[Interview] Real Talk – The Chef Series, part 5

…continuing Real Talk – The Chef Series with part 5.

THD: Okay. Here’s an off-the-menu question again, so let’s say that you guys change your menu on a regular basis–which I know you guys do and–or you add stuff. Something that you loved is off the menu, can you ask for that menu item again?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Ask. Are you kidding me? Ask for it. If it’s not available, then you’re S-O-L.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: If you got the stuff in-house to make it–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: If we can make–we love to.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: When people remember things it’s a huge compliment to us. I think we live in a–kind of in a praised world, but the praise comes in very weird times, and we love when people come back loving our shit. And, “Oh, my god, did you really seriously get rid of the” you know, “the deviled short ribs or whatever,” you know…

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: But I’m like, “But I got shit for short ribs, but I could easily devil those and bus those out for you,” and they’re like, “Oh, my god, we love them so much.” I mean, look, generally, we–I know you do especially, like we stick to our guidelines. I’m buying from 100 percent farm, like, I’ve only got so much to work with.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: So I probably have this item and I just change it a little bit, I might be able to do that for you. If you want the oysters, yeah, I don’t have oysters.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yeah.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: I’m sorry.

THD: Back to talking about some of this chain restaurants’ things like that. So some of it has a place, some of it doesn’t have a place. What do we do to–like where is our responsibility, do you think, in like moving people into more of the mom and pop restaurants, moving them into more of the restaurants where there’s a chef in the kitchen and not the cook.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I think part of that is educating them on like what’s good, you know, things that are good. We’re going to make things that are good. We’re going to make it a value.

THD: I know they have their role, but I’m very tired of hearing someone say, “Oh, we’re going out for my birthday. We’re going to Red Lobster”–

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: “We’re going to Buffalo Wild Wings.”

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THD: –“because it’s special”–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

THD: –you know, “to us.” It’s special to someone. I would rather see that someone going to, you know, a higher–highfalutin restaurant or, you know, a restaurant that’s got more care for them.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I think part of that is people think that we’re pretentious and they’re not necessarily used to that kind of service so they get a little bit intimidated by it. But it’s not even about that, it’s about us holding true our values of our craft and keeping it alive and making things from scratch, making things homemade, sourcing things locally to, you know, keep our economy strong and pat our friends that are producing the food, on their back, and, you know, having stuff that’s grown organically without GMO’s and a lot of this stuff. But I think part of that is people just don’t know, like people are not educated, and that’s our job, too, is to educate them on, you know, kind of how to eat and like reel them back in to how it used to be. You used to be able to just go to your little restaurant on the corner and you would just eat there, but now there’s like McDonald’s, now there’s, you know, Big Boy, whatever. Whatever these corporate chains are that are taking over. Like James was saying earlier, they’re kind of like the–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Zebra Mussels.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: –Zebra Mussels, right, and they’re taking over, but we need to reel them back in to teach them how to eat again and, you know, places like the Imperial and The Root where it’s like totally affordable, where you could walk in in a pair of jeans, T-shirt, you know, whatever, and have a great meal for probably under 20 or 30 bucks.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: No, it’s true. I totally agree with you. It is an education–it’s education. It’s, you know, I tell people I’m not a fisherman, but yet I live in White Lake and everyone around me owns boats and they’re fishermen. They know so much about fishing and their boats, and they have the radars that tell where the fish are, you know. So a guy who eats at McDonald’s and drinks Budweiser knows everything about angling and speaks so eloquently, I mean, the guy could have his own T.V. show he’s so eloquent. But yet I start talking about local food and GMO’s and I lose him, but yet he starts talking about like, you know, different rods and reels and he loses me.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: So it’s a matter of passion. If you’re not passionate about food, you’re usually not educated about it. So it’s a matter of, like when you start learning about tattoos or sports or music, you started caring and you want the coolest guitar and you realize that the Spice Girls suck and The Beatles are awesome.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: So we need to make it appealing for them.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Exactly. So how can I engage you? How can I show you that, you know, Kurt Cobain is a genius, he’s not just, like, smoking some spirit? You know, it’s like a matter of–it’s just how much do you care?

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And it starts with you at this point, you know.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Absolutely.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: James judges a competition. I coach Saline High School’s culinary team. He’s doing a lot of work with the elementary schools.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Elementary is huge

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: We’ve lost people our age. If they don’t get it already, they’re gone.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yeah.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And it’s okay. Our greatest victory is when we’re really old and our backs are gone, our knees are gone, and everybody’s growing vegetables and everyone’s–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s like in ten years.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s like in ten years for us.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I wouldn’t say our generation. Our generation isn’t gone. It’s just they got to come to it on their own. When you talk to a six-year-old, you say, look at this. They pluck a cherry tomato and they eat it, they go–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s good.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: –that’s all you need!

