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Chef John Fout interview

Discussion in 'Life on the Edge' started by MotoMike, Apr 13, 2014.

  1. MotoMike

    MotoMike Founding Member

    Hello Everyone. KKFora is pleased to bring you another new feature. While reading our Fora, I found myself wondering what all these knife wielding chefs went though in their day to day toiling. Like anything else portrayed in movies and television, I suspected I had not been getting the true story. Some of our member Chefs and Sous Chefs have agreed to tell us what it is like to be in their shoes. When I broached the topic with our own John Fout, he said “Ask away”So with that welcome to…

    chef logo.jpg
    John Fout.jpg

    John Fout​

    F.jpg Hi John, Thanks for helping us out and sharing your story, could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

    hat.jpg I'm your standard work-aholic chef. I’m Divorced. Live in a modest condo. I enjoy messing with fountain pens, kitchen knives and I make time to go pheasant hunting with my dog every year. I drive a 15 year old Jeep and plan to drive it for another 15.

    F.jpg How long have you been a chef?

    hat.jpg 8+ years in management. I’m third in line with a senior sous chef and executive chef at my place.

    F.jpg Can you tell us about the restaurant?

    hat.jpg I'm at a high end steakhouse chain. Mine is located in the north end of Columbus, Ohio. It is a publicly traded corporation with over 125 restaurants worldwide. It isn't the most amazing food from culinary standpoint. Rarely any specials and the menu rarely changes. What we make is good, even great. It is consistent and you will love it. The work is steady and I don't have to worry about business dying down.

    john fout filet.jpg

    We only use USDA prime wet-aged steaks. I see these steaks 50+ hours a week and they still make me drool when I take them out of Cryovac to shape. That says something about our meat. I rarely eat steak anymore. This place has spoiled me. Nothing compares.

    John fout fillet.jpg

    F.jpg Can you tell me about the Cryovac and shaping the steaks.?
    hat.jpg Cryovaccing just keeps the air off of the meat. The meat doesn't oxidize and they have longer shelf life. You can get a week plus out of a steak in cryo that has been kept cold. We keep ours at 38 degrees.
    Shaping just makes it look more picturesque. Nice round filets. shapely ribeyes, not all wonky or B or D shaped. Oval.

    F.jpg Can you tell us about your kitchen?

    hat.jpg Short of the 180,000 BTU Hotel Broiler we have pretty standard kitchen equipment. No Dexter's Laboratory stuff here. As much as I would love to use an immersion circulator on a 22oz bone-in ribeye, we just don't. Our desserts are simple, our sides are not complicated. We are a five star McDonalds with exceptional service. We want you to feel like a million bucks when you walk in the door and feel like a billionaire when you leave.

    bbq shrimp.jpg

    hat.jpg Most everything is made from scratch. We don't make our mayonnaise but that is about it. Everything has a short shelf life and we have produce and seafood orders six days week. Seriously good food. I'm amazed at what I can get in Ohio compared to when I was cheffing in South Dakota. My produce guys always come to my place first. We have small orders but they tell me we are the pickiest. Glad they are learning.

    F.jpg That broiler must be a beast and I suspect a key part to the end product?

    hat.jpg The broiler lets the meat get a great char on it without being burnt. I mean we can burn some steaks in it but there are enough hot spots that aren't in direct heat to make a great low char med-well or well.
    The burners are above the grates. There are steel tiles above the burners and another really thick piece of steal above those tiles. The grates are on wheels and rolls out. The grates can also be raised or lowered closer to the burners. Rare and med-rare steaks we typically sear off on the top to get it a nice sear. If we throw them into the broiler they don't necessarily get a good sear before they are at temp so that is an easy fix.


    F.jpg How about your Culinary training?

    hat.jpg Culinary School dropout. I Got to my internship. It was paid. I was learning more there and the only classes I had left were labs on different world cuisines for three more quarters.

    F.jpg What is your busiest day and what is that day like?

    hat.jpg Valentine's Day can be really busy. This year it was hell for five nights. We set a location record for sales in a week. Mother's Day is harder on the staff because we open at 11 instead of 5 and most of my staff will not work Sunday mornings because they have two jobs and work Sunday brunch at their other jobs.

    College graduation days for The Ohio State University get rough because they are also on Sunday and same problem applies.

    Christmas Eve was VERY busy and Christmas day was busier than it should have been. I'm ashamed we are open on Christmas Day but it isn't my call and when you can make another $30k in a day it is hard to not be open.

    New Year's Eve is amateur hour worldwide. Most customers are drunk and waitstaff are on end but it goes really well despite being at capacity.


    F.jpg What would you say to a youngster who wants to become a chef?

    hat.jpg Only do it if you are prepared to work every weekend and holiday, rarely want to see the sun, have nerves of steel and aren't a delicate flower. If you think you have it, try it out. It is nothing like TV chefs. You make the same 8 dishes 500 times a night 40+ hours a week. If you can't make it the same way every time don't get butt hurt when someone says one is wrong and do it again.

