about his experiences in the kitchen. 

So I first knew I wanted to be a Chef after reading Kitchen Confidential (not a great reason, but it’s true,) I’d been working in the industry for about 4 years at that point. I’d always wanted my own restaurant, had been doing Hotel Restaurant Management at NAU, but I had more of a business view on the subject, without really knowing what professional cooking was actually like. When I read the book, it was an epiphany, that was what I wanted, to work the line, put out food, good food, every time, and be a part of the community that goes along with it.

My favorite meal? That’s a tough one. I guess it would be either a warm loaf of crusty bread and some homemade gumbo, food that I grew up with, or a really good handmade pasta, maybe a cavatelli, with a puttanesca sauce, with a nice cheese and cured meat plate, again with the warm bread.
 The most useful thing I learned in Culinary School was that cooking isn’t really about recipes and exact measurements (unless you’re talking pastry, a whole different animal), but knowing the food, knowing the general principle behind what you are doing, and then relying on experience and (if you’re lucky) innate ability to make something that will not only make the customer happy, but will be something you’re proud of.
The best advice I could give to a new culinary student would be to basically forget the entire English language except for three phrases: “Yes, Chef” “No, Chef” and “What else do we need, Chef?” Seriously, you stick to those, and you will be able to get by in a kitchen without too many issues. You don’t know anything starting out, even if you do, and there is always something that needs to be done, whether cleaning, prepping, organizing or fixing a leaky pipe.
My favorite aspect of working in a Kitchen… I can’t really pick one, so here are a few:
     1.The ability to do something I love and am proud of for a living. Not too many people get to say that.
     2. The community. Especially in a small kitchen, there is a sense of brotherhood. It’s almost relatable to the Military, in that you literally bleed and sweat with a couple of other people in an extremely fast paced, high stress environment for hours on end. It forces you to either do the job or get out, and if you can do it you get the respect and dedication of those around you. It’s a really strong bond, and one of the few that you have working in  this industry.
     3.The constant change. It’s rarely boring. Every night is another challenge, another chance for perfection, and it’s up to you to face it and make it.
Michael works at the Tinderbox Kitchen and Annex in Flagstaff.  If you are in the area, (and what better excuse to escape the Phoenix heat for a day trip) be sure to check it out!  Keep in mind that Tinderbox is only open evenings!
Quinoa Pilaf with Kale and Bacon, Grilled Skirt Steak
2 c Quinoa (rinsed, if necessary)
4 c water
1 Bunch Kale, diced
4-5 Strips bacon, diced (Niman Ranch uncured pepper bacon is AWESOME)
1/2 med sweet onion, diced
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 T. butter
Thyme (fresh)
1 Bay Leaf
1 t. Mustard Powder
1 Skirt Steak, best grade you can get
Preheat oven to 400.
Sweat the onion and garlic in the butter, until tender and translucent. Stir in the Quinoa, then add the water. Season with Salt and Pepper, bring to a boil, then place in oven for 17 minutes, or until water is gone and the quinoa seeds look like they all have tails. Should be al dente.
In the meantime, render the bacon in a saute pan over medium heat. After a few minutes, add the Kale, salt, pepper and mustard powder. Cook until the Kale is tender, taste for seasoning.
Stir into the finished quinoa.
For the Steak, I feel like less is more.
Season well with Salt and Pepper, toss it on the grill on high heat, cook to Medium Rare, any more and this cut gets chewy. Be sure to let it rest for a few minutes before thinly slicing and serving with the pilaf.

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