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Interview with Chef Sachem Allison

Discussion in 'Life on the Edge' started by MotoMike, May 31, 2014.

  1. MotoMike

    MotoMike Founding Member

    chef logo.jpg

    We bring you our second installment of The Chef’s Table. It is becoming clear that the life of a chef is not at all what I had imagined. Up next is Sachem Allison. His friends call him Son.


    Sachem Allison

    F.jpg Hi Son, thanks for agreeing to share your story with us. Can you start by telling us who you are?

    hat.jpg I'm forty years old and have been cooking for almost 20 years off and on. I am of Menominee and Vietnamese decent. I've done many things in my work life from sculpting, soils engineering, paleontology, construction, landscaping and knife making.

    Some sculpture

    F.jpg How long have you been a chef?

    hat.jpg Been a chef almost twenty years off and on.

    F.jpg Can you tell us about the restaurant?

    hat.jpg I work at a little Irish Gastro pub called the Crooked Knife in NYC. We make simple rustic comfort food. Nothing fancy but, solid. I don't do fancy anymore. I find folks really ultimately like the basics well done. We strive to be a neighborhood place but, that's hard sometimes because of where we are located. There really isn't a neighborhood here.All around us yes just not on our section of the block. We are getting there though.

    dinning.jpg fire2.jpg

    F.jpg How is the kitchen at the Crooked Knife?

    hat.jpg I have a pretty bare bones kitchen. No fancy equipment. I have an old Waring food processor and a store bought Osterizer blender for my counter top tools and two twenty year old Bowery Special six burner stove/oven combo non convection, 24inch gas grill and a 20 year old fryer. My reach in coolers are probably 30 years old and are held together with hangers and tape. My knives right now are 1960's vintage carbon steel chef knife, an 1860's paring knife and one of HHH 240mm AEB-L chef knives.

    F.jpg Where did you get your training?

    hat.jpg Most of my culinary training was on the job from very special chefs. I have been very lucky in that regard. I did go to culinary school after being in the business for years. I went to the school of Culinary Arts at The Art Institute of Phoenix. If you have absolutely no culinary experience I recommend going to culinary school. If you don't have the financial resources I suggest finding a good chef and getting into the kitchen and working your way up. I was an Executive chef for 5 years before I went to school when I got out I had to start at the bottom and work my way all the way back up. I went to school because, I couldn't get the jobs I wanted without a degree and when I got out all they saw was that I just graduated. Just find a good chef/ teacher/ mentor and learn.

    F.jpg I am amazed the pace you guys put yourselves through. What is your busiest day like?

    hat.jpg Friday thru Sunday 175 covers for brunch and I do all the eggs and work the grill, 125-150 covers for dinner and I work sauté, grill and ovens. It’s busy and I'm getting old but I wouldn't have it any other way. Mind you there is me, one cook and one dishwasher/pantry person for 7 days a week open to close. I just lost three people over the last 2 weeks, two on the same day. Two pregnant and one got sent back to Mexico. It's going to get a lot busier for us now and my boss is a cheap son of a **********.(GUN?)

    F.jpg If I was a youngster considering the glamorous life of a chef, what would you tell me?

    hat.jpg Don't! If you don’t want to work weekends, holidays, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, births and anything else that is important in your life this is not the career for you. If you want to abuse yourself by working for ungrateful, cheap, douche bag owners and customers, be surrounded by drug addicted alcoholics with chips on their shoulders, well this is the place for you! They will also be the best friends you ever had. They will take a knife for you. (Been there, I know). Bail you out if they can, Get you drunk when your girl bails on you, get you drunk when your knives get stolen, get you drunk when you cut off some part of your body, get you drunk when you meet a new girl and cook you an awesome BBQ from stuff stolen from my kitchen. All on a Tuesday because, we don't get no stinkin weekends off and Mondays are a **********. Then this is the place baby. Do it for the love of the food, not your ego!

    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 It may seem a little over done these days because everyone had it on their menu for awhile but, I've been doing a braised pork belly for 20 years that will make you slap your Chinese grandma. Mandarin Braised Pork Belly with boiled peanuts and sticky rice. You aren't getting the recipe. All the old timers in Chinatown used to stop by and order and try to get the recipe from me. They said, it reminded them of grandmas home cooking. The pork belly was soft and gelatinous not crispy. It would melt in your mouth and you would get this sheen on your lips and a smile on your face. You know you do it right when someone will order one more plates and eat just for themselves and order another to go. I haven't made it for a few years but, I keep the recipe in my wallet and if you think you can take it, I dare you.


    F.jpg It sounds like you have to be a strong personality to run your kitchen? At the same time it sounds almost like family. Having lost three people, I can't imagine how busy you must be. Then even when you get someone, they probably take more time to train than doing it yourself for a while.

    hat.jpg Yea, we are a family and these days it gets pretty difficult to fire someone because, you can't find a reliable replacement who will work for $10 an hour or less. So, being the chef I pick up the slack. It's not easy. I'm usually there 7 days a week even though I supposedly have Mondays and Tuesday's off. I try to sneak out early if I can but, it’s still a minimum 10 hour day and busy days 14 and really busy days 19 hours. Not to mention I spend about 25 to 30 hours a week in the subway. These last few weeks I've been dealing with pneumonia so I don't touch the food. It's really hard being three down and having to train 2 people with no experience from a distance without going into the kitchen. Good thing is, I can usually smell and hear when they do something wrong.

