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posted: 11/27/2012 6:00 AM

Chef du Jour: Culinary olympian helps others grow food ventures

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  • Chef John Reed of Customized Culinary Solutions in Skokie says crispy scallops with herb grits and Greek salad with toasted pumpkin seeds is quick and family-friendly dinner.

       Chef John Reed of Customized Culinary Solutions in Skokie says crispy scallops with herb grits and Greek salad with toasted pumpkin seeds is quick and family-friendly dinner.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Chef John Reed of Customized Culinary Solutions in Skokie says crispy scallops with herb grits and Greek salad with toasted pumpkin seeds is quick and family-friendly dinner.

       Chef John Reed of Customized Culinary Solutions in Skokie says crispy scallops with herb grits and Greek salad with toasted pumpkin seeds is quick and family-friendly dinner.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
By Abby Scalf

In his 30 years in the culinary field chef John Reed has served as executive chef at restaurants around the world and as a teacher closer to home. Today he wears another hat, that of culinary consultant helping businesses ranging from caterers to food equipment managers improve their operations.

"I realized some companies needed certain skill sets but couldn't afford to have someone of my skill level on the payroll full time," said Reed of his company, Customized Culinary Solutions in Skokie.

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"I began to build business by helping other companies be successful in difficult times by offering specific solutions for a focused need or gap in their business."

Who first fueled your passion for cooking? I started cooking and experimenting with food when I was 8 or 9 years old and then got a job on a farm picking organic vegetables. Those little things and my parents being somewhat frugal with food started me down the path.

When I began this career, French cooking (nouvelle cuisine) and chefs were the ones we had as references. I was classically influenced by Escoffier. I had two chefs that had a tremendous influence on me. Chef Reto Demarmels influenced me how to be a leader, and chef Carrie Nahabedian from Naha restaurant in Chicago taught me strong discipline and fundamentals.

What are some of the places you've worked? I have been an educator at Johnson & Wales University and the College of DuPage. I have worked in Florida, Massachusetts and Switzerland. In Chicago I have worked for Four Seasons Hotel and most recently before starting my own business at Food For Thought Catering in Lincolnwood.

What do you enjoy most about your job? It changes every day. There is always something to cook and taste.

What does Customized Culinary Solutions offer clients? The business model is based on "On call executive chef and culinary support services." CCS is available on an as-needed basis to answer questions, provide solutions or bounce ideas off for all things related to serving great food. Services would include customized menus, recipe management from written recipes to database setup and management, mentoring and development of culinary departments from restaurants and catering companies to food and equipment manufacturers. We also support the sales and training process through demonstrations at networking and trade show events.

You're a member of the American Culinary Federation's culinary team. What is your role as part of this team? I was most recently part of the ACF Regional Culinary Team that competed in what is called the "Culinary Olympics." It is an international cooking competition held every four years in Erfurt, Germany. We were one of four teams under the ACF umbrella that represented the U.S. at this competition. I was part of a five-person team that presented a cold food display. We competed against 45 other teams from around the world and finished fourth overall.

Working in so many ways within the culinary industry, what role have you enjoyed most? It always goes back to not what I have done or been recognized for, it is always how have I helped someone else get excited and rewarded in the industry. It is humbling when someone else said you were an influence on their career. Seeing my kids enjoy food and seeing people sitting around a table communicating and laughing is rewarding. If the food I put on the table is a part of that, then I am happy.

Do you have a favorite style of cuisine? I love to cook everything. Some days I cook cuisines from around the world to homemade burgers and fries to multiple course dinners for the family. It changes every day.

What advice do have for novice cooks? The advice I will always give to anyone who cooks is to "let your hair down." Food and cooking should be fun and from the heart. Don't be rigid to a recipe. Cooking -- unlike baking -- is highly dependent on multiple variables. Read a recipe, let it guide you but not rule you. If you are missing something, change it to what you have. You never know what you might end up with. It could be awesome or it could be bad, but you would never find out.

What are your must-have kitchen tools? You need three to four good knives, not a collection, a good set of pans, a stand mixer, food processor and your mind. You don't need a bread maker, ice cream maker, toasted sandwich maker, etc. They are all bits of clutter. They are crutches and more a hassle than kneading bread on a counter.

What types of meals do you enjoy cooking when at home? My kids have said it many times, "anything in a casing or from the odd bits of animals."

What do you do in your spare time? I enjoy talking about cars with youngest boy, golfing with my oldest boy, gardening, traveling with my wife and cooking for my friends.

Tell us about this recipe: This is a bright and refreshing salad that doesn't require a lot of work. I usually serve this on a buffet table. It's great addition to a holiday menu. Fennel, citrus and arugula all work well together. The lemon juice brings a nice balance to the peppery and anise flavors of the greens and fennel.

• To recommend a chef to be profiled, send the chef's name and contact information to food@dailyherald.com.

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