In a recent installment of Eating Wrong, SFR food writer Zane Fischer spoke with the director of Las Cosas Cooking School, Johnny Vollertsen (aka Johnny Vee). In the article, Vollertsen comes off as a smooth operator who keeps his cool under pressure. Chef Chat doesn't buy it. So this week, we decided to ambush Vollertsen with a mostly new set of questions in order to find out just how even his keel really is.---
Vollertsen originally hails from Rochester, NY. He had been living in Sydney, Australia when he first visited Santa Fe almost two decades ago. The big capital to smallish capital proved to be a little underwhelming for the New York native, so he high-tailed it back to Australia for a couple of years. However, the siren's call of "The Land of Entrapment" eventually got the better of him, and he ended up back in Santa Fe where he has lived and worked for the past 17 years.
As Vollertsen tells Chef Chat, "Santa Fe has a funny way of luring us back here once you've been."
Though Vollertsen's formal training has been in restaurant management, he has spent a healthy amount of time in front of the stove. In addition to teaching would-be chefs at Las Cosas Cooking School, Vollertsen is Food Editor for Santa Fean Magazine and the host of Bits & Bites with Johnny Vee on 1260 KTRC Talk Radio.
SFR: What kind of restaurant does Santa Fe need the most?
JV: Wow, that's a good one. Here's a few adjectives that come to mind: Provocative, fun, wallet-friendly, new, surprising. I just wish we had a few restaurants that were more fun, convivial. Also, I like an easy restaurant. When I go to Los Angeles, Cali., I go to these places and everything is so easy. I look at the menu and everything looks so great and so interesting. Do you know the Yiddish word "Chazeray"? It means too much unnecessary stuff. Other cities seem to make it so easy, here's what we're trying to do and there's no drama. I think that's what Santa Fe could use.
How do you feel about molecular gastronomy?
I think it has it's place, and it can be fun as long as they're not hitting us over the head with it.
What's one thing you will absolutely never eat?
Sea urchin. I actually had a friend that worked for me years ago, a young chef, that lived in San Francisco, Cali. He was scuba diving for sea urchin and drowned. Maybe I have that connection to it.
What's the worst thing you've ever made?
You know I tried to recreate, I kind of fiddled with a recipe, it was an orange beef dish. It was like a Thai orange beef. It just was just awful. It was kind of funny because the students were all like um, er. I finally said look you guys, I think it's terrible.
Which kitchen tool can you not live without?
Rubber spatula. I mean a knife, but a knife might be a little obvious.
Have you ever totally freaked out and/or lost your temper in the kitchen?
Yes, not so much in the cooking school, but in a professional setting. I remember right before lunch service started in a restaurant where I was the day chef, I dropped a big container of soup and it went all over the floor. I was by myself in this restaurant in New York, NY, and I couldn't clean it up. So I worked the entire shift standing in and working in this soup. I think it was a carrot soup. The orders started coming in and you just keep going.
What takes the edge off when you're done cooking?
How do you deal with criticism?
Terribly. It's funny, I'm becoming more paranoid about criticism. Luckily, because of the way my writing is presented, I don't leave myself open to criticism—usually because I'm trying to find the positive in what I'm writing. Occasionally we get those emails like, that guy doesn't know what he's talking about. I do believe we all have our own opinion, even if you're a non-professional. I do try to listen to criticism and think to myself, maybe they have something there.
You're on a desert island with no tools, how do you prepare the fish you've caught with your bare hands and what wine would you pair with it?
I like that. Probably, I'd try to rig up hot stone cooking somehow. Like maybe get some saltwater on the fish with a fire going, and I'd heat up a stone by the fire so I could hot cook it on the stone. I think you'd have to pair it with a coconut sauvignon blanc. That is, sauvignon blanc fermented from coconut somehow, a la Gilligan's Island.
What's your favorite restaurant in Santa Fe?
I have different ones for different occasions, but my latest favorite is Max's.