Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.
Chris Jones and Richie Farina are chefs at Moto, a fine dining restaurant in Chicago that focuses on innovative and futuristic cuisine. They are both contestants on this season of "Top Chef: Texas." After attending Johnson and Wales University, Farina, the executive sous chef, started cooking in several Boston restaurants, and then joined Moto in 2008. In his spare time, he trains in mixed martial arts, a mixture of Ju Jistu wrestling and boxing. Jones, got his start cooking in his grandmother's kitchen. After working his way up the ladder in several restaurants, Jones is now the chef de cuisine of Moto. He lives with his wife and young daughter, Savannah.
Read Chris and Richie's diary to learn about their Thanksgiving traditions, and how they felt when Richie was kicked off "Top Chef."
Monday, November 21
11:30am: Wake up. I get to sleep in on Monday, my one day a week to rest.
12:30pm: My mom is visiting for Thanksgiving, so I get to spend the day with her. We decided to get some lunch at Flub a Dub Chubs, a hot dog place down the street from my apartment.
3:00pm: I placed orders for Tuesday and watched some TV with mom. I also answered a lot of my new Twitter followers. I thank every new follower I have for their support.
5:30pm: On Monday nights I train MMA for about three hours. It is a mixture of Ju Jistu wrestling and boxing. It is a great workout. I probably completely soak three shirts with sweat but it is so much fun. I started training about a year ago and it has been amazing.
9:00pm: Shower and then mom and I go to get some sushi. We have a couple of traditions when she visits and getting sushi together is one of them.
Tuesday, November 22
6:45am: I awake after a couple hours of sleep. My little girl Savannah is getting her first molar and she is not a happy camper. Tuesday is the toughest day of the week -- I hate leaving my family after a two day weekend.
8:15am: Head out to my second home and family at Moto. Tuesdays are a long day at Moto. We start from scratch, meaning all of our food comes in fresh and we rebuild our entire menu. We also have our brainstorming meeting; a tradition that started before I began at the restaurant, in which we discuss ways to improve ourselves, the service or the menu.
9:15am: One of my favorite things on earth: our kitchen when no one is there. You can close your eyes and still feel service like its pulsing through the veins of the restaurant. Its eerie how you can almost feel the heat of the pans and the sizzle of a fryer. The cooks moving in a hypnotic dance. What a fine machine Chef Homaro Cantu has built here.
10:00am: Meeting time! I can only tell you this is a think tank of the most brilliant young chefs in the country if I say anymore I will be shot on site.
11:30am: Opening my box on Tuesday is always like Christmas. All of my good friends there to welcome me back home.
11am-4:15pm: A blur.
4:15pm: Staff meeting to discuss reservations and menus changes for both Moto and ING, Moto's sister restaurant. This usually takes a half hour.
5:00pm: Let's rock. Service is the rush of the day. Below, seared foie gras and orange.
11:00pm - 1am: Clean clean clean. Our goal is to finish the break down and beat the last plate to walk so we can leave with it.
9:30am: I ride my bike to work, I ride year-round even when it is -20 in the middle of winter. It is cheaper than the bus and it a faster way to get to work. Plus, it is a little bit of a workout.
10:00am-1:00am: During the day, I help everyone prep. I usually take care of most of the butchering of meats while Chris takes care of the fish. I tend to be meat station helper and Chris helps out fish station. The meats that I butcher are suckling pig and quail. I help everyone prep to make sure that we are set up.
3:00pm: Staff meal is pretty much our one meal a day.
5:00pm: We put up dish demos so that Chris and I can taste everything. Then service starts, it is kind of a tame night -- we are doing 31 people which comes out to about 450 plates. After service slows down, I start planning for the Beard House dinner that we are doing on the 30th, make prep and order list for the dinner.
Wednesday, November 23
8:00am: On my way to work to the most exciting day in my work year. Moto and ING Thanksgiving Day Before Extravaganza. We will be frying some of farmer George’s delicious turkeys out of Swan Creek Farms in Michigan. This is my absolute favorite holiday. I cannot wait to see what today brings!
10am: Let's get those turkey fryers set up. I need oil to come up to 400 degrees. I need a lot of oil -- these are 20-pound beauties. A stray thought rolls through my mind about prep I should be doing.
