Congratulations Chef Dakota Soifer for being our Chef of the Month for August! See what he has been cooking up at his restaurant Cafe Aion, in Colorado.
Where were you born:
I was born in South China, Maine.
Where do you work and where are you based?
I am the chef and owner of Café Aion in Boulder, Colorado
What is your favorite kitchen tool in creating your masterpieces/dishes?
My Paella pan is my favorite tool. It is made out of pounded carbon steel and the shape and thickness of the pan are great. I have one that is 12 inches and some that are 3 feet for when I cook for big farmer’s markets and large parties. I can get 40 or so servings out of each pan! I have a Spanish and Mediterranean restaurant, so we make a lot of Paella.
What is your sharpest sense out of all the 5 senses?
I think touch would be my sharpest sense. Growing up, I was always playing in the dirt in the garden helping my dad who was a carpenter. We did a lot of hands on and hands in things. I love to be hands on in all aspects- feeling the fresh produce we get in and even in rebuilding the restaurant. I have a degree in architecture, so when we remodeled the restaurant I was able to build the bar, design the community tables and the kitchen.
What advice would you offer for aspiring chefs?
Don’t rush to open your own restaurant or jump from position to position. In this day and age, people move around quite often and try to get a sous chef or executive chef position as quickly as they can and there is really something to be learned while spending years at the same restaurant throughout the seasons. Try to enjoy the process or you will burn out quickly if you don’t go slow.
What is one culinary tip every chef should know and perfect?
Everyone chef should know how to bake bread. It is something that’s kind of become lost and it adds a complexity and another layer of wonderfulness to a restaurant. The difference of a fresh quality is a special thing. It is really nice when you can see people slowing down and baking bread well.
What does good food mean to you?
Good food is thoughtful. It has a human touch. It’s not an assembly line. It is interesting how many of the very best or highly regarded restaurants become scientific and industrial in prep and production now. Everything has become too perfect. As a business owner, I understand how important it is for consistency and controlling your product, but in a way its gets away from the real joy of cooking. I also think good food is created on a wood fired grilled. The real fire introduces a part of nature that can’t be tamed or totally perfected at home. There should be a difference in eating at home and eating out at a restaurant.
What trends do you see emerging in the near future?
I see fast casual currently trending. It is really interesting from a business point of view. You see people taking the farm to table and sourcing things carefully and then applying that on a larger scale. It is somewhat sad to see restaurants becoming more standardized. You can now have wine on draft from a keg. Everything has become fast and easy. There is no patience in cooking anymore.
What features are important to you when selecting a Chef Coat? (particular fabric, style, sleeve length, pockets)
Definitely comfort and breathability. I need to be able to move around and not feel like I’m wearing a cardboard box. You wear a chef coat because it’s a sign of your profession. They’re white, which in our industry is ridiculous, but if you can work and keep it white, you’re skilled. You can take pride in knowing that you look good to your guests and clean to keep your professional mentality.
What is your go-to chef outfit? Do you prefer coats, tees, pants, shorts, aprons, hats, etc?
Jeans and a white t-shirt with my Dansko clogs.
Favorite ingredient to work with?
I really love bread. It is so cool what you can do with a loaf of bread. It is obvious that you can create sandwiches, but you can also tear it up and roast it to create crunchy croutons. You can do anything with these! You can use them to absorb sauces, add to a soup to create a luxurious consistency, create breadcrumbs to add texture to seafood pastas. It is so versatile and simple. It lives on after its fresh state to being stale and has many different uses throughout its lifespan.
Favorite City to dine out in?
It may be clichéd, but San Francisco has a special place in my heart. I moved out there after I graduated college to pursue my cooking career. I moved around to get myself into the best places to work on my career, had no responsibilities, and was in my early 20s. I had extra cash to go and try all these different places and explore the culture of San Francisco.
Best Dish you have ever made?
Paella. It is a special dish for the restaurant, but one time a few friends of mine and I had an idea to have a mid-day picnic party. We went into a field and made a fire. We had wine and cooked a paella and homemade sausage. It was great!
Place you eat most often on your days off?
Probably a dumpling shop that I go to with my daughter. She is 8 and loves dumplings equally as much as I do. I have my partner in crime and we take down a large spread of them. Dumplings are not something I cook or do often at home. They are of a different cuisine and use other flavors than what I am around at work. My daughter and I have either pan fried pork or Chinese soup dumplings.
Person you would most like to cook for?
My grandmother was always very supportive, but she never got a chance to come to my restaurant. It would be cool to have had her to come to the restaurant.
What made you decide to become a chef?
I was in college for architecture, but I got a job cooking to make some money. It was really fun! I was 20 or 21 and working late was always a party scene. It was really cool and fun, and I was doing well. Eventually I got a promotion and was taken under the wing by guys in the industry that I thought were cool and doing good stuff. I didn’t get into it as my end goal. I just followed a path and different opportunities opened up.
What is new on your DVR?
Bob’s Burgers is pretty funny. I am not much of a drama person. I want to giggle and relax when I’m watching tv. It’s a funny show and has to do with food.
Look out for some mouth-watering recipes from Chef Soifer this month!