Pop­ping In with Chefs C Club

Chef Chris Szyjka

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ATHLEISURE MAG: Chef Chris Szyjka re­al­ized his love for cook­ing at a young age, while pre­par­ing meals for his fam­ily with his grand­mother on their farm in north­ern Illi­nois. His pro­fes­sional ca­reer started at the age of 18, work­ing as an Ex­tern at the famed Char­lie Trot­ter’s in Chicago. Look­ing to ex­pand his culi­nary knowl­edge, Chris moved to Mi­ami to at­tend culi­nary school at Le Cor­don Bleu. There, he worked at the Bilt­more Ho­tel, as the Chef de Par­tie for 4 years. Chris later met chef Di­dier Elena, a right hand to Alain Du­casse for over 20 years, at Tosca Mi­ami and was of­fered a po­si­tion in Aspen to help run Chefs Club in the St. Regis Ho­tel, and later moved to New York to open the brand’s sec­ond lo­ca­tion. As Ex­ec­u­tive Sous Chef at Chefs Club New York, Chris has the unique op­por­tu­nity to work with some of the world’s best chefs through a ro­tat­ing vis­it­ing chef pro­gram, and ex­poses din­ers to sig­na­ture dishes from top chefs through the restau­rant’s nightly menu. In his spare time, Chris en­joys tour­ing lo­cal New York farms and hunt­ing in Con­necti­cut.

What drew you to par­tic­i­pate in COCHON 555 TOUR?

CHRIS SZYJKA: I worked with Brady Lowe be­fore in Aspen for a pop up foie gras com­pe­ti­tion at our Chefs Club in the St. Regis there and the her­itage fire in Snow­mass. I’ve come to be­lieve in him and what he is try­ing to achieve through the Cochon tour and jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to help.

AM: How im­por­tant are com­pe­ti­tion events such as COCHON555 TOUR and Piggy Bank for the culi­nary com­mu­nity and ed­u­ca­tion about her­itage breed pigs?

CS: It’s re­ally spec­tac­u­lar when Chefs can help pro­mote some­thing as great as Amer­i­can fam­ily farm­ing and whole an­i­mal uti­liza­tion. Th­ese com­pe­ti­tion events are cru­cial in that mis­sion and give the culi­nary world an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity to work with a great prod­uct from great Amer­i­can farm­ers. AM: Do you have a per­sonal mes­sage about sourc­ing food/prod­ucts re­spon­si­bly?

CS: Know your source, know your prod­uct. The only way to re­ally have 100% con­fi­dence in your cui­sine.

AM: How is it to team up with Old Spot, Her­itage Farms USA?

CS: This her­itage breed is a per­fect ex­am­ple of why we as culi­nary pro­fes­sion­als need to get back to the roots of sourc­ing qual­ity prod­uct from qual­ity com­pa­nies.

AM: What is your rou­tine in se­lect­ing the whole hog dishes you will be pre­par­ing for the New Porc City event?

CS: First, uti­liza­tion. I wanted to be sure that noth­ing goes to waste. Sec­ond, vis­i­bil­ity. It is im­por­tant to me that peo­ple can see what was used and where. Third, fla­vor. Thanks to the Old Spot I was given, this was easy. Ev­ery ounce of this pig was more fla­vor­ful then the last and I need to con­vey that through what I present.

AM: What in­spired you to be­come a chef? Who are some of the chefs and res­tau­rants that have in­spired you?

CS: I grew up in the Farm­lands of north­ern Illi­nois on my fam­ily horse farm bak­ing with my grand­mother and cook­ing with my grand­fa­ther af­ter school. As part of 4H, I raised and sold pigs for 4 yrs. and helped out at neigh­bor­ing dairy farm­ers as much as I could. I’ve al­ways had a close con­nec­tion with cook­ing and the peo­ple who make it pos­si­ble. My whole life I’ve been sur­rounded by things culi­nary and it just seemed like the right path. Di­dier Elena, Alain Du­casse, Char­lie Trot­ter, Philippe Ruiz.

AM: Chefs Club Aspen is truly iconic, what is it like to be Ex­ec­u­tive Sous Chef?

CS: It’s a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence like no other. Ev­ery cor­ner I turn there’s some­thing new. We are build­ing some­thing re­ally great, not just for the day-to-day cus­tomer, but for our em­ploy­ees as well. The chefs whom we col­lab­o­rate with teach us all some­thing dif­fer­ent. A new tech­nique, in­gre­di­ent, phi­los­o­phy, and that’s what it is all about. Bet­ter­ing our­selves to bet­ter the ex­pe­ri­ence.

AM: We were ex­cited to learn Chefs Club Aspen was com­ing to New York City. What is it about the Chefs Club NYC that is dis­tinctly New York?

CS: Just like NYC, Chefs Club NYC is a mix of all types of back­grounds. From French to Asian to Amer­i­can to Ital­ian and so on. We em­brace all styles of cook­ing, modern and clas­sic. Some­one can go from lit­tle Italy to Korea town just as easy as or­der­ing app and en­trée.

AM: What are some spe­cial things you have lined up for NYC Restau­rant Week?

