[Interview] Real Talk – The Chef Series, part 3

….continuing Real Talk – The Chef Series, with part 3

THD: All right. Any–let’s move off from that to another topic. Let’s talk about features and specials. Let’s just start with soups. I’m asking you guys to generalize maybe outside of the scope of your restaurants for an average person going into an average place. Is the soup just left-overs? You know, items that they couldn’t get rid of?

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: It can be. Yeah, it definitely can be.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It can be your odds and ends of carrots and potatoes and stuff that you used for–and other cut where it doesn’t have to be as delicate.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Well, I think as chefs, we are there to make our owners money or investors’ money or whatever else, and all our scrapings and our cuts, and our job is to utilize empty money and that’s where we pride ourselves. We all make sausage, I’m sure.


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Minimize waste.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: We all utilize the nasty bits, the things that aren’t always like a prize to everybody else. That’s how we are profitable as in our craft, in our industry.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: You have to stretch your costs. I mean we don’t have a soup on the menu, obviously, but I did run pozole for a while and I would take the old stewing liquid that I wasn’t using. When I say old, you know, it’s not really old. And use that as my base for pozole, and you just take in some tomatoes that you roasted off and made this nice stewing liquid and now you roll it into the pozole.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: That’s fucking awesome. You know, it’s the same thing when you make confit and you’ve got the two inch layer of …


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: –yeah, jelly at the bottom.


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s the best.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: That’s the gold.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And that’s what I’m saying, like, that’s as nice of a duck stock as you can possibly make. if I fold that into my fucking duck miso broth, are you going to be like, “Well, that was a waste product from your…” No, fuck you, it was awesome.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s the animal butter.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: We do probably, I don’t know, 200 pounds of pork shoulder a week for the carnitas and everything and…

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Wow, that’s a lot.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: …I just drain all of the fat and I always have–I’ve got–always got at least four gallons of pork jelly–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: That’s awesome.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: …which when I make the biscuits and gravy, I thin that out with water, and I use that to thin out my gravy.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: That sounds awesome.


CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I did a pho…a beef pho taco a couple days ago. You take the pork jelly and you thin it out with a little water and you braise the short ribs for the pho taco. Anything that you can use and make money off of–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Well, think about what it is. It’s about beef flavored fucking gelatin.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: And it’s–it’s fucking good, too.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It’s phenomenal.   Anything animal or product related is just flavor. One day I made too much pierogi filling. So I have a beautiful smoked beef, like a braised beef. I smoke it, I braise it, and then I whip it with like a little bit of coffee and beer, and so I cooked it down with cabbage and vegetables, and man, I’ve got smoked beef and cabbage stew. It was fresh. It was beautiful. It was, you know, flavorful, but it’s also my pierogi filling. So, now I have two outlets, does that make one less delicious than the other? I don’t think so. But it’s creative. I’m sorry, but if you’re a fucking phony produce guy and bringing in mizuna greens just to make a soup out of it, you’re a fucking idiot.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right. You’re not profitable.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. It should be a multifaceted operation, you know.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Use the greens from your beets.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. You’re roasting beets, get a whole beets and greens and you do a beet green, you know, you do like a chicken noodle with fucking beet greens in it or a potato puree with beet green pesto. Fuck yeah, I totally agree.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: You have a point. You’ve got a point.

THD: Are there any industry standards about specials, like if all of your shipment’s coming in on, let’s say it’s Monday. Well, then, the seafood you have on Sunday isn’t the freshest. Right?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You basically–you read “Kitchen Confidential” apparently.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s a myth.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You know, it is a myth! Any quality chef’s not going to serve punk. If you’re going to eat at fucking Red Lobster or Carrabba’s or Mitchell’s Seafood, your fate’s in your own hands. I can’t fucking speak for them. But at my restaurant, Saturday night I eighty-sixed trout and I didn’t have it until three o’clock this afternoon. So if you came into my restaurant and said, “I’ll order your trout,” the server would have said “I’m sorry we won’t have it. We’re waiting for our delivery right now. We can do the scallops and the trout preparation or we can do shrimp,” or blah, blah, blah, but I, you know, I will–I’ll take the high road and say, “We don’t have that until three o’clock if you can wait or you can order something else.”


