12 May 2015

Q & A With Chef Michael Summers, Chef of Sigma Nu at Louisiana State University

Q & A With Chef Michael Summers, Chef of Sigma Nu at Louisiana State University

Chef Michael Summers is the head chef for the Sigma Nu chapter at Louisiana State University and a native of Louisiana himself.


Coming from a State drenched in a sense of community, culture, and food, Chef Michael knows the true meaning of experiencing life through passion.  He eagerly shared his positive attitude, triumphant moments, and a glimpse of life during Hurricane Katrina; all of which made him an even stronger chef today.

 

 

 

Q: How did you step into the culinary scene?


A: Everybody in Louisiana cooks, it’s so rich in our culture, however I became serious about taking up cooking and making it my profession after being fours hours away from a body bag. I had a severe case of pneumonia one year, it wasn't until I was in recovery when my mother said something that changed my course, she said “you don’t just watch Food Network, you study it.” Those words stuck with me for six weeks, I then decided to enroll in culinary school, where I later graduated and the rest is history!


Q: What’s the weirdest dish you've ever made?



A: Gator’s are not uncommon to be eaten in Louisiana but I’m sure it’s not the norm for people who live elsewhere, so I would have to say my craw-gator-chili which is crawfish and alligator with a rosemary honey cornbread as a garnish.


Q: You leave me no choice but to ask, what does alligator taste like?


A: It has the texture of a really great pot roast, it’s kind of stringy with a little chew but it taste just like a chicken tenderloin or a roasted chicken.


Q: What’s the most interesting moment you have experienced working in the culinary industry?


A: Two sisters were visiting New Orleans and decided to have dinner before heading their separate ways back home. As fate had it, they ended up coming to the restaurant I was a chef at during that time. While at the restaurant, one of the sisters asked the waitress if the chef (me) could prepare Coq au Vin, which is a slow roasted chicken dish that takes hours to prepare. Making Coq au Vin is no problem however it's very lengthy, so I went out and explained this to the ladies, they told me to just make it the best I can while not going through the entire process. So I made a couple of cheats and used a quicker braising method, prepared my wine sauce and just hoped for the best. As time went by I went out to go check on the sisters to make sure everything was ok and tasty. As I was approaching their table I could notice that they both were crying, the first thought that hit my mind was “Oh dear goodness what did I do wrong?” So I went to the table expecting to come up with as many as apologies I could think of but instead they both immediately jumped up and gave me big heartfelt hugs. Come to find out, the reason for their visit was to lay their mother to rest, as children their mother would make Coq au Vin once a month for a Sunday dinner and the Coq au Vin I prepared for them tasted very similar to their mothers,so by me making this dish, it would be the very last time they got to experience together the taste, smell, and memories it brought back from their childhood and their mother.  That experience was one of the best moments I've had as a chef.


Q: How did chefs and restaurant owners respond to Hurricane Katrina?

 

A: Everyone, restaurant chefs and home cooks, were opening doors and cooking for people right in the streets.  Chefs were not even considering charging for their services, not that they had a way to collect because without power you lose phone lines and internet services.  A lot of restaurants were barely standing with some culinary icons taking on as much as six feet of water in the dining room.  That did not stop the tenacious chefs from coming up with means to put something together and feed the people.  We have a saying in Louisiana, “You come to my house, you come to my kitchen” because we are going to feed you if you are our guest.  In Southern Louisiana, we are a tight community that comes together during rough times, we don’t want to see anyone left out, we all work together to take care of each other, and we will throw something in a gumbo pot so we can all eat together.


Q: What adversities have you faced being in the culinary field?


A: Probably  the lack of experience. The not having done this since I was 15 years old, some employers look down upon that. Just trying to just get my foot in the door was the biggest challenge.


Q: If you could work with anyone who would it be?


A: Mickey Mouse! A while back I was given a gift to take my family to Disney World and while I was there I had the opportunity to speak with every chef plus take a tour of their kitchens. The attention to detail, their attitude, the way they did things there is unsurpassed by anything. The opportunity to work for Disney World would be a career highlight for me.




Q: What’s your favorite culinary quote?


A: “A separation between cook and chef is all in your heart, it must become your lifestyle.” My other favorite quote is, “ In order to lead an orchestra, you are expected to turn your back to the crowd.” What that means to me, is that sometimes you have to go against the crowd in order to accomplish the job and that’s what I had to do in order to become a chef.

 

Written by College Chefs, Tiffany Square


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