    Also, if you're a chef, line cooks aren't your friends. They are employees. You have no heart. Nothing personal, just business. Not saying you can't be friendly and get to know them. It is a very family-esque atmosphere most places because you spend so much time together but the bean counters need to happy.

    Reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential can also help. If you can relate to it, great. If you can't, you may be going into the wrong business. I'm not saying it is exactly like Kitchen Confidential but it will either scare you or make you fall in love with it.


    F.jpg Do you have a dish or two you really like to prepare and if so would you tell us about it?

    hat.jpg I cook what I'm in the mood for. I go in spurts with what I cook. Dishes that I used to make at least once a month a couple years ago, I rarely make now.

    I do marinade and grill a Thai style roasted chicken. Lots of garlic, chilies, Thai basil in the marinade, spatchcocked and roasted over charcoal... served with a peanut dipping sauce and jasmine rice. YUM! can't get enough.

    I cook a lot of classic dishes. They just rotate by region depending on my mood or what is in the cupboard.

    F.jpg Since we are a knife forum, we should probably talk about your knives. Do you prefer stainless, carbon, something else? Please tell me about your knives.

    hat.jpg I think carbon and stainless both have places in my kit. I personally prefer carbon but when the line is jumping it is easier to just grab the stainless knife. Carbon knives have soul. They can tell a better story. I have a soft spot for old Sabatiers but typically reach for a Richmond Artifex with a Sab profile in 52100 or Richmond Laser in AEB-L. I have a Tojiro ITK Gyuto I leave at home but mostly because it is a pain in the butt to keep dry even with a patina it changes fast.

    I'm cleaning up a 10"Elephant 4star Sab at the moment. I got it off ebay on a low-ball bid that actually won. I may fall in love with it. It may go to the Buy-Sell-Trade. I just can't keep them all.

    I have a Hiromoto AS 240 Gyuto and 180 petty being thinned and getting some new shoes from Dave Martell. It was a group buy at Badger and Blade and I am looking forward to getting those in my hand. I don't know if they will follow to me to work on a regular basis or not. I typically don't buy something unless I intent to use it at work but my knives at work have all hit the deck multiple times and I would hate to have to do a tip repair on either of those (or chip/crack a scale!)

    I still have all the knives I started out with in Culinary School. I used the chef knife for years. I have a love hate relationship with it. It was my first chef knife. It has been around the country with me. It is a soft steel and for all general purposes, I call it a hatchet. It has a wide spine, isn't that heavy, has worn smooth rubberized handle and needs sharpened all the time! It had an oversized bolster from the gate so the blade was a pain in the butt to sharpen. I finally fixed that but it took time. The knife was so uncomfortable to use. I had a HUGE knife callous that went from the palm of my hand to the first knuckle on my pointer finger. (It is now a reasonable sized callous...) And all through culinary school the chefs would say our knife cuts would get better in a couple of years as we would be more practiced. They lied. My knife cuts got better when I got rid of the hatchet. Not that my cuts were bad but they took a lot more concentration. Now I can do it all without thinking about and when I'm not using that knife. The Mercer is kept sharp but it is mostly relegated to frozen pizza duty. If I'm only dicing a single onion at the house I will use it but it I have more knife work to do I will go out to my Jeep and get the knife bag.

    F.jpg I know that you sharpen your own knives, do most chefs? How do you sharpen and what do you use?

    hat.jpg Most chefs I know do not know how to sharpen a knife. Some know the basics of it and can get a cleaner or better edge on a knife but typically once I sharpen a knife for them they see what can be and just have me sharpen for them.

    My current set up is meager but gets the job done. Actually I think my stones are worth more than my knives... Something to consider. Anyways, I have a generic lapping plate, a Naniwa 400, a Shapton 1k, a Naniwa 2k Green Brick of Awesomeness, a Shapton 4k, 8k and Takashima Koppa as my natural. I have balsa strops with .5 micron diamond spray and a Tony Miller Linen and Steer hide strop for my razors. I don't quite have a knack for sharpening razors but I'm getting better. I can shave off the 8k with diamond strop but it isn't the most enjoyable.

    I got the 1k/4k shaptons with a stone holder for Christmas a few years ago. Prior to that I was using an inexpensive Tri-hone from Smith's that was $20 at Home Depot. Those are small stones but I got through culinary school with it and used it for six years before I got my Tojiro and wanted some nicer stones.

    I would love to get more naturals but I want to get a couple grinders and a band saw first. I have a bunch of nice burls for handles and a stack of blades needing handle. It just takes too long to re-handle with hand tools.

