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Chef Stories

Alejandro's father was right...be careful what you wish for.

Growing up in Queens, the son of South American immigrants, Alejandro had an early start in the food world helping his father out in the family's butcher's shop. Throughout his twenties he worked his way through the front of the house at a number of north shore country clubs and later shifted gears by attending CUNY CityTech’s hospitality management program. In 2010 Alejandro opened Floresta and despite acclaim closed a year later to pursue a career in teaching while working for the Union Square Hospitality Group.

Currently, he is an adjunct lecturer in the Hospitality Management Department at CUNY New York City College of Technology and is seeking a Masters Degree in Labor Studies from the CUNY School of Professional Studies. Through his academic work Alejandro hopes to contribute positively to workers rights in the hospitality field. Alejandro's current instructional workload includes first and second level culinary classes as well as food and beverage management and food safety classes. Recently Alejandro has started to provide consulting services for menu development, cost control, health and safety compliance as well as event planning through Son of the Butcher Consulting.

My first memory of campfire cookery...

Having an Argentine father who happened to be a butcher means that I grew up enveloped in the wisps of hardwood smoke my whole life. My first vivid memory of cooking over an open flame was when I was about ten years old and my father standing by the grill called me over, looked down at me, bent over and whispered into my ear, “Be careful what you wish for…if you do this now, you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life”. And with that, he handed me the tongs and I never looked back.

My favorite memory around a bonfire

I joined the Boy Scouts when I was twelve, and was already familiar with wood and fire from cooking at home. But what I had never seen, and would never forget, was the opening bonfire of summer camp at Ten Mile River. The scouts had built twenty foot high stacks of wood that they ceremonially lit at dusk. Staring open-mouthed at the way the flames shot up the stack of wood until it was enveloped in light--I still remember the shock of sitting in the back row of the amphitheater and feeling the heat kiss my skin as if to remind that fires' beauty is only matched by its power.

Worst experience in the outdoors

SLUGS! I don’t know how or why, but on one fateful trip, when I reached into my bag the morning after we arrived I felt what must have been like 40 slugs. Needless to say I almost ran home yelling at the top of my lungs.

Can't wait to...

Share some stories and break bread withs folks while we cook and drink into the night.

Eric Faust swears Stinky Pinky is actually a really great PG game around a bonfire

My love for cooking started when I was young. My father is a chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He worked in a busy kitchen and I use to love going to work with him on days off from school. Any prep work   he gave me I would try to do the best job I could with hopes of making his busy day a little easier. Years later, against his best wishes , I followed in his footsteps. After graduating from the Culinary, I worked in a couple restaurants in the Hudson Valley until I got a phone call to come back to Aureole in NYC where I did my externship. It was the old Aureole on East 61st St. I remember the first day I walked into that kitchen and falling in love with everything around me.  The smells, the stainless everything, the ingredients I had never seen before and the urgency that every cook had to get ready for service. 

After a few years of working my way up the line, I was given the opportunity to become a private chef. It was tough decision to leave the kitchen I loved but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I have been working for a great family for the past 10 years. I travel to Maine in the summers where I get to cook with ingredients that are grown in a garden just steps from the kitchen.  Insanely fresh seafood is caught just off their dock in Penobscot Bay.  It's a chef's dream. 

My wife and I relocated with them to Austin,TX. We now have two incredible kids. Since living in Texas, I have fallen in love with barbecue and all things cooked over a wood burning fire.  The flavors of wood fired pits slowly smoking beef and pork were flavors I had never tasted. I found a new obsession. I bought a small offset smoker and have been practicing the craft every chance I get. I am totally hooked. 

When I found out about bonfire, I couldn't wait to get involved. I am really looking forward to working with some amazing chefs and meeting people that share a love for cooking on an open flame. 

My first memory of cooking on a campfire

...took place on my first camping trip as a boy scout. I was probably 12 years old. It was in the middle of the winter and there was a good amount of snow on the ground. We had to build a fire pit, gather our wood and start the fire with flint and steal. Luckily we were teamed up with some of the older guys who had done this before. I remember just being amazed that we were able to get a fire going but then we cooked our dinner on it. That just blew my mind. We threw a grate over the coals and grilled some marinated flank steaks. We put a few cans of beans on the coals. I'm pretty sure we over cooked the crap out of the steak but it was delicious after a full day of hiking into camp. 

