Restaurant Week chefs share drive, passion for foodWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Chef Tim Childers of Rockwell’s discovered his passion for the kitchen while working his way through art school as a part-time line cook at Sardinis.
Chef Joseph Jacobsen of Dégagé Jazz Café traded his pre-med classes for culinary school because it was more creative.
Twin brothers Eric and Eddie Park of Spicy Tuna Sushi Bar & Grill moved across the country to work at family restaurants.
The three chefs will be among those whose dishes will be featured Jan. 29 through Feb. 4 during Restaurant Week Toledo.
Participating restaurants create special menus priced at $10, $20 or $30 (drinks, taxes and gratuities not included) with a portion of those proceeds donated to nonprofit Leadership Toledo to benefit its youth programs. The event is also meant to showcase the variety of local culinary options and promote dining locally.
“My mom would say I’ve always gone into the kitchen and made crazy creations out of whatever I can find in the pantry,” said Dégagé’s Jacobsen, a Lake High School graduate. “I’m a very creative person. I never felt like I could fully explore that in the career field I was in.”
Jacobsen planned to become a doctor before deciding to enroll at the world-renowned French Culinary Institute in New York City, where he learned from master chefs, including Jacques Pépin, Jacques Torres and the Food Network’s Bobby Flay.
“I’m more of a visual learner than from books so I wanted to jump right in wherever I went,” Jacobsen said. “I wanted to go to the best place I could find and fully immerse myself in it. [New York was] like going to a different country. You’re constantly on the move. It made me appreciate the quiet times. But it was a huge opportunity. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Jacobsen said his favorite part of being a chef is the creativity.
“A lot of times I’ll just lay in bed at night thinking about what I want to do,” Jacobsen said. “I actually keep a notepad by my bed so if I wake up and think of something or dream about something, I can write it down right away.”
Changing people’s perceptions about food is enjoyable, Jacobsen said.
“People think French and they think it’s little dainty plates and fancy sauces and lots of butter, but it doesn’t have to be that,” Jacobsen said. “I like to take things and put a little French twist on them, but they are still familiar.”
Jacobsen said his ambition and competitive drive set him apart.
“That’s how I’ve always been,” Jacobsen said. “I like to push the envelope a little bit, do things you wouldn’t find anywhere around here. … I’ve sacrificed a lot to get where I am and I’m not done. I never plan on stopping the learning process.”
Like Jacobsen, Childers of Rockwell’s at the Oliver House didn’t originally plan to be a chef. Then he took a college job at Sardinis Restaurant.
“I was just a regular chef, cooking burgers and chicken sandwiches as fast as I could. It was meant to be a part-time job to pay for college, but then everything clicked and I haven’t left [the business] since,” Childers said. “That’s when I figured out cooking was a good fit for me. Just the fast pace and the multitasking of the kitchen suited me.”
Although not formally trained, Childers was mentored by a number of premier area chefs, including Cecilio Balmoria at Maumee Bay Brewing Company, Jimmy Schmidt at The Rattlesnake Club in Detroit and his late brother-in-law Dorian Dziad at Diva and The Rattlesnake Club. Childers, a Central Catholic High School graduate, was also chef at his own restaurant, the former Rouge Bistro in Toledo.
Childers, who also cooks for the Maumee Bay Brew Pub, said he enjoys the challenge of switching between the two lines.
“Sometimes it’s a little jarring trying to switch gears suddenly, because the pub is definitely more fast-paced,” Childers said. “But I’ve got a great team back there and we’re really proficient.”
Childers said he tries to keep his dishes simple, straightforward and appealing to as many people as possible. Everything is made from scratch and from his own recipes.
His heart is what sets him apart, Childers said.
“I just put a lot of heart into what I do,” Childers said. “I don’t like taking shortcuts. I like doing things the hard way, the long way. I sacrifice for what I believe in with food and cooking and I think that really comes through on the dining room side.
“What I like people to take away the most is a best-of experience: the best steak of my life, the best night out of my life, the best Rueben of my life — that’s what I’m looking for in compliment. When a server comes back to the kitchen and says so and so had the best pasta they’ve ever had, that’s really what sends it home for me.”
Spicy Tuna Sushi
Approaching its one-year business anniversary, the sushi bar at Spicy Tuna Sushi Bar & Grill in Holland was getting so busy, owner Li Yu wished he could clone his sushi chef.
Luckily, the chef has a twin brother.
Eddie Park recently moved from his native California to Toledo to join his brother, Eric, in the business owned by their brother-in-law Li Yu. Eric was also a chef at the family’s former business, Fu Yi Chinese Restaurant, in the same location.
The Parks learned the art of sushi-making in their native California, working under sushi masters in Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif.
One of the most important aspects is maintaining the proper proportion of ingredients, said Eric, speaking through Yu as a translator.
“If you have 10 different ingredients that go into it, if you have too much of something or too little of something, it can alter the flavor,” Park said.
Presentation is always important with food, but especially for sushi, which is known as “the edible art,” Park said. What sets him apart is the experience and creativity he gained working for years in large restaurants in large cities, he added.
“The more experience you have, the more you pick up from different sources and in turn you become more creative,” Park said. “Creativity does play a large role, both taste-wise and presentation.”
Creativity is also used when naming the rolls. Kiss of Fire, Lobster Bomb, Orgasm and Climax attract attention and drive sales, Yu said. Rolls like Tickle Me Elmo and Yum Yum are popular with children, Yu said.
“We want people to say, ‘That’s different than what most sushi restaurants serve,’” Park said. “We want people coming back because of the uniqueness and the taste.”
For more information, visit www.restaurantweektoledo.com.