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: They’re like, “This is fucking great,” and then–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Because it’s fresh, not canned.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. But a 25-year-old who comes here to get a Modelo, you know, they don’t even know your tacos are homemade, they don’t even care.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You know, but you’ve got like, you know, like a six-year-old, like I said, who cares more about a cherry tomato than they do about the coolest of restaurant eating.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I think that tough thing of when you–when it comes to educating. Like, I have a friend back home who likes good food but he doesn’t like to spend money. For him it’s always the money thing, and for me it’s like, it’s about–like when I went to school in Chicago I had–I was one of those people, I had never even eaten at a nice restaurant until–I remember my first time eating duck confit and it was, like, mind blowing. It was like–like an epiphany and I think if you can get people to come in the door and experience–and, I mean, I’m talking less about my food because I’m doing tacos, but I’m talking about like–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: No, I understand.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It doesn’t matter what it is.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Handcrafted. Handcrafted.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I’m talking about good, like, good food, and especially–this is more like fine dining aspect, someone who’s like, “I’ll go to Red Lobster and spend $30 on the all-you-can-eat lobster plate,” or whatever, or you could go spend $30 and eat a nice well thought out type of thing. It’s like the difference of watching baseball on T.V. and actually–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Going to a game.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: –going to a baseball game.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Absolutely.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right. That is so satisfying.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Once you go to a baseball game and you tell people like, “I went to a baseball game”–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I saw it, yeah.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: –it was more like–or like hearing a band that you like and then seeing them live, it’s like, “Holy shit”–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It’s a huge difference.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: –that’s way, you know, it’s like the same thing. It’s like–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Or it’s like buying a case of Budweiser or a six-pack of Bell’s Porter.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And you drink it, like this is different, it’s crafted.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It’s higher alcohol. It’s like I only need six of them, I don’t need 24.

THD: And both cost $12.99.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: It’s about an experience and, like, you–unfortunately, sometimes you have to pay a little bit more for a certain experience.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Show me something quality that’s like free, you know what I’m saying? Like I said, it’s that same guy who’s a fisherman, he probably has a $400 fishing pole but yet bitches about a $10 burger.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Right.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s not appealing to everybody, though.

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CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. And I’m not mad at him for it, it’s just a matter of, like, where do you put your preference? Where do your ethics lie?

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: The food is just fuel to get you until tomorrow.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: But it’s really a matter of just waiting, just wait.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: As our disease runs rampant, as everything else runs crazy–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: –as childhood obesity-

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: And then we’ll change things.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: –runs crazy.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Just wait, everybody will be affected very, very, very–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It’s true.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It is true.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And just wait, and that’s why it’s so important, because we have to be above the curve on this because it’ll be after us, but we really will change the culture, at least in this state.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: I agree.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Because things are going to be really fucking bad. Diabetes is crazy.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Like, things are going to get really bad before they’re better.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I don’t think we’ve seen the, like, hump yet, like I think that food is medicine and, right now GMO’s aren’t even labeled.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: It’s just beginning.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Gently modified salmon is legal now. We haven’t even seen the hump, we’re through our hump, we’re almost there, but I think we’re literally going to hit that curve where shit’s so bad, once the GMO’s become–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Everybody our age, it’s too late.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I won’t say–well, it’s too late to have people do the thinking for you. We’ve got to fight our own way.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And the four of us, you know, we’re fighting our own way. It used to be where the government protected you, the FDA protected you, the USDA looked out for you; and now they look out for corporate agriculture and who cares where we end up.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: There’s more money.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. It’s money.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: They’re lying to us too.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You’re more likely to get sick from opening a fucking bag of baby spinach from Mexico than you are from eating a raw fucking steak in his restaurant.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Right. Right.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Like, “What? Oh my god. Are you kidding me?”

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: There’s no standard anymore.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: So, that to me is conducive to what our future holds.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Yeah.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: It’s a shift for power. Put the power back in the people’s hands, you’re not going to have a problem. Put the power in the government’s hands, you got a fucking problem. If the health department comes in, you know what I tell them, I say, “Bootleg.” So you can’t even tell–I fucking buy illegal rams. I buy illegal mushrooms.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: We all do.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: “Bootleg.”

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Because I trust Doug with foraging rams more than I do fucking the broker from California.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: He’s one of my best customers.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Are you kidding me?

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: “I’ll bring you 50 pounds of chanterelles and a big ‘ole check. Thank you, James, talk to you later.”

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Exactly.

THD: So are we hurt by globalization?

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yes.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Absolutely.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I think what we’re doing right now by being proactive and keeping our craft alive is actually going to contribute to that change over. And showing people that what we do is just as good as, you know, going somewhere and having all that MSG and whatever that makes it taste good. We’re actually using raw, fresh ingredients to make it taste good instead of adding all that bullshit.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Well, chefs have always been at the forefront of quality food. We broker the change in modern American cuisine. You eat something in a restaurant, then you want to go home and learn how to make it. Like pesto. Pesto, it’s Italian, obviously, in originality but back in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, it was like a fucking really secret sauce Wolfgang Puck would put on pizza.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And now every mom has a little bowl and they get pesto. It’s like the little things, the restaurants start it and then the moms will follow suit, you know, so then that home–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s in the same results right there.