11:30am: Right on time. Let's fry those bad boys.
3:00pm: I am blessed in so many ways but I am very thankful for such a special team between Moto and ING. Happy family meal. Wednesday night is a special night for Richie and myself. We get to watch "Top Chef" and cheer each other on.
9:00pm: "Top Chef" is over and my hero Richie is asked to pack his knives and go over a bullshit challenge that would push anyone over the top. Richie is and always will be one of the most talented chefs I have ever met, and I'm very glad he is on our side at Moto.
12:52am: After maybe 300 Cheerios, Savannah is finally asleep. Night owl just like her papa bear. I cannot wait for tomorrow!
9:00am: Get to work. Today is the day before Thanksgiving ,so this is our big staff meal of the year.
Everyone in the restaurant makes a side dish and the chefs, mainly me and Chris, deep fry turkeys in the alley. We really look forward to this throughout the year, it is an awesome day. As the day progresses, I do usually prep as well as get some of the dry goods together for the James Beard dinner we are doing in a week. We also have a Art Culinare shoot going on today which is fun but a lot of work.
2:30pm: We sit down as a family and both restaurants eat Thanksgiving staff meal for about an hour and enjoy the day. This is a really good way to build camaraderie among the two restaurants.
5:00pm: The restaurant is busy for the night before a holiday. As the night goes along we get a lot of on-the-fly restrictions on certain tables so we have to come up with new variations of dishes. We end up doing around 40 covers and once the dust settles Chris and I are able to leave and watch "Top Chef."
8:00pm: Leave to go home and on my way home I stop by Game Stop to get the new Zelda game. I am a huge video game fan.
9:00 pm: "Top Chef" starts. I watch the episode and tweet with fans while it is happening. Unfortunately I know how this episode ends and I watch myself get eliminated. I knew how it was going to go, but I didn’t know how it would look. I was so emotional, coming up really short in the competition and it showed when I said by to Chris at the end of the show. The amount of positive support that I got on Twitter and Facebook was amazing. It made me feel really good.
10:00-1:00am: Relax with my family who are in town for the holiday and just enjoy the night.
Thursday, November 24
7:00am: Prep for today's feast begins. I have never cooked for my mother in law, so I wanted to do something special. No reason to cook a huge turkey for 3 people so I decide to do a tasting.
8:00pm: To end the night, everyone's favorite -- a cute baby in the box.
11:30am: It's Thanksgiving, so obviously I will be cooking. We have a little tradition in my family that we have breakfast at my apartment the head over to my sister’s in-laws for dinner.
12:00pm: I start cooking, I take care of all the sides: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, mac-n-cheese, baked beans, carrots, string beans, stuffing.
3:30pm: We start eating and watch the Dallas Cowboys game. I love Thanksgiving because it consists of two of my favorite things: food and football. The Cowboys win (barely). If they lost I would have watched myself get eliminated and watch my team lose in 24 hour period which would have sucked. After dinner we hang out take the dogs for a walk then decide to go to the Horseshoe Casino.
9:00pm-12:30am: Play some slots. I think I lose about $60 but it is so much fun hanging out with my family I don't care.
Friday, November 25
4:15am: An email about staffing. Yes I sleep with my phone under the pillow.
5:00am: Start to feel kind of weird. My whole insides feel slippery.
7:13am: At exactly this moment, it hit me. So sick. I ran immediately to the bathroom. I just kept thinking "why today? why Friday? Get up, shower, keep moving." My day became a dream and that dream became a nightmare of images and feelings that are very intense to describe -- I just kept thinking if I could just get moving I would feel better and that I have to get up and not let my team down.
9:00am: This is a BUSY day, we are fully BOOKED at 90 people and we lost a day of prep because of the holiday. I am hustling today and Chris is sick so I am solo today. I am helping everyone. I butcher all the meats and fish even help out pastry for a while. My staff made chili for staff meal today. In their defense they planned on making it before the show aired (the challenge I got eliminated on was chili).
5:00pm: Service starts. I am a little behind -- I am prepping a vegan menu right now and my hot line is throwing down.
