You won't find Stretch on the line at Grinders very often. That's in part because he doesn't want to mess up the chemistry of the cooks who are there day in and day out, but it's also because his work for America's Chefs makes sure his knife hand isn't rusty. He was part of a team at the Great Lakes that recently served 8,800 sailors in three days. That meant 1,100 pounds of pork butt, 270 pizzas on the grill, 6,000 burgers and 175 gallons of smoothies, just on the first day.
"I was over at the restaurant, and a new guy asked me why I don't get my hands dirty," Stretch says."I told him that I made more food in two days than he'll make in a lifetime."
Yesterday, Stretch explained how a Philly toy designer became a Kansas City restaurateur, and tomorrow, he's going to be talking about where you might be seeing him on your television.
What are your culinary inspirations? When I'm cooking, I'm a totally hands-on guy. When it goes in the oven, I don't have any more control. I'm a stovetop guy. I like pots and pans and spatulas and open flames. That's action to me. It's like when I cast glass. It's molten and tangible. That's why baking doesn't interest me. It's too much of a science. Bakers are like jewelers.
What's your favorite ingredient? Anything spicy from the pepper family. Peppers can go in anything from avocado to a shrimp dish. I'm not a fan of green peppers -- they give me gas. [Laughs.] But a red bell pepper or a yellow pepper -- a lot of a plate is visual. You eat with your eyes before your taste buds. Some of my favorite things to cook, cook quickly. A good chunk of meat can be on and off in three minutes a side. But it's all in how it's displayed. I'm not a foo-foo guy, who wants to give you a little, one-bite kind of thing. I probably shouldn't eat so much.
What's your best recent food find? I recently found mango again. Mangoes to me are walking the streets of New York City and going into a bodega. Picking one up and munching on it, all that flesh and juice on your face. Mango is in all of our sauces at Grinders. We use a mango base; it goes well with shrimp. It's just wonderful and refreshing.
What's your favorite local ingredient? Is a rib considered an ingredient? The ribs here in town from Heritage Meats are really good. Their products are fantastic.
What's one food you hate? I'm not a big fan of mushrooms, man. I'm not a huge fan of mushrooms and liver -- things that had a job. I'm not a fan of how they're always prepared. But I've had some fantastic beef tongue with an egg on top. If it's sliced up real thin, it's even better, if you don't know what it is.
I'm not a fan of tripe, but I like the broth in menudo.
I've had goat and lamb. The lamb smell bothers me. If it's too lamb-y, I don't like it. Although I had a lambsicle the other day at the ballpark from the Capital Grille that was a killer. And in Africa, I met the Maasai, and they slaughtered a goat in the back of a pickup truck. That was an experience, partying with the Maasai tribe. They just place salt in the corners of the table, and you drag a big chunk of goat through the salt. I was a vegetarian at the time, and it was still wonderful.
What's one food you love? If I can get a great veal parmesan, I'm happy. Anthony's has a decent little one.
Where do you like to eat out? I eat almost every meal out. I love the food down at La Bodega. They have great food down there. It's one of my favorite restaurants to eat at. Nara's bento boxes are good. It's a good deal and a good price. Cafe Sebastienne with Jennifer Maloney is one of my favorite places. Her staff is a lot of fun. And one of my favorite new places is the Genessee Royale Bistro.
What's your guilty pleasure? Ice-cream sandwiches. I cut them in half and slip a Hershey bar in the middle before eating it.
What's always in your kitchen? I always have hot sauces. I love the exotics, like the Scotch Bonnet [a variety of chili pepper] stuff. I love tenderloin. I love it. There's always beer and always whiskey. Right now, my favorite beer is Boulevard Pilsner.
If you could steal one recipe in town, what would it be? The Asian salad at Houston's. We kinda made it into the cobb salad at Grinders. And the green papaya salad at Thai Paradise. That's great.
What's one book that every chef should read? The new Guy Fieri cookbook [laughs] -- Guy Fieri Food: Cookin' It, Livin' It, Lovin' It. It's got simple, easy-to-read instructions.
Who's got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? Ribs from Woodyard BBQ with Arthur Bryant's sauce on it. I don't do sides, but Arthur Bryant's has the best beans. Gates has the best fries; they're crispy.
A chef is only as good as ... his ingredients.