Chefs Share Tips
(reprinted from the Arizona Republic, date unknown)
By Chuck Hawley
Arizona Republic Staff
SCOTTSDALE – What are a psychology major and an avid golfer doing in the kitchen of a major result hotel?
They run the place.
Bob Pappanduros and Steve Johnston may seem an unlikely pair to be dishing out exotic food, but they are the executive and banquet chefs for the Scottsdale Hilton, 6333 N. Scottsdale Road.
Pappanduros, 27, earned a degree in psychology and sociology at Southern Illinois University and learned cooking “in the best place – the school of hard knocks.”
The “hard knocks” came in the kitchen of his father’s Chicago restaurant, where he worked for seven years to pay his way through college. In 1982, when he came to Phoenix, Pappanduros found that social-service jobs were scarce and did not pay as well as cooking.
Johnston, a bachelor who turned 28 on Christmas, took a more traditional route, by graduating from the Washburn Culinary School in Chicago.
While the Washburn school provided him with a profession, the profession destroyed the 2 handicap he once had on the golf course.
“I come from a long line of golfers,” he said, adding that he began playing at 8 years old, was on his high school golf team and now holds a 12 handicap – and a good kitchen job.
Both say the average homemaker could entertain more successfully and be a better cook if she would plan more, cook less and watch waste like a hawk.
The Hilton kitchen served more than 800 people for Christmas brunch and 250 for New Year’s Eve. It routinely serves 300 to 400 meals a day.
While the two pros direct a kitchen staff of 30 or more to prepare a party, they said homemakers can turn out great parties.
“Planning is really important,” Johnston said, adding that the simplest items sometimes are the most important.
For instance: How many people will be served? And what time of the day will the party be held?
“If you plan an early gathering, around 6 or 6:30 p.m., people will expect to be served a meal. The menu should be substantial.
“Later, at 8 or 8:30, you can expect people already will have eaten and you can serve snack foods or appetizers with light refreshments.”
The best party foods can be prepared in advance, such as cold meat platters with cheeses and assorted breads. Add fresh vegetables with dips and one or two hot dishes such as Swedish meatballs or mini-quiches, “made in advance and reheated just before the guests arrive.”
“Basically, do the food preparation in the morning or even the day before,” Johnston said, “and clean the house in the afternoon.
“Then you can change and put the food out just before the guests arrive, and have the rest of the time to enjoy the party.
“It’s your party, so you want to enjoy yourself.”
As a banquet chef, Johnston has party preparation down to a science.
As executive chef, Pappanduros watches the budget.
“People waste much too much food in their kitchens at home,” he said. “In a professional kitchen you don’t waste anything if can avoid it.”
Common wastes in the home, and his suggestions for them, include:
- Vegetable peelings – Use them in soup stock and strain them out later. You can even use the dark brown outside peelings of onions, which add color and substance to the broth.
- Bones – Boil them for soup stock.
- Leftover meats – Use for hash, casseroles or soups.
- Dried bread crusts – use for bread pudding and stuffing. And don’t forget pastries: Dried-out Danish rolls make great puddings.
- Mashed potatoes – Save them for potato pancakes, cream soup bases.
Johnston and Pappanduros both said that after the holidays, homemakers give up too easily on the leftover turkey or ham when the family is “turkeyed out.”
“Cooked meats can safely be frozen for long periods, but can be safely thawed only once, he explained.
“Put the meat in one- or two-pound portions – whatever you need for a single meal – and freeze it in an airtight bag. Don’t thaw a ten-pound chunk of sliced turkey, use part, and then refreeze.”
Most home cooks have a problem with leftover cooked vegetables. But the solution is simple, Pappanduros said.
“Cooked vegetables lose texture and flavor, making it difficult to serve them again. Make them into a puree and use it in a creamed-soup base.
“Leftover meats that have dried out are unattractive, but they can be ground up into hash, casserole or soup – anything to replace lost moisture.”
Johnston and Pappanduros said that while food fads come and go, there are some standards that never change.
A potpourri of other comments from Pappanduros:
- Plan a menu with some idea of what can be done with leftovers.
- Use your freezer.
- Buy good utensils. “Most people don’t have a clue what it is to use a really good kitchen knife. Once you use a good one, you’ll never go back to a cheap one.”
- Explore. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
Johnston chipped in with:
- “People eat with their eyes – presentation is half of preparation. If something doesn’t look good, people won’t taste it.”
- “Fresh vegetables are cheaper and better. Why pay someone else to do your preparation? People are sick of chemicals in their food.”
- “When I think of the average housewife, two things come to my mind – 90 percent of them overcook, and they always throw away things they could use.”
In general, both men agreed that American tastes are shifting to fresher, locally grown foods.
“People want to identify with their own culture. That is reflected in local-food specialties, which are more and more popular on local-restaurant menus,” Pappanduros said.
“Ten years ago,” Johnston added, “when you said ‘fresh vegetables’ you meant carrot and celery sticks – not broccoli, cauliflower or raw mushrooms.”
With advice from the experts tucked carefully away in the family cookbook, have a Happy New Year. (and try to watch your weight.)