My favorite memory around a bonfire

took place on the island of Islesboro, ME. It was the last night of a 3 month trip working as a private chef for a family that has a summer residence on the island. I have been going there for the past 10 years and have made some great summer friends that have turned into some of my best friends. Many of them are lucky to call Islesboro home and some, like me, were departing the next day to return back home to their families and lives where we spend the rest of the year. On that last night we lit a raging fire. As the sparks flew into the crisp late August sky, we cracked open some bottles and reflected back on all the fun we had together that summer. I introduced them to a game called Stinky Pinky (it sounds like a dirty game but it's not). We had so much fun and shared some giant belly laughs. Log after log got thrown onto the fire and as the sun started to rise the next morning, nobody wanted the night to end. 

My worst experience outdoors

was a recurring experience every spring when I worked in Black Rock Forest with the forest manager. The dirt roads that ran through the property would have to get raked every spring to keep them in good condition. My job was to walk the roads with a shovel and rock pick any of the large rocks that got dug up. It took about 2 weeks to complete and somehow those 2 weeks always coincided with the hatching of the black flies. No matter how much spray or coverup materials I wore, they always seemed to find a way to bite. For me, those were the worst 2 weeks of the year to be in the great outdoors. 

I can't wait to

return to the Hudson Valley and share my passion for cooking with a live fire. 

6yr old Marissa can outrun a mountain lion.

Chef Marissa Ryan began her epicurean journey by completing a 6,000-hour apprenticeship program at the Colorado Mountain College in 2002. She then moved to NYC to hone her newfound skills in 2006. In NYC she baked bread at Amy's Bread while the city that never slept, slept, and while she also apprenticed with the affineur at Murray’s Cheese.

A year later she ran the catering program at Murray's, acquiring kitchen build-out and merchandising experience, as well as skills to develop more efficient systems in the work place environment. Seeking a more profound knowledge of food, in particular, its scientific value and nutritional aspects, Marissa then entered the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Educating herself at the institute enabled her to confidently create menus that are truly fulfilling in taste and aesthetics; but that also use food as a tool to make those who are enjoying it feel better inside and out.

After this hiatus from the kitchens of NYC, she decided to follow her passion for Italian cuisine and found herself at A Voce. Here, she worked under the formidably successful Michelin Star Chef Missy Robbins and Chef Hillary Sterling, and where she fine-tuned her culinary technique. After rising to the rank of sous chef, Marissa decided to move to a more pastoral setting, Hudson, NY.

In Hudson, NY, she assisted the infamously prolific restaurateur Zackary Pelaccio of Fatty Crab in NYC, and Fish in Game in Hudson, NY with farm research, kitchen build-out, and recipe development. From her rural outpost in The Hudson Valley, NY, she has cheffed at several restaurants including Swoon, Miss Lucy’s, Bonfiglio and Bread, and Kite’s Nest (Alimentary Kitchen).

To keep her work as a chef inspiring and fun, and to maintain a sharp nose for experimentation, she also creates popular food items for busy local pubs in Hudson. This wide variety of experience has given Marissa Ryan a unique outlook on food and the restaurant landscape. For her, food is about community, farming, survival, sustainability and love. As many amazing chefs and culinary arts advocates would agree, add flawless technique to this perspective and no meal will ever be the same.

First memory of campfire cookery

it happened in my twenties out in the Rockies in Colorado. I had a hatred of eggs, but when one is camping, you must take what you have. My buddy cooked the best over easy eggs and sausage I had had (at a camp fire). This instilled my love for eggs again, leaving it a memorable experience as well as instilling a love for cooking over an open fire.

Favorite memory around a bonfire

My 30th birthday party in Hudson New York, several artists came together for this fun event. We had a 16 stall horse barn that 16 artists came together to put on a show. A good friend of mine who also builds sculptures out of reclaimed materials, built 3 17’ sculptures out of wood from around the property and we set those on fire as an art piece… the most magical moment of art and fire I have had the privilege of witnessing.   

Worst experience in the outdoors

I grew up outside of the Appalachian mountains in Maryland. My family were hunters, I went out with them for the first time when I was 6 years old. When we got to our post, my father saw a mountain lion (who had its site on me) as I was the smallest of the bunch. He said “run as fast as you can home”. Which i did….and that lion followed me through the trees...though, as we know, I am here today.