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CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. That home cookery is a shadowing what restaurants are doing.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Well, and I think you can see with Farmer’s Markets’ popping up that people are starting to–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: They’re waking up.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: –well, they’re starting to wake up.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: To quality.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: And it’s almost to the point, which it’s cool in a sense, that it’s becoming trendy–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I agree.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN:   And that’s great. If that’s what it takes people to start paying attention that it’s cool to–it’s important to the farmers.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: And that keeps us in check too.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, absolutely.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And I think we can all agree, as much bitching as we do, our state is a really good one. I mean, chefs are appreciated way more than they were.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yeah. That’s because we’re being pro-active, we’re making it that way.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: We are, but also the whole knowledge with the Food Network and The Food Channel and all these other–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It goes back to education.

THD: Is that information overload, though? Is there too much–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: No way.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: No way.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I don’t think so.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Keep it going.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Everybody thinks now, I’m talking about with the Food Network and all that stuff now, everybody is an expert on what foods should be because they watch T.V.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: But they’re not working with it every day like we are.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Everybody’s a critic.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Yeah. It’s the guy that’s like, “I watch, Top Chef every week, I know how a scallop is supposed to be seared.” I know all this–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: “I don’t know how to do it, but I know how it’s supposed to be.”

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: You’ve never even put butter in a pan before, you just watched it on T.V.–

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: You know, I agree with you. I agree with you on that.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: I agree with you, but I would rather have somebody who, like, knows what a scallop is and embrace me incorrectly than someone who I can’t even fucking sell the scallop to.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: It goes back to keeping us in check.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Exactly. And I got–dude, I got customers that come in and they’re like–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: If they’re wrong, then educate them.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Right. Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Absolutely.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: See, I disagree with you, and I hate to do that, but I would rather have somebody with no habits than somebody with bad habits; and I would rather have somebody with absolutely no knowledge that I can like shoal from the ground up and shoulder–

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Nurture.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: But that person with other knowledge might have came in for just a burger before, where now he’s coming in for scallops and foie gras.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Exactly. Exactly. I want somebody who is like, “Why can’t you buy raw milk, James?” “Well, Joe, raw milk’s illegal in restaurants.”

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: “We’re not allowed.”

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CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You know, I love that. I would rather have someone pushing me then I push him back. Go ahead, go walk around. Go around town and find someone else like me. Go see if there is any other restaurant in my town that is doing what I’m doing. And you know what, they’re going to come back to me with more questions and ideas and challenge me. “You know what, James, why don’t you get some more sustainably raised fish.” “All right, dude, I got it.” I want customers to engage me and get excited. I’d rather have someone blabbering about something wrong than someone who leaves and then like Google’s grass fed beef because they were too scared to ask what it means.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: You know, I’d rather have someone sit there and engage me and correct me.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: I was just talking to a meat guy about grass fed beef and he was like, “Dude, you don’t want that you want corn fed.” I’m like, “Why? It’s not natural.”

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Meat drivers–

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: They’re the biggest haters.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Dude, the biggest haters out there are the beef–because like, you know, the guy who sells for stockyard at fucking US is like his life–his children’s college is on corn.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yeah.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: So, like, when you start saying, “I want grass fed beef,” you might as well cut his fucking throat right now.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Just tell him his kid’s going to have to be shrimper.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: He’s like, “I want to buy grass fed beef,” he’ll be like–motherfucker, I swear to god.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Your kid’s going to have to shrimp to go to college. Sorry.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: He’s going to stab a fucking pen in your eye, he’s so angry.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: That’s how it is, yeah.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Joe Pesci.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.

CHEF BRENNN CALNIN: “You fucking fuck. You fucking fuck. You fucking fuck.”

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: There’s no college for you, okay. Sorry. Then, you know what he said?

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: What.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: He couldn’t keep up with the demand on grass fed, it takes longer to raise them.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: There’s two–there are two-year-old animals that take longer to gain weight.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Well, right.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: And they’re still alive.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Because you’re not feeding them sugar.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, exactly.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: And the 60 days till to slaughter, it takes a lot longer to slaughter—

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Probiotics.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Well, not only that but, the second a cow starts eating corn, its dietary tract shifts and it ends up being susceptible to mad cow disease–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Right.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Big time.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: It’s unnatural.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: Its whole dietary tract shifts on what it’s processing.

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: They’re not healthy.

CHEF JAMES RIGATO: No, not at all.

CHEF BRENNAN CALNIN: Ask a vegan that question.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: Even the all-natural cow that we buy, even like the all-natural that we love and prize, the last 60 days of their life they just–

CHEF JEREMY KALMUS: Jam them.

CHEF DOUGLAS HEWITT: –jam them to get their body weight up there, which is okay, it’s way better than the alternative, don’t get me wrong.

 


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 6 through 8.  Also, keep up with Real Talk – The Bartender Series, on the coming Tuesdays and Fridays for parts 5 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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