Jay Leandro, exec chef of Pub 17 on Welton Street, on the Red Baron and fad diets
Worst food trend of the year: The gluten-free fad. My daughter had gastrointestinal issues, so I get diet restrictions, but there's an upward trend of being gluten-free -- and that really bugs me. Too many people are pretending to be gluten-free, when they really don't have a problem -- it's that whole, "I'm doing it because everyone else is doing it." Plus, it's really hard on the kitchen. We're happy to cater to gluten-free diets, but I just wish that people who are doing it for no other reason than it's trendy would understand that it's a pain in the ass for those of us who cook.
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: Going green. Finding and sourcing products locally and responsibly is a challenging task, especially for larger-volume places. Chefs today have to constantly fight with customer demand/expectations versus what makes sense for their kitchen and location.
What do you enjoy most about cooking? I like making comforting food that people can relate to. Oftentimes after I cook a very time-consuming meal, I won't even eat whatever it is I just made, mostly because I just want my guests to enjoy it. Teaching my daughter about cooking has been really fun, too; she always wants to make pancakes and bacon with daddy, no matter the time of day.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? My good friend Evan Brockman, who's a chef in Omaha. We used to make some pretty fantastic meals at home when we were roommates in college, but we never had a chance to work together in a professional kitchen. It would be interesting to see what we could come up with and then discuss the meal over a tall glass of Kentucky Deluxe.
What's never in your kitchen? Artificially flavored oil, which is almost identical to the dipping element on the Papa John's breadsticks plate. Also, you'll never find ThickenUp, a modified starch that thickens things but tastes funky and can make a cup of cold water as dense as a cinderblock.
What's always in your kitchen? Rice vinegar, freshly ground black pepper and some kind of jam.
Craziest night in the kitchen: I was cooking in a kitchen in Newport, Rhode Island, on a typical Friday night burn-down on the line. Dessert orders started coming in, tickets for crème brûlée were piling up, and the new cook couldn't get the torch lit. He ultimately decided he needed to test the torch, so with his hand in front of the torch tube, he gave it a few unsuccessful "clicks," and on the third or fourth click, the sucker finally lit. Needless to say, he burned the shit out of his hand and spent the rest of the night with his hand in cold milk and with the senior line brigade laughing hysterically. He was fired two days later.