Nick would rather chase a gofer than get a rabies shot.

A Scottsdale Arizona native Nicholas Verdisco grew up with a passion for food.  Coming from an Italian Family, Nick recalls large Sunday meals, making pasta by hand with his grandmother and arguing about if was “sauce” or “gravy”.  However, he never thought food would play such an important role in his life as an adult. 

Although cooking was a passion for Nick, it didn’t become his profession until 20??.  Nicholas graduated with honors from the Connecticut Culinary Institute and completed his externship at Barcelona Wire Bar.  A short time later Nicholas took a position at The School House at Cannondale under Chef Tim LaBant, where his passion for creating modern American cuisine using fresh, local ingredients was born. Nicholas rose through the ranks to become Chef de Cuisine. After five years with Tim LaBant, Nicholas left to go work for acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongrichen as an Executive Sous Chef serving upscale American fare at The Inn at Pound Ridge, a restored, rustic-chic 1833 inn. 

In July of 2017 Verdisco will be taking the helm as the Executive Chef at Bolster, Snow & Company in Portland, ME. @chefnickverdisco

My first memory of campfire cookery

...was when I was 7 or 8 yrs old, and I was in Indian guides, something like Boy Scouts.  And I remember distinctly wrapping the corn, potatoes in the foil and buried them in the coals...  thought that was the coolest thing...My father must have liked pork, because there always seemed to be pork on the fire.  Looking back now, it must have been a loin because I remember him slicing up a bunch or everyone.

Favorite memory around a bonfire... 

is back in high school on Friday nights after football games, what seemed like the whole school would go out in the middle of nowhere and build raging bonfires. We would sometimes stay out all night, or until the wood ran out.

My worst experience camping

...is that I am convinced that no day spent outdoors is a bad day outdoors, always something to learn from.  I guess if I had to pick I was bitten chasing a gofer while camping when I was a kid and I was afraid of getting a rabbies shot so I chased it down and caught it. No fear at that point since I was already bitten and it really didn't hurt too bad.  Also a rabies shot seemed much worse...the little guy had the test for rabies (which was negative) and I got a tetanus shot for safe measure.

Hillary reveals Girl Scouts DO exist in Brooklyn!

Chef Hillary Sterling is the Executive Chef at Vic's, the popular NoHo Italian-Mediterranean restaurant from restaurateurs Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer (also of Cookshop, Hundred Acres and Rosie's). A born and bred New Yorker, Chef Hillary previously worked at A Voce under Missy Robbins and Lupa Osteria Romana and Mesa Grill. Hillary was named one of StarChefs Rising Stars in 2011 and works closely with Share Our Strength to help end childhood hunger.  At Vic's, Hillary focuses on a menu of locally sourced Italian inspired dishes, including house made pastas and pizzas and market-driven plates cooked in the wood burning oven. @hillarysterling23

First memory of campfire cookery?

Some of my earliest memories of cooking over open fire was when i was a girl scout ( yes there are girl scouts from brooklyn) ! Once a year they took us to go camping upstate new york. My first year, i was so excited with my new sleeping bag and supplies packed for this adventure. When we arrived that night, dinner was served in the cafeteria and then we got to roast marshmallows to make smores. I think i was more excited to watch the change of the puffy white marshmallow to sleek smooth shiny black cylinder then i was to actually eat the gooey mess. 

Favorite memory around a bonfire?

Growing up we spent our summers in montauk, beach bonfires watching the sunset with friends eating freshly roasted clams right out of the fire. 

Worst experience in the outdoors?

In college we had this party every year at a camp grounds, it was dark, hard, raining and in a field with no cover.  This was one of my first times sleeping in a tent and couldn't understand why people loved camping after this experience. I thought the sun would never come up. but it eventually did but definitely this experience scared me for a while. 

Can't wait to?

Cooking outside and building fires are such an art, there are so many variables weather, wind, the cooking medium but there is no barriers. 

