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Gastronomic Fight Club SM

Mischief. Mayhem. Soup.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

INTERVIEW: Chef Jessica Joyce - Confluence Bistro

posted by snekse
Chef Jessica Joyce, of Confluence Bistro (which closed Dec 31st, 2009) in Bellevue, NE, recently won the Comfort Food Classic challenge.  This year's challenge was to create a gourmet potato dish.  Chef Joyce won with a Gnocchi poutin. She has agreed to share her winning recipe with us which we'll be publishing later this week, but first we wanted to share our interview with her. Enjoy.

20-ish Questions with Jessica Joyce

You won with potatoes; What should the next Comfort Food Classic Challenge be?
Ice cream or soup! When I am feeling the need for comfort I lean one way or the other.

Had you made your winning dish before? Can you tell us more about your background with the dish?
Yes and No, I had made all of the components before but had never combined them. I’m an expert on eating poutine and try to grab a bite every time I am home. My favorite poutine comes from Johnny’s Fish and Chips on High Street in Sutton Ontario. The chips are huge-- skin on, the sauce is thick and as dark as molasses, the curds are perfect and every table has a full bottle of malt vinegar and ketchup!

Did you cook growing up? What inspired you to become a chef?
I took classes in high school and held jobs in restaurants since the age of 15. The yearning to know how to make everything really pushed me into the direction of formal training

Where did you gain your experience and training (Schools, jobs, etc)?
3 influences have had a major impact on how and why I cook the way that I do today.

1)The Institute for the Culinary Arts equipped me with a wide range of tools and skills, professional development and established a significant culinary community.

2)Travelling and experiencing food opened my eyes and my palate. Being exposed to eateries all over the world ultimately helped me to develop my culinary preferences and style.

3)Darwin Bistro, the team, the success and the expertise and guidance from Executive Chef Paul Urban fulfilled a dream and really showed me where I wanted to be.

Do you have any interesting/amusing kitchen incidents that you're willing to share?
I once got my hand stuck inside a can of truffle shavings and had to twist it out (slicing my hand in the meantime). I was so embarrassed, why I didn’t use a spatula I’ll never know! I guess I really wanted those truffles.

Who do you consider your mentor(s)?
Chef Paul Urban is the first person I call whenever I have a question.

Chef Kathleen Koesters, she was my first Chef in culinary school and she instilled values that I’ll never forget.

What is your philosophy on food and dining?
Taste everything. Don’t forget to enjoy it.

What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?
Don’t forget the basics, check your ego at the door and seek out a restaurant that has a Chef who is willing to mentor you. A great mentor is invaluable.

What are your favorite dining spots and/or dishes in the city? Why?
Shucks because of their clam chowder. My mom would often make a gallon or so of clam chowder in a giant gray pot, 9 out of 10 times the pot never even left the burner. My brother, sister and I would eat 2-4 bowls each until that pot was empty. I guess their clam chowder reminds me of home. I am happy there.

What cities/restaurants/chefs have you always wanted to try food from?
El Bulli in Catalonia Spain. I became interested in their techniques in 2003 and have been really curious ever since. I simply just want to experience it.

Favorite kitchen tools or gadgets (besides your knives) and why?
Spoons!?! I use way too many during a shift just tasting tasting tasting. Every time I adjust I reach for a spoon and I taste.

Your 3 favorite knives in your bag (Brand, style, size, etc)?
8" Global cooks knife because it was my first knife and it fits my hand the best.
10" Shun cooks knife.
6" Wusthof carving.

Favorite or new food/spices/cuisines/techniques you're incorporating into your dishes at the moment?
Different vinegars/acids. They can really brighten a dish.

Any suppliers you'd like to give a shout out to because their product just blows you away?
Plum Creek Farm chicken, Branched Oak Farm cheeses and Rotella's for their delicious wheat berry bread.

What food/dish/whatever will never make it on your menu? Why?
Angel hair pasta because it makes me gag! Oh, and stuffed green peppers, for the same reason!

What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now (nationally and/or locally)?
I’ve seen a really big jump back toward local and going green. It makes me happy to see. However, I’ve noticed that consumers need some time to adjust to the higher prices, especially in this economy.

Do you read food blogs or forums? If so, which ones?
I mainly read gastronomic fight club and chowhound. I’ll often search for local products, see what is in season in Nebraska and check out other chef’s/restaurants/clubs on facebook.

What function do you feel these sites play in the food world?
They extend the culinary community and allow cooks to access information after hours, which is important in our field.

What are your thoughts on the Food Television Network?
After an exhausting day the food network provides us with a somewhat reiterative form of educational entertainment. Although often, it is simply there as a default channel.

When at home, what do you like to eat? Do you do the cooking?
If I am at home and just cooking something for myself I will reach for vegemite with peanut butter on whole grain toast. It is the best but I have to pace myself because it is difficult to get vegemite in the states so I have to consider how much I have left and when I’ll be getting my next supply. I love it and eat it often.

What might surprise people to find in your fridge or cupboards?
Way too many sweets! My roommate, Amy Ewing is a Pastry Chef and she’s always filling up the fridge with icing or icing related goodness. Also, my other roommate just made a killer tater tot casserole that we’ve been enjoying, with the addition of hot sauce!

Best piece of advice you would give a novice or home enthusiast?
Encouraging group cooking is a good way to keep things positive. The internet is a great tool as are books but there is nothing better than sharing ideas and food face to face with friends. Seriously, find some friends to experience food with. My boyfriend and I host "Top Chef Wednesdays" where everyone contributes, we eat, we watch Top Chef together and we talk about cooking.

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