    F.jpg The restaurant looks like a comfortable neighborhood place, I see there are two locations and that you always rate highly in the local food reviews.
    salad3.jpg food4.jpg cake1.jpg
    hat.jpg I’m at the 14th Street location. We serve mainly comfort food with a twist. Very simple clean flavors. We recently had a menu change and eliminated a lot of the starches from a few dishes and replaced them with more vegetables and small little arugula or mixed green salads on the plate to lighten them up. So far no complaints.

    hat.jpg We get fairly good reviews about the food most times. We can't make everyone happy and sometimes folks come in with bad attitudes and sometimes the kitchen has an off day. We try to minimize those as much as we can. Our biggest weak spot in the restaurant is customer service. We have a bunch of very young entitled “twenty somethings” that really, were never trained properly and our GM was made the GM because there wasn't anyone else. She has no experience and shuts down emotionally whenever there is a problem. I tried to offer some advice as I have been doing this for twenty years or so but, these days a lot of front of the house managers don't listen to the chef. I never experienced that before. In the old days I would just destroy them and make them cry- GM included. Now if I do that, the boss recommends sensitivity training and anger management.

    F.jpg Do you have plans to bring something to your menu that is not there now?

    hat.jpg I actually just did a menu change. We lightened everything up and kept some of the old standbys. The grilled Shrimp with patty pan squash, shiitake mushrooms and heirloom cherry tomatoes is very popular now.

    IMG_20140521_172116.jpg IMG_20140521_170456.jpg IMG_20140521_201343(1).jpg
    Recent additions: Teriyaki Chicken Skewers, Salmon Burger and Crispy Sticky Salmon.

    F.jpg Not counting knives, what tools are indispensible in the kitchen?

    hat.jpg My nose. I would have to say a good pair of tongs and a fish spatula. Actually,....a dry towel for hot pans and plates.

    F.jpg Man with an 11 to 11 schedule at the restaurant, when do you have time to sleep? With that in mind do you have the gumption to cook any favorites at home?

    hat.jpg I don't sleep ever. I never cook at home anymore. By the time I get home its 2am and my roommate wouldn't appreciate the noise. I used to live with two other Executive chefs and I got home first. There was always a gourmet hot meal waiting for them when they got home. They were usually so tired or drunk that they never ate them, so I said the hell with it. I eat a lot of soup or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or bananas or cucumbers or radishes when I get home.

    F.jpg You mentioned making knives, anything to share there?
    hat.jpg I started making knife like objects when I was around 15. I made knives out of old files and my anvil was an old piece of railroad track. I actually, got quite good at it. I mostly made hunting knives and carving tools. A couple of my carving tools were used by Makah Elder and mask carver Ben Della for some pieces he did that are in the Smithsonian Institute. My knives I guess these days would have been called neo-tribal. Being Half Native American we just called them knives.

    F.jpg How do you sharpen your knives? Do you use a steel during shift?

    hat.jpg I sharpen my knives before my shift on and old King 1kx6k combo stone. I never steel my knives.

    F.jpg Do you have time for any diversions or hobbies?

    hat.jpg I read a lot. I'm on the subway between 3 and 4 hours a night. I read a 600 page book every 2 days. I read well over a 100,000 pages so far this year. Both e-books and real ones. I prefer the real ones. Read all of Dickens works last month. Twain's before that and Tolkien's and Frank Herbert's and Robert Jordan's

    F.jpg Are there some closing thoughts you'd like to share about anything at all or something you think we should have covered that we did not?

    hat.jpg If you are thinking about doing this for a living don't. Run away as fast as you can and never look back. With that said, I can't imagine never having done this. Do it young and get out and do something else before you get old, used up and bitter. Family first always.

    F.jpg This to me is really fascinating inside info that I am sure others will appreciate as well. I have great respect for you and others in your profession. With that, let’s see if the members have any questions that we did not cover.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 6, 2014
  2. Jim

    Jim Old Curmudgeon Founding Member

  3. Thanks for sharing!
    600 page book in 2 days is impressive, and I though I was a fast reader :)
  4. Wagner the Wehrwolf

    Wagner the Wehrwolf Founding Member

    Great write, great read!
  5. Thanks for this -

    The cooking world (and our forums) wouldn't be the same without you Son!
  6. Toothpick

    Toothpick #2 since day #1 Founding Member

  7. apathetic

    apathetic Founding Member

    Enjoyed reading this! Thanks :)
  8. zwiefel

    zwiefel Rest in peace brother

    Nice work guys!
  9. larrybard

    larrybard Founding Member

    Outstanding, fascinating interview. Really.

    P.S. Would you please PM me your recipe for braised pork belly? ;)
  10. MotoMike

    MotoMike Founding Member

    Thanks guys, it is a lot of fun for me. Son is a good sport and really did all the work.
  11. Lucretia

    Lucretia Founding Member

    One of these days I'm going to have to take a trip in New York just to meet Son and eat some of his food. (I have a nephew who moved to Buffalo last year, so I can use that as excuse. No one would know I was secretly planning a rendezvous with Son!)

    Great interview!
  12. Great read Son. Thanks again for all your hospitality. Dinner was delicious
  13. I don't trust this "Son" character. .....
  14. James

    James smarter then your average duck Founding Member Gold Contributor

    well done guys... although i need to stop reading these things on lunch with my paper bag sandwich lunch
  15. Great read Son. Thanks again for all your hospitality. Dinner was delicious
  16. John Fout

    John Fout Founding Member

    Great read!
    Why such s long subway ride?
  17. sachem allison

    sachem allison Founding Member

    Thanks guys. Unfortunately, I had another heart attack on Monday night and will be having surgery tomorrow afternoon. I won't be on for a little bit. Look forward to getting back
  18. Wagner the Wehrwolf

    Wagner the Wehrwolf Founding Member

    Dude! Cut it out! Good luck man.
  19. :( hope your health improves.

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