Executive Chef Jason R. Gronlund has one of the most demanding jobs in the world. He is not merely an executive chef. Gronlund is the executive chef for the Hard Rock Cafe Global Cafe Support. As one of the world’s most well known restaurants, he is responsible for pleasing millions of people in over 51 countries. Chef Gronlund took time from his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions on his career and passion for food.
FE: Is there something that you are particularly excited for this year?
JRG: This year we celebrate our 40th Birthday as a concept born in London with the idea to bring to the heart of London the true American Food classics, big juicy burgers, heart and belly filling classic American entrees, and great BBQ! The concept was also born to break social barriers in London where a banker and a baker could go to lunch and rub elbows. Over the years the locations and numbers have grown but the core values of kick ass food and service and a true dining experience tied together with philanthropic efforts that help people around the world giving us sayings such as “Take Time To Be Kind” Love All Serve All”.
FE: Where did your career as a chef start?
JRG: As Executive Chef Senior Director of Culinary Research & Development for Hard Rock my background has been steeped in that for the past 20+ years. I have worked for such brands as Pace Picante Sauce, Tyson, Uncle Ben’s and I spent 11 years in the same capacity at the McIlhenny Company TABASCO Brand Products. In these positions I have cooked on every continent of the world and in all facets of the food service industry. Having garnered this broad base of culinary insight allows me to look at challenges on the menu and answering our gusts needs from a completely different perspective.
FE: Did you cook growing up?
JRG: As a matter of fact yes, since the tender age of thirteen. My parents owned a small local family catering business. So many long days of washing dishes to making hand help appetizers to prepping vegetables and everything in between. My junior and senior year of High School I attended a vocational culinary arts program. I at the time was over 6′ and played center and nose guard. Now with football we where a small class B school and did not win all that much, but low and behold I was winning cake decorating competitions. So without fear (Due to my size) from my peers I quite football to focus on my wins in cake decorating….I am sure today that would be a huge social taboo but thank god I grew up when I did and did not have the same ramifications.
FE: Who in your life has influenced your cooking the most?
JRG: Well the first chefs that gave my self worth and value and some direction in this industry were Chef Bob Crabari and Chef Ted Butzbach, if it where not for them my young hyper A.D.D self would have been lost. Next thank god to a life guard on the side of the gene pool on the day of my inception I fall after my mothers traits being creative and to look at all things from all angles to find a solution or doing it uniquely…having linear though would not be good in this career path.
FE: What made you decide you would become a professional cook?
JRG: Well, after that childhood it was instilled in my head that this is the path I am suppose to walk, so I have done nothing my entire life except this; it is all I have known. Now, with that said had you asked me or told me this is where the path would have led I would have laughed and given you the how crazy you are speech.
FE: What misconceptions do people have coming into the field?
JRG: As I said this is a creative process not a linear one. It kills me when these culinary schools get young minds and sell them an education with the promise of being the next Food Network star. After the education you have a great tool box full of great tools, but until you learn and create your own style they are just that…a box of tools. As they say a carpenters tools are only as good as the user. If I give you a canvas a pint brush and paints that does not make you a painter. The plate is our canvas, the food and seasoning our paint and the equipment in the kitchen our brush, until we can skillfully combine the three you still have just three pieces to a puzzle. Creativeness is not a learned trait, it is something you wake with you go to sleep with and is deep in the fiber of your being and having that will always be the difference between good and great!
FE: Best cooking tip for a novice?
JRG: First and foremost is the saying “You can always add to you cannot take away” season at the end it will ensure that is perfectly seasoned and balanced. Stoves have adjustment on the heat for a reason, I see more novice cooks crank the flame and the oven and for no reason more than if it says at medium heat it takes 15 minutes, well hell at high must only take 7! Don’t over do it, simple and fresh is best. And do not cook past your skill set as failure in the kitchen results in lack of wanting to try again, as in life crawl, walk then run!
FE: Which three cooking tools or gadgets are your favorites?
