Aaron Patin is a wonderful chef I met on Facebook. Besides sharing tips, we ended up actually exchanging some food, trading my bread for his specialty, charcuterie! Recently, I had the chance to get on the phone with Aaron to chat about the food business. The son of a Mexican mom and a French dad, Aaron grew up in the Midwest, then made his way to Europe. His specialty has been meats, a focus he has furthered while moving from the bottom of the kitchen to the top, exploring and cooking around the globe, never mind in some great restaurants across America. He was kind enough to share some answers to my questions here on Stir the Pots.
Tell us about how you became a chef?
I feel you're always “becoming a chef.” For me I don't think I ever had that “aha moment.” I was exposed around all kinds of good food growing up and traveling. I thought, I like to eat well so I'd better learn to cook.
Does your living in the Midwest influence your palate?
I don't think so. Sure, there things I like about the Midwest, but nowadays you see worldly flavors in everything.
What sort of food do you prefer making, white linen upscale or simpler fare?
I think every chef enjoys levels of refinement, at times. The good ones know when to cook and serve which.
I’ve tried some of your charcuterie a while back, and you have a new project in the works, will this involve more sausages and meats?
Charcuterie is fun because you had only a few guidelines for results but the potential for adding flavors is so vast. It will not be a forefront in my endeavor but always apart of my repertoire.
How does a chef balance cooking for his or her flavor or style with that of the customer? Or are they eating that food because it’s a reflection of the chef?
If there's one thing I've recently realized as a chef its this; you're not going to always please everyone and that's okay. So don't try to make something for everyone. Limit your menu and offerings; be the best at it around and the rest will come.
What inspires your cooking?
How hungry am I and what I am in the mood to eat! We all have classic comforts we like to rely on. I also like to try new techniques a lot, not just a couple of times, refine it and add it to the bag.
You traveled in Cambodia and Thailand, what was that experience like? Do you dig back into those flavors a lot?
At the time of my S.E. Asia travels, I thought that was it for me. I was going to immerse myself in that culture and cuisine and become it. I did for a while. There were moments when I realized I never had a ripe pineapple or mango. The simplicity of ingredients is what drew me and the bold punch of flavors layered so well is what stuck with me the most.
Some methods of cooking you prefer? Example of something you’re cooking lately?
Expanding in fermentation. My potter friend made some crocks so I've been going a bit crazy aging different vegetables for krauts, or mash, add a layer of something fermented is something we as cooks forget how much we do. I want to make those things rather than buy them.
How do you describe American food? Can you label it?
American food... I don’t have a nice opinion. Gluttony, selfish, stuff-my-face-cause-I'm-hungry. Not concerned about any future impact on myself, or anything else. What hardships has our country had to deal with when it comes to food? We have always had the most choice cuts of meat and abundance of everything else too. Soul is lost in cooking a lot of times because of that.
Recently, you've been exploring BBQ, an area I think of like jazz, an American standard. How do you see it?
BBQ is another style of cooking that has lost its meaning. Gas pits? Pellet smoker, electronic controls? True BBQ cooks know it's 80% about your fire 20% everything else. If you’re not using fire, is it really BBQing?
Dream kitchen or food truck? What’s chef Patin’s ultimate theater of cooking?
Dream kitchen for me, dare I say, I would very much love to be a homesteader and host family meals and or events. The living off of the land is truly living for me.
What do you like to eat?
In general I tell people I have two modes. Hungry and I could eat. Pretty much live like that. I cook at home more than we go out. I like very traditional Mexican (from my mother), I like to eat food that has soul. Not much I don't like to eat when it had been prepared by hand and with love.
What do you do when you’re not dreaming or cooking food?
My mind is always on the next meal.