Like many chefs, Reed Johnson worked many long nights that kept him from his family. For a few months, he left restaurants to become a foodservice sales rep, but he didn’t like the work. A fortuitous visit to a restaurant owned by his former boss would help lead him back into the kitchen and a better lifestyle.
Like so many chefs, you wanted to balance your work life and home life, so you tried a food sales role in hopes of achieving that.
Yeah, I did, but it wasn’t me. I just love to cook, love working with other cooks and feeding people. So, while it didn’t last long for me, I didn’t want to go back to working nights all the time in a restaurant.
What drew you back to a restaurant kitchen?
I worked a long time in catering for Wiltshire Pantry (a high-end Louisville caterer), which was a job I really liked. So, when I was still a distributor sales rep, I called on Wiltshire’s owner, (Susan Hershberg), and we met at the (Wiltshire at the Speed) café.
As we were walking and talking, I see two CVap®s and asked her how she liked them. She said she didn’t like them, that they screwed up product and she wouldn’t let the chefs use them. I’d known Susan for a long time, so I felt comfortable saying to her, “No they don’t. They’re amazing.”
Then, as luck would have it, the chef at Wiltshire at the Speed leaves, and you quit sales to take the job. I gather you auditioned those CVap®s in short order?
Yeah, I really wanted to show Susan how amazing they were. The cool thing is I didn’t really have any idea how much they could do until I started playing with them using the café’s menu. We do lunch and brunch and really large events, so we change the menu a lot. I started experimenting with them to see how we could run things better here.
Where did you start?
We do brunch, so we need to be good at egg cookery—which I say is the test of any good cook’s skills. But when you get busy, the first place where consistency goes out the window is egg cookery. So, we use CVap to do sunny-side-up eggs. Put them on a Silpat in a CVap set on 135 F, and you can hold those perfectly for hours— and they won’t lose their sheen. Of course, we don’t have to hold them for hours since we turn them over so quickly. We also hold poached eggs in water bath perfectly in CVap.
My sous chef loves to bake, and he uses CVap for bread proofing and baking. Most kitchens are too cold or too hot to proof in, but if you do it in CVap and know the right settings, they leaven perfectly. We do English muffins a lot in CVap, and they’re perfect. We bake puff pastry in them, too, and Susan couldn’t believe how well it comes out.
CVap is like any tool: You have to know how to use it. Once you understand the science behind it, you’ll start using it for everything.
Talk about using CVap® for large events at the museum
We have movie night event called After Hours, and we’ll put out upwards of 1,000 small plates for about 400 people. To do it, I set up the CVaps for foods that require dry heat and one for moist heat. Recently we did Latin-inspired street food, which we can’t cook to order because tickets come back too fast. So, we pre-fire a lot of that and stage it—stage almost everything. If you tried to do that in a normal kitchen without CVaps, the food would dry out on you. But CVaps set up properly lets you stage and hold that food perfectly so you can serve it in a fraction of the time.
If we had to cook that same food from raw to finished, it would take at least twice the employees to do it. Now, I have one cook firing food, one cook plating brigade style and I’m calling out tickets. They pull what they need from CVap, garnish the plate and it’s gone. In that setting, it takes the cooking out of service; we’ve done it ahead of time.
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