Jensen Cummings, exec chef of Row 14, on the one ingredient that tastes like "burnt toenails marinated in Kroger brand vegetable oil" and "nooders"
What's always in your kitchen? Inspired and passionate people -- the kind of people who make me proud to be a chef. The grueling hours, high pressure and little pay do nothing to deter the unsung heroes in my kitchen. These warriors -- and I make a point not to call them cooks, because I don't hire cooks; if you don't want my job, I don't want you to work here -- are the people responsible for the amazing experiences that our guests get to have. At Row 14, it's people like Diane Snider, John Wallace, Jennifer Helmore, Mitchell Cummings, Chris Clarke, Johnny DiPierro, Wil Sumner, Sarah Brown, James Pitts and Daniel Blanchett that really make it all happen.
Biggest kitchen disaster: While I was the exec chef at Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House, we set up a satellite kitchen on the other end of our banquet space, loaded up a hotbox with enough strip loin for 100 guests, wheeled it over to the kitchen and then forgot to plug it back in. Thirty minutes later, we open the hotbox and...shit! Luckily, we were feeding guests from both kitchens, so we were able to rush the food from our main kitchen over to the satellite kitchen and vice versa, and by the time we got to serving food from the main kitchen, the cold food from the satellite kitchen had been heated back up. It was one of those moments where everything in the dining room is joyous and serene, but behind the scenes, people are running around with their hair on fire. I never made that mistake again, mainly because I made sure to have a cook who was responsible for plugging in the hotboxes from there on out. It's way too complicated for me.
Weirdest customer request: It's not necessarily the weirdest guest request, but the split steaks, where both people ordering it want it cooked to a different temperature, always makes me scratch my head, then curse, and then cry a bit when one of them wants it medium-well.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I had the rare pleasure of eating pickled lamb's spleen at gunpoint. To be honest, I was less afraid of being held at gunpoint than of eating the pickled lamb's spleen. Okay, so there was no gun, but the pickled lamb's spleen is not something I'll ever seek out again. Right, so I've said "pickled lamb's spleen" four times, just to really drive the point home that I really did eat pickled lamb's spleen.
Your last supper: It would involve pork -- German-style, with kartoffelsalat, rot kraut, senf und apfelmus.