Kickin' Bass and Taking Names

If you're heading to Governor's Ball, Bonnaroo, or one of the other exceptional opportunities to day-drink and dance like no one is watching...odds are pretty good you'll hear one of the bands utter the words that they're "Here to kick ass and take names"! Or maybe that's just our recollection...since the last time we saw a band live may have been when the White Stripes were still a duo before Jack White brought the fire back to Detroit with Third Man Pressing. Seriously, so cool. #kickinbass

Recipe by chef Ty Hatfield

Ingredients
8-10 pound whole striped bass
7-10 fresh bay leaves
1 lemon, sliced in 1/4 inch slices

Rinse fish and dry completely, making sure to remove any remaining scales. Place bay leaves and lemons in the cavity of the fish. Using butcher's string, tie the fish's body every 3 inches to keep the cavity closed and improve the integrity of the fish after it has cooked. Rub the fish with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.

Place on a very hot and clean grill, and leave the fish to grill for 10-12 minutes. Carefully flip the fish to the other side to finish cooking. (Hint: if the fish is sticking to the grill, let it continue cooking until the skin releases).

Serve whole with additional lemon wedges and olive oil. Chimichurri also goes well with this dish. And so does a crisp white wine from Lenz Winery.

Grilled  Stuffed Whole Striped Bass

Grilled  Stuffed Whole Striped Bass

Andy's path to not burning down the house or yourself explained...

Andy Knudson hails from Texas y'all and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York. He began his professional career at Restaurant Daniel which brought him to Las Vegas where he opened Wynn Las Vegas at DB Brasserie, and then went on to work for three-star Michelin famed chef Guy Savoy.

After several years of learning and gaining experience throughout the kitchen at Restaurant Guy Savoy he then landed in Aspen at the world famous Little Nell. In the beginning of 2015 Andy shifted gears from the snow-capped Colorado Rocky Mountains to the crystal blue waters of the Bahamas and went to work for chef Bobby Flay at the world famous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island which led to a move to New York City to work at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain. In the beginning of 2016, Andy joined the team at Restaurant Marc Forgone as Chef de Cuisine. @andyknudson

First memory of campfire cookery?

I was in a group in Dallas, Texas called the Indian Guides when I was 6 years old. We would do trips to different camp areas and build fires and cook. Not always in tents but kinda fancy camping in cabins. However I think it was more for the dads to cook on fires. We would grill steaks and burry potatoes in foil in the fire. Most importantly would cook cans of beans right on the fire. 

Favorite memory around a bonfire?

Growing up in Texas you have lots of space and my parents would tell me two things. Don't burn down the house and don't burn yourself. Well that would lead into a college trip to a buddies ranch moving brush out of areas for a control burn. Well we used heavy earth moving machine tie and built a Pyle of dead trees about 20 feet high and about 5 gallons of gasoline and a Molotov Cocktail. I am sure you can imagine what happened from there. Let's just say that has brought me down a path of controlling the fire and now applying it cooking foods.

Worst experience in the outdoors?

There was a hut trip that we did back in 2012 in Aspen Colorado in the spring. Group of us left some on snow mobiles packed with food, beer, sleeping bags, ext. High avalanche day because the sun was out conditions were perfect. However a group of people sliming up to the hut got separated off and got lost on the trail. Sun went down and they had no food or water. They had to build a small camp fire and huddle around it, and make it through a heavy snowstorm. Sleeping so close to the fire that ski pants, jackets and even ski boots melted. Several people with frost bite the following morning. We all went out to search for them and luckily found them unharmed. These were several of my closest friends that were stuck out there over night. One of the scariest moments when you realize the power of Mother Nature. 

Can’t wait to?

Get out of NYC for a weekend. Feel the smoke in my eyes and the power of fire and what it can transform meats, fish and vegetables into.

It's Nothing to Lose Your Head Over

photo by  Nicole Franzen

Hey look, it's Spring! And while it's nothing to lose your head over, it's a great reason to try grilling head-on prawns.

This simple recipe was created by chef Ty Hatfield last September using locally-sourced prawns from Brawn Seafood on the North Fork.

Go simple with a squeeze of charred citrus before savoring, or try it with an adventurous Aioli.

Ingredients        

  • 12 head on prawns
  • 2 tbsp. kalamansi puree
  • ½ cup mayonnaise                                    
  • 1 clove garlic    

Kalamansi Aioli

Combine mayonnaise, kalamnsi puree (if unavailable, fresh lemon juice is a fine substitute), and shaved garlic clove using a microplane.

Prawns

Season prawns with neutral oil, salt, and pepper to taste and grill over moderate heat until cooked through, roughly 5-8 minutes depending on the heat level of your grill. Serve with aioli on the side.

#bonfirecookout