5:30pm: I am able to get on the line now and we are working great as a team, it is normally a four-man hotline with Chris working with me but running a three-man line is tough. The first seating is rough but we pull it together for the second seating. As the night goes on weare doing tours of the kitchen and since people want to meet Chris and I (which is weird but cool) we call them Top Chef tours. The vegans come down for a tour and say that it is the best meal of their life, which is cool to hear because we take diet restrictions very seriously.
11:30pm: Start breaking down the kitchen and we finish around 1:30am.
2:00am: Gym. I wanted to go because it was kind of a stressful day.
Saturday, November 26
11:00am: My first attempt at work failed. I just sat there. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I felt like dying. But that just goes to show you how strong Moto is. The team came together and had an amazing prep and service. I am so proud of the team for what they can accomplish.
3:00pm: Second attempt. Got all the way to Halsted and had to turn back.
4:30pm: I go off to a sleepless slumber where my sickness awoke me more than I can recall and the demons wrestled for my sanity.
8:30am: Today I have to prep a lot of the stuff for the Beard House dinner, that is my main focus until about 3:00pm. I do some butchering for the hot line. Get an email from Chris that he is still sick. So we are solo again. This time though I ask for Omar’s help because he is normally at ING but we are really busy and I could use his help. It has been a while since I worked the line with Omar and I forgot how much fun it is.
2:00am: Finish cleaning the kitchen and now we go to our normal Saturday hang out, the Jefferson Tap. Anne Burrell form the Food Network just happens to be there hanging out with friends and some of my friends want to meet her so they want me to be the ice breaker. I walk over and then we start talking about "Top Chef." She told me that she was sad when I was eliminated and the funny thing is that she recognized me! That is pretty cool to get recognized by a big network star. Other people in the bar come up and say that I got screwed on "Top Chef." The positive support has been awesome.
See more Food Informants below:
John T. Edge writes a monthly column, "United Tastes," for the New York Times. He is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a longtime columnist for the Oxford American. His magazine and newspaper work has been featured in eight editions of the Best Food Writing compilation. He has been nominated for five James Beard Foundation Awards, including two M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Awards. Edge holds a master's degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. He is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. Read John T. Edge's diary here.
Chris Jones and Richie Farina are chefs at Moto, a fine dining restaurant in Chicago that focuses on innovative and futuristic cuisine. They are both contestants on this season of "Top Chef: Texas." After attending Johnson and Wales University, Farina, the executive sous chef, started cooking in several Boston restaurants, and then joined Moto in 2008. In his spare time, he trains in mixed martial arts, a mixture of Ju Jistu wrestling and boxing. Jones, got his start cooking in his grandmother's kitchen. After working his way up the ladder in several restaurants, Jones is now the chef de cuisine of Moto. He lives with his wife and young daughter, Savannah. Read Chris and Richie's diary here.
Sean Henry is the owner of Houndstooth Coffee in Austin, Texas. Not until graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Radio, Television and Film, did Sean even begin drinking coffee. While working at a local grocery store, Sean began to explore the coffee world region by region. After the initial broad strokes of regional coffees, he began working at local cafes, learning the art of being a barista. At Houndstooth, Sean aims to provide customers with the sophisticated taste and presentation of a perfect cup of Joe. He not only finds value in a well-crafted cup, but in the coffee drinking experience as well. Read Sean Henry's diary here.
Jean K. Reilly MW is the Wine Director for the Morrell Wine Bar and the Wine Buyer at Morrell Wine Co. She is a 10-year veteran of the wine business and has worked in numerous parts of the trade. In 2010, Jean became this country's 26th Master of Wine, only the sixth American woman to hold this prestigious title. Jean's interest in wine began as a hobby while pursuing a career in corporate finance at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and Deloitte & Touche. Abandoning the corporate track in 2001, Jean plunged into wine full-time, traveling the vineyards of Europe and the U.S. After a stint as sommelier at a small French restaurant in Manhattan, she worked as a wine instructor for several culinary schools, including Schiller International University in Switzerland. From 2007 to 2008, she also served as the Wine Consultant for Hilton Hotels. Read Jean Reilly's diary here.
