An Intimate Conversation with Chef Eric Gitenstein, Owner, MF Tasty of Portland, Oregon
What grandparent wouldn’t be especially proud of their grandson the chef? Every grandma we know. At least now HE can slave over the stove!
In our world today, one thing is for sure…food comprises the highest form of sensory expression, knowing no age or gender for enjoyment and pleasure. In a split second, a chef’s creation is viral!
“Food is the tangible result of my creative expression, hopefully making people happy in the process. I care deeply about what I am making in the kitchen, but ultimately, I can’t get so serious to think that I am re-creating the wheel. Ultimately, the lunch or dinner I create today is tomorrow’s $%^$! “ ~ Chef Eric Gitenstein
“There is something evanescent, temporary and downright fragile about food. You make it, it goes, and what remains are memories. But, these memories of food are very powerful.” ~Jacques Pepin, international acclaimed chef
“There is no love more sincere than the love of food.” ~George Bernard Shaw, playwright
Our exclusive interview with Head Chef Eric gives all of us an insider’s look into a chef’s life, his workspace, and contribution to the world of food. Candid, refreshing, and authentic are three words that describe Chef Eric, not to mention that his food creations are absolutely out of this world! Plus we have a great recipe to share…
Eric moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Portland Oregon, and set down roots with his beautiful wife Nicole and their three dogs (the love of their lives). Portland is an important destination for foodies and entrepreneurs looking to take a shot in a town that champion’s uniqueness — and roots for the underdog. The city has all the perfect ingredients: a community where almost anything is possible, tons of amazing seafood from the coast, delicious farm ingredients, young breweries and vineyards all within one’s grasp.
Chef Eric’s food cart MF Tasty is located in the Mississippi district in Northeast Portland at the corner of Beech & Mississippi. This area is a cool strip filled with food trucks, as well as great restaurants and bars, music venues and fun retail shops. In the early hours, you may find Chef Eric bicycling his way to deliver his notable southwestern food to customers new and old, many who are daily regulars. If you are visiting or have the chance to experience the food of Portland, head over to MF Tasty – it’s not to be missed. In the meantime, enjoy the interview, and don’t miss Chef Eric’s recipe!
Grandparentslink: A little background here, Chef Eric.
Chef Eric: I became a chef rather unintentionally – I was in college at the University of Arizona and worked after school in restaurant kitchens. I realized at that time, I had a burning desire to further my love of ‘food’ and get serious about learning more. Ultimately, I attended after U of A, the Arizona Culinary Institute. I found out there through my training that I was definitely not a baker. To this day, my mother has in her kitchen preserved my first pastry project I created which was the chicken from ‘Family Guy’ made from chocolate fondant. . You know, boys can make a mom really proud!
Grandparentslink: Where did you get your start? Is the kitchen really a dangerous crazy place? Come on; give us the inside scoop here.
Oh yeah, there’s a bit of that kitchen shenanigans that happens in almost every culinary environment. Remember, there’s alot of sharp instruments in the kitchen and a lot of fire; two elements that create craziness! Having started my career in Phoenix and Scottsdale, I got a sampling of great experiences from working with top catering companies to hotels to very famous independent restaurants. I was the Chef at Lola Tapas, and Executive Chef at Bliss/Rebar, and executive Sous Chef at Otro Café, and well as a Sous Chef at Eddie’s House. All of the aforementioned gave me a great foundation to go further.
Grandparentslink: Wait, we want to know– why is the Chef’s office, a la the kitchen, such a cookey place?
Chef Eric: Well, like I said, knives and fire, close working quarters, personality conflicts, tired exhausted feet and minds., and the intent to please the customer, all contribute to a bit of stress. Let me tell you … 90% of the behavior in a professional kitchen would be an HR nightmare in the corporate office! This isn’t your 9 to 5 environment. I’ve had chef’s scream at me in my face and threaten my well-being, all of which is over food. You have to keep your head down, say: “Yes chef”, and learn from your mistakes. The best piece of advice I was ever given about dealing with bosses like this from a colleague was to listen to the message and not the tone in which it is delivered. . One thing for sure- professionally working in a kitchen means these things come with territory, and you get away with falling short based on your value to produce. Let me tell you, I ‘ve seen a lot of stuff happen in the kitchen…met a lot of interesting people working there; i.e. some guys I shared the floor with who were on their 3 DUI work release, but were consistently important, talented chefs who were producing amazing food that mesmerized customers who returned in droves.
