In Part II of our Q & A with Chef Heather Feher of Black Cat Culinary she detailed for us what she teaches in her private cooking classes, what she thinks of “celebrity chefs”, her food and travel experiences, and her dream gig:
You teach some specialized cooking classes. What does that entail for you and depending on the class, what can I expect to walk away with skills-wise?
My cooking classes are all over the place! It’s all about the group and what they want to learn. The two that I’ve taught the most are basic butchery… and vegan menus. Haha. I’ve taught scavenger hunts as team building activities and I’ve taught ultra modern techniques like sous vide and spherification. I’m doing a really fun combination class next month for a group I’ve taught before – after we learn how to debone chickens, I’m organizing a Chopped style mystery basket competition. Each team is going to get a bunch of ingredients from the farm we’re staying on and have to work together to make a side dish for the meal. I get to offer pointers and tips about their processes, and then judge the final products. One thing every class I teach includes is a basic lesson in knife handling and safety, because that’s really the most fundamental skill you need in any kitchen. My goal is that with whatever we’re focusing on in the class, everyone walks away feeling a little more confident than they did when they walked in.
Thanks to the Cable and YouTube, there are a ton of cooking shows and “experts” out there who are not actually chefs. What is the biggest misconceptions about being a chef?
Oh my god – you’ve hit a nerve! Almost everything, seriously. My biggest annoyance with YouTube/TV “chefs” is that SO MANY of them do things so fundamentally wrong – how they hold a knife incorrectly or hack apart an onion, or their cutting boards are so cluttered and filthy – stuff like that. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s glamorous and we’re all making tons of money. HA. I wish! The hours are long, the pay absolutely sucks most times, and you miss out on most social events because you’re always working – and if you do get out with enough time to make a party or a show on a weekend night, you always end up showing up smelling like food, haha. With catering, there’s this weird ebb and flow of business where you’re either working 100 hours a week… or you’re practically unemployed. It’s anything but steady, so you have to be really good at budgeting. In a lot of ways, I work freelance. I am constantly trying to get my name out there, contacting every tour I hear about, trying to hopefully get the right person on the right day. In the mean time, I’m also looking for local work to sustain myself – dinner parties, classes, etc. There’s also this weird misconception that anyone who cooks professionally is a “chef”. It’s nitpicky, but it’s an annoyance across the industry – you are not a chef unless you are running a kitchen. Period. “Chef” is a title of respect that is earned after proving yourself for years and years, after being promoted, or after taking the leap and branching out on your own. If you have a boss that is not the owner, you are a cook. Just because you have a show on YouTube doesn’t mean you’re a chef. It’s really obnoxious. I run a company and I still feel kinda weird referring to myself as “a chef”. For me, the transition from “cook” to “chef” was really just a LOT of paperwork! I cannot tell you how much I now loathe emails. It’s making list after list – shopping, delivery, prep, food cost, scheduling, invoicing… it’s maddening. I actually do more paperwork than I do cooking at this point in my career! Our diets are also really fucked up. Most cooks don’t eat actual meals – we have bites here and there. I recently had to keep a food diary for my allergist and it was a nightmare – did I taste the aioli for seasoning 3 or 4 times? How many bites of that braise did I have while it was cooking? It’s absurd. Most of us develop a really weird association with food because actual meals are so few and far between.
I know one of your passions is travel, so what are some of the cool places you have been to and what locales do you favor for amazing food experiences?
I am borderline obsessed with the city of Montreal! Honestly I’ve considered living there so many times. It’s the greatest. The metal scene is amazing, they have the best drunk food in the universe (poutine, omg) and the people are just so NICE. I’ve been to Norway twice now, and I love it there too – the scenery is ridiculous. I’m not sold on their food though, to be honest – though maybe I just haven’t found the right places! As far as amazing food experiences, I am all about trying the weirdest stuff from the most hole-in-the-wall places. My rule is that I’ll try anything twice – even Icelandic hakarl (fermented shark), which is honestly the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth. It’s cliché, but I didn’t have a bad meal when I was in Paris – one of the most memorable moments was eating a fresh savory crêpe from a cart vendor while walking through the side streets of Montmartre. Really, I think I love any type of food that makes me feel a connection to the place I’m in. I lived in South America for almost a year and worked at some of the best restaurants there were – but my most memorable meals were eating ceviche from this totally illegal back alley mom and pop operation, and eating a whole roasted guinea pig with my hands in the middle of the main square during a street festival in Cusco. I remember the experiences I can’t replicate at home the most.
You have some appearances coming soon up on some pretty cool shows, so by all means please plug those!
Well, I was on the Halloween episode of Guy’s Grocery Games – it was entertaining for sure. Catch it on the Food Network if you feel like seeing me cry about my cat. There is more stuff working, but I can’t actually discuss any of it right now – ask me again in a few months!
What is your dream music gig to cater for?
I don’t know if I actually have a dream gig – really I just want to work for bands I like, because there’s nothing better after finishing a long day of work than to turn the corner and be surrounded by amazing music. I actually really like the festival atmosphere – whether it’s just a weekend thing or a multi-city thing – the people really make the gig for me. Though if I had to pick one coming up, it’d totally be the Black Metal Warfare tour. Good cities, good bands, and in my opinion it’s the best time of the year to tour. I think I could have a lot of fun with menus on that tour.
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