Todd Coleman is the executive food editor of Saveur magazine, where for six years he's run the food side of things, including recipe selection, and overseeing the test kitchen. He's also an accomplished photographer who props, styles and photographs the majority of Saveur's covers, as well as frequently shooting and producing stories both in studio and on location. A graduate of the CIA, he's worked in restaurants, has been a private chef, edited at Everyday Food, produced shows for the Food Network, and has photographed cookbooks like The Japanese Grill by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, and the forthcoming Katie Workman book The Mom 100. He lives in Brooklyn, loves the Strand bookstore, hoards photo lenses and is a fiend for Indian food. Read Todd Coleman's diary here.
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Geoff Bartakovics, 34, is the co-founder and CEO of Tasting Table, the free daily email publication all about food & drink culture. Before starting Tasting Table, Geoff was a business manager in asset-backed finance at UBS Investment Bank, where he coordinated business activities among the fixed income trading desk and the bank's middle- and back-office functions. Geoff was formerly a business analyst at Deloitte Consulting. He attended The University of Chicago, from which he graduated with honors in English. He was a Fulbright Scholar in comparative literature and philosophy in Berlin and Hamburg. He's an obsessive dinner party entertainer and a serious home cook. Read Geoff's diary here.
Elizabeth Laseter, an aspiring food journalist, is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University and lives in Washington, D.C. She received her diploma in Writing and Art History and is now pursuing a Culinary Arts Degree at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md. The one-year program includes six months of learning techniques in the classroom and six months at an externship in a D.C. fine dining restaurant. Elizabeth documents her food adventures through two blogs, The Baltimore Food Rag and The D.C. Food Rag. She decided to attend culinary school after interning at Baltimore magazine and working with the food editor. Read Elizabeth's full diary here.
Jane and Terry Levan operate a 20-acre pastured poultry farm outside of Lexington, Texas called Dewberry Hills Farm, after the dewberry vines that grow wild on their land. They raise antibiotic- and hormone-free meat chickens for sale. Their chickens mostly live outdoors. The Devans call themselves "omnivores with a conscience;" Jane won't eat any meat unless she personally knowns who raised it and how it was processed. Jane and Terry began farming in 2003, after reading Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma. The pair had always wanted to farm, but they didn't want to follow the industrial agricultural model. Jane and Terry built a processing building on-site and became state certified so they could sell their birds commercially in May 2008. Read Jane's diary here.
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Jonathan Stich, 29, is a third generation farmer from Burlington, Wisconsin. He grew weary of the corporate world, went traveling and decided to become a farmer. After reading about how heirloom tomato grower Tim Stark in Pennsylvania sells his products to New York restaurants, Stich made the decision to spend a night in restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago asking if they'd be interesting in buying local produce. Read more about Jonathan Stich's week here.
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Chris Cosentino is the executive chef of San Francisco's Incanto, an offal-heavy (not sure what offal is? Check out our Whole Animal Guide here) rustic Italian restaurant located in San Francisco. While encouraging patrons to try different cuts of meat, Cosentino also champions eating locally. He's previously cooked at such renowned restaurants as Kinkead's and Chez Panisse, and cites Jean-Louis Palladin as a big influence on his cooking style. He also co-owns Boccalone, which sells various cured meats and house-made salami. To learn more about Cosentino, check out his website, Offal Good. Read about a week in the life of Chris Cosentino here.
"Jane," 24, has been working for Trader Joe's since 2007, though in 2009 she left for over a year to go work for Whole Foods. She did not like it there and returned to TJ's. At Trader Joe's, every employee does a range of tasks, but Jane's speciality is dairy. Below is her explanation of the pros and cons of the job: I like working for Trader Joe's because they pay me well and offer great benefits. They also respect me as an employee and make me feel like I'm useful and needed and not just another part-time employee that can be replaced (which has been the case at other retail jobs I've had). Trader Joe's is really good at hiring great people and I'm lucky to have so many wonderful co-workers. I don't like working at Trader Joe's because the work can be strenuous on my back and wrists. Being on a register for several hours at a time is tiring and somewhat soul crushing due to ignorant people who feel the need to be condescending to me because I work at a grocery store. I also feel that the company is becoming more and more corporate as it grows and it is beginning to have an impact on the enjoyability of being a part-time "crew member." I also work in a very busy store which causes the managers to stress out a lot and I don't enjoy being surrounded by it. Read about a week in the life of a Trader Joe's employee here.
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