Learning and Growing by Trial and Error

By | September 5th, 2017

Even though he’s allergic, Chad Myers, Executive Chef of Dubuque (Iowa) Golf & Country Club, still experiments with seafood and trusts the palates of his cooks and other staff members at the club as they work together to create the perfect dish.

As chefs, I think it’s fair to say that we all come up with dishes in our heads that don’t translate to the plate. On the flip side, trying new dishes or ingredients, testing new ideas and pushing ourselves to think outside the box can result in dishes that are better than we thought.

As you may remember, I’m allergic to seafood. So seafood butchery usually gets passed off to my grill guy or my sauté guy. That said, there are still some instances where I can’t avoid butchering or working with seafood. It’s actually kind of fun for me. It forces me to work as carefully as possible to create beautiful cuts that I will never taste.

As the Executive Chef of Dubuque (Iowa) Golf & Country Club, I also have to plan menus that incorporate seafood. And so I have a few dishes in my repertoire that I know taste good because I have had good palates tell me so.

There are other times where I have to take a culinary gamble with seafood and hope it works. I recently had a seafood purveyor aggressively pursuing my business here at Dubuque (Iowa) Golf & Country Club. I looked their product list over and over and finally decided to try something I’ve never tried or worked with before—tenderized octopus.

Sometimes I fantasize about working for a famous chef and learning everything about everything. Then I can perfect my own style and ride off into the sunset with all of my newfound knowledge. The fact of the matter is that those chefs aren’t usually looking for 40-year-old line cooks with families and bedtimes.

Anyway, my point is that I’m still refining my style and learning is a big part of that process. But if I want to learn something, I must teach myself.

I was told by the purveyor that the octopus was tenderized in the Mediterranean Sea and all I had to do was boil it for 30 minutes, shock it, and serve it. My sauté cook was skeptical. He has worked with octopus before and said it can be a tricky protein. We decided to do the boil. But I wanted to give it flavor and I wanted to char it on the grill, so I marinated it in some oil I had that I used to confit mushrooms, hoping it would bring some earthiness to the dish.

I also knew that I wanted an herbaceous kick so I made an herb pistou with tarragon, basil, chives, and parsley. For texture, I shaved some golden beet, radish, and carrot. I tossed those with local sweet corn and topped it with a matsutake shoyu vinaigrette and the thinly sliced octopus. (I went with thinly sliced hoping that even if it was rubbery, the thinness would help.) I garnished with nasturtium for some pepperiness and micro sea beans that my trusty Chef’s Garden sales person, Brenda, said would be perfect.

After a few test runs on cook times and multiple tastings with some staff members at the club, I knew I landed on a winner when the Assistant Golf Pro, Brian, told me he would “eat the shit out of that” and my sauté guy said he would order it if he could. Turns out, they were right. In the 2 weeks of running the special, we sold almost 20 orders, which is pretty good considering the skepticism from many.

Even though I am not an expert on octopus, I am now confident that I can put out a decent dish without having ever tasted it. So it’s on to the next lesson taught by teamwork and trial and error.

One Response to Learning and Growing by Trial and Error

  1. Hey Chef,

    Great read – I’m sure it’s pretty tough for you to put out seafood dishes with your allergy! I do the same with meat dishes – I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years. I rely on my taste testers on all of our meat dishes, but I also have a good memory of what meat tastes like and what works well with the different proteins; but, trust me, there has been a time or two where I’ve had massive failures with some of my steak specials…

    I’m very curious about your 30 minute boil, though. We typically braise our octopus for a minimum of 2 hours in red wine. The end result is fork tender octopus. I also know several other chefs who prefer sous vide for a super tender finish. We cook ALOT of fish here at our club. Surprisingly (being inland and all), all of our seafood items are our second highest selling items. Feel free to shoot me an email anytime if you have any curiosities about flavor profiles and/or cooking techniques for particular seafood items.

    Cheers!

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