An interview with a “Real World” Chef

By: Dinko Cirkic

So, your at home or walking on the street and you get hungry so you choose a restaurant, go there, order, eat, pay and leave a tip, right? Right. What did you not do? If you are like most of us you didn’t thank the chef, the guy that prepared the food. Well, my cheap eater$ let me give you a chance to get to know a great chef, learn about food from a chef’s point-of-view, and maybe even thank him in the comment box.

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down on a curb with Max Verhey, a “seasoned” chef, in the luxurious Gold Coast “hood” of Chicago to talk food. Max has been cooking with his mom since he was child and has been working as a cook in the great city of Chicago since he was a teenager. So my cheap eater$ let me finally introduce you to a real chef.

Dinko: Max, where did the love of food resonate for you?

Max: For me personally it started with my father very successful restaurant and bar owner here in the city of Chicago for the past 28 years. Grew up in the restaurant industry. He always had a passion for the industry and food in itself.

DC: Where did you first hone your cooking skills?

MV: Where I first started cooking was with my mom. My mother is great cook.  She has thought me everything that I know about cooking. She used to cook dinner every night and I used to help her out all the time. She’s a great cook and probably the biggest influence in my cooking. I learned all the basics from my mom.

DC: Could you tell my cheap eater$ a little bit about your cooking background?

MV: I started my first restaurant job when I was 16 years old working at this bakery restaurant down in Andersonville. I worked there for a about a year and then I went to Red Light on Randolph where I also worked for about a year. I worked at Pops for Champagne for a year as well. Then I went to Paris for six months and cooked there. I went to culinary school for 2 years specifically Kendall College and I got my Bachelors Degree in Culinary Arts and Business. Now I’m working at Whole Foods Market Gold Coast in the Seafood department as the seafood buyer which also ties into the culinary arts world because it though me how to cook healthy shit (laughs).

DC: What were your specialties at the restaurants that you worked at?

MV: At Red Light I worked with Pan-Asian food. I was a sauté fryer cook mostly based on Americanized Chinese, Japanese, and Korean food.  At Pop for Champagne I was dealing with American contemporary cuisines working with more high detailed foods, more chesses, meats, and oysters. In France I mostly ran the fish station out there.

DC: Tell me more about France?

MV: France was Great. I worked there for about 6 months. I was the dinner chef out there for the fish and seafood. I worked at two big restaurants out in Paris. I learned a lot of good shit out there. I met a lot of really cool people. It was crazy man.

DC: How’s your French now?

MV: (Laughs) It sucks man. It was never good (laughs).

DC: What’s your favorite dish to prepare?

MV: I don’t know man that’s hard. There are a lot of different dishes that I could conjure up for you. Any kind of scallop or lobster dish I feel like they’re the best. They’re more difficult to cook so it’s more of a challenge, but I feel like those two things I could really get down to perfection. The flavor of each profiles the two greatly and they’re my two favorites for sure.

DC: If you had to pick your favorite dish or cuisine, but your specialty what would it be?

MV: I would have to say throughout my culinary career so far I’ve been pretty focused on seafood cooking, a lot of seafood like fish and shellfish. For some reason I’ve just gone after that. I haven’t really gotten a chance to enjoy it quiet yet like eating wise, but for some reason I’ve always been focused on cooking and preparing seafood (laughs)

DC: So, the whole thing behind “Cheap Eat$ for College Peeps” is finding foods that wont break your budget. What dish would you prepare for under $20?

MV: Honestly, I would keep it simple like lets say high-end tacos or high-end pizzas or pastas. There is a lot you can do with cheap ingredients like tacos, pasta, and pizza. Rice and cheap meats definitely do well together. Tacos are very easy to make especially with cheaper meats. It’s easy to cook and pretty inexpensive.

DC: What’s your favorite cheap eat$ from chips to anything else that would be considered under a budget?

MV: Yeah man I’d go with onion rings man (laughs). Hell yeah, I have a thing for Onion rings, that’s where its at. Cheap as hell, cheap as hell yeah (laughs).

DC: What’s your favorite restaurant in the city? What’s your favorite snack place?

MV: My favorite restaurant would have to be Paramount Room, which is over by Grand, Halsted and Milwaukee. It’s really good contemporary American bar food, great beer list, fairly cheap, and healthy portions. It’s a young hip place to go to. My favorite snack place has to be McDonalds. I love McDonalds, it’s cheap. I go there spend $2, fill up.

DC: Thanks Max.

MV: Thanks buddy anytime.

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