Chef Dennis entered the foodservice industry as a second chapter in his career. "I started my career in the business world, but the call of the kitchen was strong, resulting in my departure from my office job to work in restaurants and catering in Dallas, Texas," he said. Later, he attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and fulfilled his internship at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
Following graduation, Chef Dennis worked as a corporate chef in the culinary services division of an advertising and marketing agency specializing in foodservice clients. He developed menu concepts and recipes for a variety of clients. It was during this time that Chef Dennis first worked with a Lincoln Impinger Oven. "I first started using a Lincoln Countertop Impinger oven for food styling purposes," he said. "We regularly conducted photo shoots at work, and when it came to pizza, I quickly learned that no other piece of equipment in our kitchen could match the beautiful browning of the crust and melting of the cheese that was delivered by the Lincoln oven. This led to the discovery that the beauty was not only skin deep - the oven also delivered terrific dough development and an all-around great tasting pizza." As part of his work at the advertising agency, Chef Dennis developed the Mixology series for FoodChannel.com, which was a finalist in the 2010 Taste Awards for "Best Drink or Beverage Program: Web."
Q: What is your favorite or signature dish to prepare?
A: Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. I had an epiphany eating this dish at Judy Rodger's Zuni Café in San Francisco. The dish offers so many exciting contrasts in flavors and textures - moist chicken with crispy skin, chewy dried currants, toasted pine nuts, peppery arugula and crunchy/chewy bread chunks moistened with tangy vinaigrette. When preparing this dish at home I like to use the method published in her Zuni Café Cookbook.
Q: What are five ingredients you couldn't live without (besides basics)?
A: I can be very happy with a few pieces of quality chocolate or some in-season, locally-grown fruit. Anything that combines chocolate with hazelnuts is always a winner for me.
Q: What was the latest project you worked on that impacted process and workflow for the end user. What was the objective/problem to solve?
A: I recently worked on a Lincoln Impinger II Express Oven configuration that would allow the customer to quickly cook salmon fillets. Our initial results were too fast; there wasn't enough time for the customer to complete the other tasks required for the dish before the salmon finished cooking. Based on that input, we switched to a less aggressive configuration that would cook the salmon fillets in the same amount of time needed to complete the other tasks.
Q: What was the most challenging project you took on for a client, and what was the outcome?
A: I recently collaborated with a customer who needed to cook a wide variety of products in a Lincoln Impinger Oven with a split conveyor belt. Half of the belt was set for 2.5 minutes and the other half was running at 7 minutes. We worked with them to develop settings for everything from quesadillas and pizza to chicken breasts and salmon. The customer ended up ordering several ovens.
Q: What is your all-time favorite Manitowoc Foodservice brand of equipment and why?
A: I love the Lincoln Impinger Ovens. Though they are primarily associated with pizza (and rightfully so), these ovens can do so much more! They are terrific for cooking Tex-Mex foods and re-therming pastas; they also do an exceptionally fine job with seafood. The conveyor belt eliminates the need to constantly tend to the oven. A cook prepares and places the uncooked food on one end of the belt, and when it emerges from the oven, the food is done to the cook's specifications. This allows our customers to achieve tremendous consistency and can dramatically reduce training time for new staff-a 16 year-old kid can get the same results on his first day as a 5-year veteran cook.
Q: What is the importance of having quality, reliable equipment in a kitchen? Can you cite an example where equipment reliability (or a breakdown) impacted a restaurant/kitchen operation?
A: Quality, reliable equipment in a kitchen is paramount. If you can't achieve consistent results day in and day out, you can't expect to be in business for very long.
Q: What up and coming trend do you see on the horizon in foodservice? And how can Manitowoc Foodservice play a role in it?
A: Just as the foods and flavors of China and Japan have done in the past, I think the foods and flavors of India will go mainstream across the US, and find their place on menus ranging from fine dining to casual dining to quick serve. So whether someone is baking naan in a Lincoln Impinger Oven, re-therming a curry in seconds with a Merrychef accelerated cooking unit, holding samosas in a Merco Fried Food Holding Station, or making lassi-style drinks with a Multiplex Blend-in-Cup Workstation, Manitowoc Foodservice makes the equipment to serve great food quickly and efficiently.
Q: Do you have any advice or "tricks of the trade" for culinary students or emerging chefs regarding equipment?
A: Get the best quality equipment you can afford. "Bargain" equipment almost never pays off., to an ice cream sundae, and back to a fruit smoothie in one machine – with a healthy profit margin on every cup, and healthy choices for customers' wallets and waistlines.