031 – Ian Boden, The Shack
There is a shortage of line cooks in this country. Is it because new culinary graduates want to be instant Top Chefs? Are they unwilling to earn their bones on the line, hoping to skip ahead to celebrity status? Or has the explosion of food culture caused the shortage by the very nature of its popularity? Maybe it’s as simple as being 22 and not wanting to spend your formative years cooking in a small town when you might make a name for yourself in New York?
This week I talk with Chef Ian Boden about this very thing. From his 26-seat, 400 square foot restaurant, The Shack, in the heart of Staunton, Virginia, Chef Boden is creating some of the most tasty, creative food I’ve had in years. On first glance you’d think such a small space would create more problems than opportunities but Ian sees only freedom. Freedom to be the kind of chef he wants to be and the freedom to create the sorts of dishes he wants to make. And he’s able to do it with limited staff only four days a week. Dinner only. The Shack just celebrated its 2nd anniversary and thankfully shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, four of his dishes made my “Best of 2015” list.
Early on the restaurant earned accolades from the likes of Esquire writer Josh Ozersky and Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema. But as anyone who’s worked in the food industry knows there’s no such thing as overnight success. Ian has been at this a long time starting as an apprentice under French Chef Marc Fusilier at Chez Marc in Manassas, himself a Maitre Cuisiniers de France (M.C.F.), the prestigious organization of Master Chefs of France. After culinary school he cooked in New York and while still in his 20’s opened Staunton Grocery and five years later was selected as chef of Charlottesville’s Glass Haus Kitchen.
All of these experiences taught him to be a good chef you have to be present. Focusing on your guests rather than on accolades, celebrity, and hype. Not running an empire from an office with a clipboard, but in the kitchen every night, getting excited about whatever seasonal ingredient you have in front of you and continually perfecting, tweaking, and trying new things. What I love about the way he cooks is an ingredient on the menu on Wednesday will be in a totally new form by Saturday. So eating at The Shack is always an adventure. It’s progression. And it’s always delicious.
In this episode we talk about his improvisational style of cooking and why having restrictions and specific parameters actually helps you to be more creative. What is schmaltz? What is redneck caviar? What’s the difference between molecular gastronomy, “fussy” French cuisine, and what I like to call “tweezer food”? You’ll find out. We go down many culinary rabbit holes in this episode so make a pot of coffee and settle in. This is good stuff people.
As I drove home from Staunton I couldn’t help thinking about a scene in “The Gambler”. Mark Wahlberg is compulsive and in trouble when he approaches John Goodman for a loan. John explains when you are in debt to someone else, when you are working toward someone ELSE’S dream, you’re not operating from The Position of Fuck You. And that is the highest goal a human can achieve. To be beholden to no one. To only be driving toward your own happiness, your own peace, and to not owe anybody anything. It’s a great scene. You should watch it. And in my opinion, Chef Ian Boden is most definitely operating from The Position of Fuck You. A good place to be.
This was recorded the day before Snowstorm Jonas hit and a few times folks came in with questions and snow preparations. I thought about editing them out then figured what the hell. I want my listeners to know what happens day-to-day in a restaurant. This is it guys. You wear many hats. Even during a scheduled interview…
SHOW NOTES – Links to items discussed within the episode:
- Josh Ozersky writes about The Shack in Esquire mazazine
- Tom Sietsema write about The Shack in the Washington Post
- Chefs With Issues – an important project on the mental health of folks in the industry by food writer Kat Kinsman
- The Problems with Food Media that Nobody Wants to Talk About – an important article by First We Feast
- Francis Dunnery – my musical hero. He saved my life. Literally. “We walk like flowers towards the sun to know ourselves….” Stay to the end of the song for some guitar MAGIC. Just unreal.
- Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury gives a Ted Talk. And it’s awesome.
- The Spice Diva
- J.Q. Dickinson Salt Works
- The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
- The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis
This episode is sponsored by In A Flash Laser Engraving.
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