Considered one of the founders of Contemporary American cuisine as we know it and longtime chef/owner of the iconic mk Restaurant in Chicago, Michael Kornick serves as a model of lasting success and perseverance even through tough economic times. Not only has mk stood the test of time for decades, it has also been a training ground for numerous chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, managers and other restaurant staff who have gone on to win accolades and awards as well as open their own restaurants. Here’s what Kornick has to say about his own training ground and inspirational figures throughout his life and career.
FE&S: What was your first job in foodservice?
Michael Kornick: Busing tables and washing dishes at Wildberry Ltd. in Highland Park, Ill. in 1977.
FE&S: What are some of your first memories about food?
Michael Kornick: Warm bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches on toasted white bread, Jay’s potato chips and a cup of Campbell’s tomato soup. This was the difference between lunch (cold sandwiches) and great lunch. My father and mother were foodies and often brought home treats from restaurants. Some of my favorite doggie bags were N.Y. Sirloin from Fritzel’s and Lobster from The Palm. We used to go to great neighborhood restaurants like Del Rio in Highwood, Ill., and Billy the owner would have the chef make pasta prosciutto, which was never on the menu (but always available), and hamburgers with thick onion rings at Night n’ Gale. My mom cooked at home and made delicious brisket, escargot, steak tartar and the best chicken soup with matzo balls, parsnips and turnips.
FE&S: Do you have any other nostalgic favorites from your childhood?
Michael Kornick: My childhood holdovers are not in the sweet category — I love savory. Peanut butter (Jiff creamy), bananas, smoked bacon on rye toast, a classic. Hard salami, Dijon mustard and new pickles, BBQ potato chips with onion dip made from Lipton onion soup mix and sour cream. On the sweet side, Reese’s peanut butter cups.
FE&S: When it comes to crafting dishes, what inspires you most?
Michael Kornick: The market — I love to shop for food. Having it delivered by a supplier in the restaurant is never the same. I also love to go to the markets when I travel and I’ll cook what I find — usually whatever is fresh and in season.
FE&S: Do you have a favorite cookbook?
Michael Kornick: My 1961 English translation of Larousse Gastronomic – I want to be buried with it. The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, Alice Waters; The Cuisine of Freddy Girardet, Freddy Girardet; An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, Elizabeth David; Consider the Oyster, MFK Fisher; The Physiology of Taste, Brillat-Savarin; On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee; Simple Cuisine, Jean Georges Vongerichten; Memories of Gascony, Pierre Koffman; Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics, Jeremiah Tower.
FE&S: If I were just starting out in the foodservice industry, what advice would you give me?
Michael Kornick: Work for passionate chefs or other people willing to teach. Be patient, spend lots of time reading, travel, learn Spanish (if you choose to work in the U.S.), learn as much as you can about wine and beer, and fall in love as often as possible!
Click here to read part one of the interview with Michael Kornick.
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