JRG: FIRST, A good knife, the most important and that is for many reasons, it allows you to cut items with ease which is important as there is a lot of that and you do not want that task to be laborious and not fun. Maintain it like you would a fine sports car, remember a steel will never sharpen a dull knife now matter how many times you run it up and down all it does is straighten it and remove and bur’s. And have it sharpened professionally, do not buy a good knife then use a $3 sharpener…would be like buying a Porsche and going to a fast oil change place to take care of it. A good cutting board, again for the same reason as above, you should be using it a lot so having a glass one , one of this cheap cutting sheets..etc will make your job tough…when you buy it, place it on the counter at the store, see if you need a thicker one to make it higher and more comfortable. Last but not least, a good set of pans, my suggestion is go to a restaurant supply house, they have the best pans and sheet pans cheaper then the big brands stores and the quality on most cases are better and less cost.
FE: Funniest kitchen incident?
JRG: This is funny with a spot of danger. I was in a kitchen with a broiler that had an electric start…sorta like the ones you hear clicking on your home stove. Well I turned on the one in the kitchen and traditionally once lit the starter would shut off. Well a couple minutes passed and I thought had heard it lite, so I bent over to peer in and see what was going on…well to my surprise it was at that time it did lite and 2 minutes worth of running gas sent a ball of flame around the left side of my head…I jumped up beat my face like it owed me money. Once up and flames where extinguished I went to the mirror, there where no burns but I looked like the circus freak that was half man half women, all the hair on the left side of my head was gone to include me beard at the time. So I was basically hair free on one side and full on the other, so needles to say I went and had the other side shaved off…but the walk to the barber was one of humor and shame….but I am glad it wa no worse so after the fact it was quite funny.
FE: Favorite food to cook with?
JRG: FRESH….people ask how do I think of a dish. I tend to never create and search I do the opposite. I start with the center of the plate the protein see what I can get that is the freshest and then work from there again finding the best fresh ingredients to work with. I always get disappointed when I plan a dish then go searching and the ingredients and finding them and they do not meet my expectations. So I have found this method never leaves me disappointed.
FE: When at home, what do you like to eat?
JRG: Take out..kidding…you know it can be the simplest thing that brings me pleasure, braised ox tail, simple barley soup, a good citrus herb roasted chicken. I am afforded the luxury of having ran a test kitchen from my house for many years so I have things at my house that mist never would, like a Tandor I shipped in from New Delhi, from a lot of time in Asia I have yakatori grills, equipment to make hot pot…but again just a culture change but simple good basic food.
JRG: As a reference the Professional Chef from the CIA. But for series they have one called The Beautiful then “Mexico, Japan, China, Southwest…etc” they have great food as well as the history and the culture. The same reason I like Suaver magazine so much it is unadulterated and not someone adaptation of a recipe…just in the form the cuisines have been made by families in regions for hundreds of years.
FE: Is there a specific etiquette in your kitchen that you pride yourself in?
JG: Keep it clean…..that is what kills the novice…once they surroundings are a mess they turn into one. If you get your stuff together first we call that Mise En Place (pronounced [miz ɑ̃ plas], literally “putting in place”) If you everything ready cleaned pre-measured cut dice what ever it may be you will work more efficient and your kitchen experience will be that much better.
FE: Sounds like you have seen me cook. Any last words?
JRG: We should encourage people to break from the norm try a whole in the wall place that is serving a cuisine you have not had. If the parking lot is busy and you go in and the clientele are the ethnicity of the food you are going to try you know you have hit the culinary motherload. Remember once you get comfortable when cooking play around with seasonings, find your paint and paint brush, make your canvas unique and yours. When baking don’t play around to much as they are more of a formula and changing the structure can alter your result. Most of all make it fun, have a dinner party where everyone comes over and helps make the dinner, it is a great bonding experience as well as a great night…don’t forget a good bottle of wine..or two for that matter!
Want to eat at Hard Rock? Check out www.hardrock.com for all Hard Rock locations around the world.