Each week we talk to a member of the Serious Eats community. This week we chatted with Paul Maki, aka Meat Guy.
Name: Paul Maki
Location: Chicago suburbs
Occupation: Manager of Culinary Development and Meat Technology for Saratoga Specialties
So, you work in the food industry?
I do, as a product development specialist for a seasoning company that specializes in industrial and food service seasonings. I work primarily with the meat industry. Being in product development is the most humbling and amazing job. My opinion is worthless—the client's is everything.
Do you consider yourself an adventurous eater?
Yes and no. I'll try anything anywhere I go, but my wife has serious allergies to onions, so dining with the family can sometimes mean boring food.
What is one of your earliest food memories?
The most vivid is sitting in my Finish grandmother's kitchen in Northern Minnesota, eating cardamom-laced cinnamon rolls. They're sweet, sticky buns made from pulla dough with a brown sugar glaze, hand churned butter, and walnuts.
When people come to visit Chicago, where do you take them to eat or recommend they visit?
It depends on what they like. I know a few good places for ethnic eats, but I stay out of the Loop, as there's so much great food around the suburban commuter lines and you don't have to pay a fortune to get there and park.
When you leave Chicago where will your last meal be?
My kitchen. I love cooking and would rather cook all day than eat out somewhere.
What is your favorite region/city/country to eat in?
Chicago! Home is where the heart is, and every type of food you can ask for is within five miles of my house. I can go Kosher, halal, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Mexican, Bohemian roast duck with sauerkraut and dumplings etc.
What do you love to cook most?
I am a baker and a sausage maker. It's a tossup.
Is there a special dish that you would consider your signature?
Another tossup. I make a wicked foccacia-based pizza, but my friends rave about my paella. People kill for my white chip mango and cocoanut cookies at work. My old neighbor keeps begging me for my homemade brats and Polish food.
What is the most disastrous dish you've ever attempted to cook?
Well, in the picture (above), the lady and I were doing a market basket cook at a seminar on smoked foods. We drew dessert and ended up making a smoked French toast with strawberries and figs, then topped it with a crème anglaise. We thought it was a half-assed attempt, but the chefs at the event loved it and the dish ended up being published in Plate Magazine. So disasters are relative. I guess I have never really crashed and burned on anything yet.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
A good burger, but I don't feel guilty about any food!
What is your least favorite kitchen task?
I love it all. The more mindless the task, the better the stress relief. Shredding cabbage to steam for egg rolls is a hoot as long as you're careful with the mandolin.
What is your favorite aroma in the kitchen?
Coffee, preferably with baking bread or cookies.
If you could eat or cook a meal with anyone who would it be and why?
Mel Brooks or Simon Pegg. Conversation and laughs make any job light and I think their stories would be really interesting. Working with an awesome chef would be great though too. Being around someone with greater skills than you really ups your game.
If you have do give up cheese or bread, which one would you?
Cheese. Bread is much deeper in my memories and more fun to make at home.