Grandparentslink: What does it mean to be self employed- you aim to please? What’s your take on your food and what you want your customer to experience:
Chef Eric: Being a chef in my book requires a lot of discipline to be able to deal with the hard work that is required. I am on my feet over 10 hours a day doing demanding physical work that also requires me mind to be as sharp. I must be organized and keep my customers my first and foremost priority. I must listen to their likes and dislikes and be able to adapt to that. Thus the beauty of being my own boss in the kitchen! Also, I gotta be in shape as I am the sole accountant, repairman, dishwasher, and everything in between the grill and refrigerator. Sure, I’ve lost it sometime, but never at the expense of someone else’s feelings.
Grandparentslink: What are your goals and a bit of advice for a budding chef out there?
Chef Eric: I am committed to creating accessible food that showcases flavors I love and reflect my principals as a Chef. For instance, I pay a big premium for antibiotic/hormone-free organic/local proteins and veggies. I do this because I find the food is not only more delicious, but also it is the ethical thing to do. I create a footprint with my food. I care deeply about what I am making and do so with passion. I believe a great work ethic and positive attitude trump a prestigious degree and a so-so work ethic, and encourage people to experiment with food, find what interests you, spend time in a professional kitchen, see what the work environment is actually like, not just what you see on TV, find a chef that inspires you, and most importantly have fun.
Grandparentslink: What is the flavor and essence of your food truck MF Tasty?
Chef Eric: Our style for MF Tasty is “Southwest Inspired, Portland Made, “ meaning that after living and working in Arizona for so long, I have come to love the Spanish and Mexican influences that have shaped elements of ‘southwestern cuisine’. And, I love that Portland is receptive and excited about this food, which is so refreshing since it isn’t oversaturated in the market here. I have access to all the amazing food products that Portland purveyors and the regions of the Pacific Northwest have to offer – all of which contribute to the uniqueness of our food cart.
I really love working with the tougher cuts of meat, meaning ones that require the patience of braising, slow roasting, or smoking that coax the flavor out of the proteins.
Grandparentslink: Where can our readers catch you?
Chef Eric: Questions or comments? firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow me on Instagram & Twitter : @mftasty
And, catch me on www.mftasty.com
And, if you are in Portland…
Catch up with me at the MF Tasty Food Cart:
3710 N Mississippi Ave,
Portland, OR 97227
Here’s a favorite recipe the Chef is sharing:
Roasted Poblano Cornbread (serves 8)
2 poblano peppers, (roasted, deseeded and chopped)
4 oz unsalted butter chopped into the smallest pieces you can
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tblsp kosher salt
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
Garnishes – Honey & Butter
Preheat oven to 350F.
To prepare the peppers: over an open flame (if you do not have a gas range you can get a pan very hot and with no oil and sear all sides of the pepper to maintain a desired effect) roast the peppers so they blister as much of the skin as possible. Place in a covered jar or bowl covered in plastic wrap. Allow to steam. Once peppers are cool enough to touch, peel the charred exterior off leaving the flesh in tact. Slice each pepper in half, and remove seeds and stem. Chop into small pieces.
In one mixing bowl add eggs, heavy cream and butter. Mix until blended. Stir in baking soda, cornmeal and flour until a batter is formed (to ensure even distribution, I recommend a separate mixing bowl to mix all the dry ingredients first, then add this mix to the wet ingredients). Once batter is mixed, stir in chopped peppers and mix again.
In a cast iron pan or sauté pan that is oven safe, spray pan with pan spray or rub with a piece of butter. If you have parchment paper available, line buttered pan with it. Evenly distribute the batter in the ban and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. The cornbread is finished cooking when you can stick a clean knife into the center of the cornbread and no wet batter sticks to the knife.
Allow to cool. Once cooled, slice each piece and garnish with a little butter and a drizzle of honey.