    F.jpg I see in the forum that you volunteered to sharpen some members knives and some mention of starting a service. Can you tell me about that?

    hat.jpg My knife business. It is literally just starting out. I got my LLC a couple of weeks ago and I'm just getting clients. I'm mostly just sharpening right now but would love to eventually offer some knives for sale or lease knives out with sharpening service but that will be a bit further down the road. I've got a couple of hair salons that I do scissors for and a handful of chefs I sharpen personal knives for. Most of the restaurant owned house knives take too much work to sharpen. They see too much abuse. Some of the personal knives I've been doing take too much abuse IMO but I obviously baby my knives. I don't baby them as much as some on the forum (my knives have a job to do and so do I!) but I do take care of them.

    F.jpg Aside from your knives, are there other tools you find must have or very useful?

    hat.jpg Good heat resistant spatulas and tongs are worth their weight in gold on my line. Kuhn Rikon makes some carbon blades peelers. They come 3 for $10. They work very well and I can get a couple months use out of one before it needs replaced. We peel close to 600 pounds of potatoes a week.

    Other tools... plating spoons are decent and squirt bottles for garnishing with sauces. Pretty basic stuff that you don't miss until you don't have it.

    F.jpg This is some fascinating stuff to me and I am sure others will appreciate your candor. It sounds like a tough job. Is there anything you’d like to add that we’ve not discussed?

    hat.jpg Other random rambles- I never thought I would be in a corporation. I have done a lot of casual dining cooking while sneaking in some fine dining dishes whenever possible. Always in mom and pop shops. The quality of the food I'm able to put out now outweighs the creative side. Part of creative soul was crushed for a bit but I'm being more creative in my hobbies. Working on knives has filled some of that void, calligraphic writing has filled other parts of it. I get creative in my home kitchen every couple of weeks and my roommate and girlfriend reap the reward for sure.

    I'm also mostly a clipboard chef. I spend a lot of time on the cook line but most of my day is spent prepping simple ingredients, counting things for inventory or staring at spreadsheets to squeeze out the most nickels from the place that I can.

    Sorry this isn't the most impressive. Past kitchens I have done more creative stuff like making my own pancetta and pates or playing vegetable and potato roulette- we would look through Escoffier's Guide D'Culinaire and pick out a starch and veg du jour and make it for the week. We had a lot of fun with those and it got people to try different things...

    I miss some freedoms of a non-corporate kitchen but the security in what I'm doing now is awesome for hopefully settling down and rebuilding a family.

    F.jpg Thanks very much John. It is impressive to me and it is very interesting. As you mentioned earlier, it is not like TV where so many of our perceptions are forged. Your honest account might be the spark that gets someone interested in a rewarding career. I think that about does it for me, but if you are game, I’d like to turn it over to the Fora as I’m sure they are curious about something we have not covered.

  2. Jim

    Jim Old Curmudgeon Founding Member

  3. Yes! Thanks Mike. Even I learned a bunch about John and we are right here in the same city.
  4. Haggises

    Haggises Founding Member

    I could murder a good steak right now.

    Thanks John and thanks Mike. A great read!
  5. Interesting reading. Thanks to you both
  6. James

    James smarter then your average duck Founding Member Gold Contributor

    Lol I got your letter today John, nice timing. Great write up Mike, thank you both for taking the time
  7. John Fout

    John Fout Founding Member

    Thanks guys. Mike asked some good questions!
  8. Toothpick

    Toothpick #2 since day #1 Founding Member

  9. MattS

    MattS Founding Member

    Good read, thanks guys.
  10. Intrigued

    Intrigued Founding Member

    Thanks for taking the time to do this, John and Mike. It was really interesting and I love those pictures! :cool1
  11. MotoMike

    MotoMike Founding Member

    Thanks everyone. John was a real sport. I was lucky to have his help.
    If you know a chef you'd like to see featured, PM me and I will reach out to them.

  12. Ronnie Aloha

    Ronnie Aloha Founding Member

    Great read to begin the day. Thanks to both of you!
  13. beginish

    beginish Silver Contributor Founding Member

    That's a great interview, gents.
  14. roberto

    roberto Founding Member

    Interesting,love it
  15. Dave Martell

    Dave Martell Professional Craftsman Founding Member

  16. John Fout

    John Fout Founding Member

    I worked your name in for when this becomes super famous years from now ;)
  17. Dave Martell

    Dave Martell Professional Craftsman Founding Member

  18. Burl Source

    Burl Source Founding Member

    Very enjoyable interview. Thank You Mike and John.
    Now I am hungry(er).
    The photos were great. I could almost imagine how the food would taste looking at them.
  19. Boris

    Boris Founding Member

    thanks for the read john and mike, super interesting and great insight on what goes on behind the scenes.
  20. Toothpick

    Toothpick #2 since day #1 Founding Member

    Has anyone ever asked to "meet the Chef"?

    I recently had such an amazing meal I felt like telling the waiter "bring me the man that cooked this"

    Would that be frowned upon in the chef world or would it be cool to have a guest personally thank you?

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