CS: We’ve brought back our ever so pop­u­lar Thai glazed short rib by Eric An­der­son from Min­neapo­lis and white Bolog­nese by Lach­lan Pat­ter­son of Fresca Food and Wine in Boul­der.

AM: Who are some of the up­com­ing ac­claimed chefs com­ing to Chefs Club NYC and In­side Chefs Club that we have to look for­ward to for 2017?

CS: Mid Feb. we have Chefs An­drew Tay­lor and Mike Wi­ley of Even­tide Oys­ter Co. in Port­land Maine com­ing in to give us a New Eng­land ex­trav­a­ganza. First night in our PDR, then the sec­ond night a main din­ning room takeover. A few days later, Chef Mehmet Gurs of ac­claimed Mikla in Istanbul Tur­key will be grac­ing us with his take on Ana­to­lian cu­sine. And in March, Chef Matt Abergel of Yard­bird in Hong Kong to just name a few.

We Chat­ted with Chef Chris Szyjka as he had re­cently joined to par­tic­i­pate in leg­endary cook­ing clas­sic, Cochon555.

When we en­tered Cochon555, New Porc City 2017, we were in­stantly swept away into fierce com­pe­ti­tion for whole pig cook­ing. Brook­lyn, New York marked the first stop for this multi-city bat­tle, where the ul­ti­mate cham­pi­ons will be crowned in the Grand Cochon in Chicago later this year.

Cochon555 is an in­tense event for top chefs to cel­e­brate her­itage pigs one bite at a time. Cre­ated in 2008 as a re­sponse for a lack of ed­u­cat­ing of her­itage breed pigs, this ‘nose-to-tail’ com­pe­ti­tion is ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing fam­ily farm­ers and ed­u­cate chefs and din­ers about the agri­cul­tural im­por­tance of uti­liz­ing Old-World live­stock. Mom and Pop, farm-to-ta­ble, BBQ and Miche­lin Star res­tau­rants are all worked with and share one core value: they source prod­ucts re­spon­si­bly.

The Sun­day af­ter­noon event was an epic culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence fea­tur­ing her­itage breed pork dishes of all kinds

with chef-crafted tast­ings, along with 40+ types of bou­tique wines, craft cock­tails and ar­ti­sanal brews. On its eighth year, the Cochon555 US Tour is aligned with modern day good food move­ment – no­table chefs, bar­rier break­ing women and men, artist-like butch­ers, spir­ited bar­tenders and brazen pas­try tal­ent. To­gether the tick­eted ed­u­ca­tional event show­cases are en­joyed and shared, build­ing a space for safer, hon­est food. A por­tion of all sales ben­e­fit The Piggy Bank Char­ity, helps fam­ily farm­ers with a foun­da­tion to gift her­itage breed pigs in ex­change for busi­ness plans. It sup­ports ex­ist­ing farm­ers re­quir­ing ge­net­ics to di­ver­sify blood­lines or re­build herds as a re­sult of dis­ease or nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

The in­au­gu­ral NYC event, New Porc City fea­tured five chef en­trants: Chris Szyjka, Chefs Club By Food & Wine (Her­itage Foods USA Old Spot pig); Ni­cole Ga­jad­har, Saxon & Pa­role (with Spring House Farm Large Black pig); Ryan Bart­low, Qual­ity Eats (with Dog­patch Farm Mule­foot pig); Greg Bax­trom, Olm­sted (with Au­tumn's Har­vest Farms Berk­shire pig); Aaron Hoskins, Birds & Bub­bles (with The Pig­gery Mule­soft pig). In­deed, Chef Chris ren­dered valiant ef­forts. Chef Ni­cole from Saxon and Pa­role took the NYC prize and moved closer to vic­tory. Each made nar­ra­tives and tasty prepa­ra­tions that en­ticed and cap­tured our senses. In our up­com­ing fea­ture, see Chef Chris pre­par­ing the fi­nal touches to his menu. Chef Ni­cole Ga­jad­har’s full menu and win­ning feast (with piggy banks, fes­tive car­ni­val tents, fly­ing cot­ton candy pigs bear­ing her name and all). Also we have a glimpse of Chef Ryan Bart­low with ‘Qual­ity Cochon’ coat, bring­ing out a full deli-style cre­ation in all of its glory. We have a mo­ment from the Punch Kings chal­lenge, where Bryan Sch­nei­der, from Qual­ity Eats dropped in­her­ently award-win­ning cock­tails, served in shiny gold tro­phies and find Kool Keith en­joy­ing judg­ing fes­tiv­i­ties. We see the Somm Smackdown and win­ner Ni­cole Hakli from ACME tak­ing the win and DJ Lord from Public En­emy scratch­ing some beats on the 1's and 2's. Our set ends with a dra­matic frame of a whole her­itage pig be­ing art­fully butchered and auc­tioned for char­i­ta­ble causes by Erika Naka­mura and Jocelyn Guest from White Gold Butch­ers, and a nod to­ward Wil­liams­burg’s Weylin Hall glo­ri­ous ceil­ing, con­stantly de­light­ing us all evening.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY PG 30 - 53 Paul Farkas


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