THD: So what about the restaurants that aren’t like you guys?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I’ve worked in restaurants where, yeah, they’re rinsing pieces of salmon–this is years ago–rinsing this funky salmon, plastic wrapping and freezing it.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: A lot of it, too, is ordering properly. If you order properly and you love your fish at night. If you ice your fish every night and you mummy them and you submerge them in ice, dude…

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Your shelf life is longer.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Don’t we all handle this way? Doug, you saw me, I handled today. I’m butchering, the tails go in the brine for smoke.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: The belly is set aside to fry for staff meal but then–then I get three center cuts that go and they’re going to be grilled tonight. That’s why we use Fortune Fish because we get three or four deliveries a week.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yeah. You can get six.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I don’t do a lot of fish here. I do fish tacos on Mondays and during Lent I do a different fish special on Fridays, but I think it comes back to what you say, if you order correctly, you know what you’re going to serve and you store it correctly. It’s the people that haphazardly throw it in a bag, you know, throw it in Ziploc bags.


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: And when you’re out, you’re out.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: it’s all about–if you give a shit about your product, you give a shit about your customers you’ll store it properly.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I totally agree with you. And you know what? Two things that I look for is what kind of lime are you giving me on my fucking beer. If my lime is crunk and your bathroom’s crunk, then your fish is crunk….


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s a good standard.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: So, like, if you go somewhere and it smells nice and the staff is dressed nice and your lime looks pulp and moist because it just got sliced. And then you bring me my fucking, you know, chips and salsa and the salsa’s fresh, lumps, I’m going to eat your taco and I’m going to eat the fucking fish you serve me and I’m going to eat your fucking bacon red hot dog. But if I come in here, like I said, and your bathroom smells like shit and there’s fucking like, you know, dookie on the mirror, I’ll be like, “Well, this place is probably gross. I don’t want to eat the fish here.”


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Fish is like–it’s a representative of like how fresh you keep your establishment.


CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I’ve worked in restaurants–high quality restaurants, man, where I was like, “I don’t want to come back here.”

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And we all pay a premium to buy from our suppliers.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: God, it’s so expensive, man. And you pay for it!


CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I make it back.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It’s the best quality, though.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Once in a blue moon you’ve got to order from like Sysco or someone else and you’re like, “I can’t believe the difference!” I can’t believe some chefs buy this fish.



Chef James Rigato is Executive Chef at The Root Restaurant & Bar in White Lake, MI, and a contestant on Bravo TV’s Top Chef, Season 12 in Boston, MA. In 2012, Chef Rigato was nominated for the Food & Wine “The People’s Best New Chef: Great Lakes” and took home the Restaurant of the Year Award, for the Root, by The Detroit Free Press. He was voted as Best Chef by Hour Detroit in 2013 and again in 2014. Chef Rigato is also known for his “Young Guns” collaborative dinner series, which has been brought together six times.

Chef Jeremy Kalmus is the owner/chef of the new event and catering company Rock ‘N Roll + Caviar, formerly Executive Chef at Local Kitchen and Bar in Ferndale, MI, and NOVI Chop House in NOVI, MI.

Chef Douglas Hewitt, formerly Executive Chef at Terry B’s Restaurant and Bar in Dexter, MI is now taking over the kitchen at the upcoming Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails in Detroit, MI.

Chef Brennan Calnin is the Executive Chef at Imperial Mexican Restaurant & Bar and at the Public House, both in Ferndale, MI.

The interviews in this series were conducted by VATO.

Keep up with The Hungry Dudes for Real Talk – The Chef Series on the coming Mondays and Thursdays for parts 4 through 8.  Also, keep up with Real Talk – The Bartender Series, on the coming Tuesdays and Fridays for parts 3 through 7.  We hope you enjoy these Series, and appreciate your feedback. As always, please don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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