Recently we caught up with Alex Weis, who went from Escoffier graduate to Michelin Star restaurant cook, to chat about what he loves most about Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, his culinary journey since graduation, working with Michelin star restaurants and his most recent position.
QUESTION Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts (AESCA): How do you feel your culinary school education helped start your career off on the right foot?
Attending Escoffier showed me what proper kitchen etiquette is. Being a student who was never in a professional kitchen, I really needed the culinary school setting to show me how a kitchen runs properly. This allowed me to be confident in myself when interviewing for my externship as well.
QUESTION AESCA: What were some highlights from your time in culinary school?
I loved all my classmates. This is rare, but every single one of us became friends in class as well as outside of it. This helped all of us exponentially and made every day feel like a vacation to me. If I had to choose my favorite moment though, it would be classical cuisines, when we deboned a pig’s head!
QUESTION AESCA: Talk a little bit about your restaurant experiences in Colorado. What did you learn? Have any good stories?
During school, I worked at The Hearth in Windsor, Colo. It was a very fast paced, busy kitchen with a second pizza kitchen that worked in sync. Learning how to communicate and coordinate ticket times was an invaluable skill to learn so early in my career. Then, I continued with my externship to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. That job was hard to say the least. Thirteen to sixteen hour days were normal and standards were very high. For example, working in the banquet kitchen, on a slow day for us we served around 500 people and our busiest was 7,000 plus with more than 25,000 in a week. That was by far the most beautiful place I have ever worked. I recommend everyone make a trip out there for sure. After Broadmoor, I worked at Redgarden in Louisville, Colo. That was very interesting, I loved working for Chef Marcus Lepke and he gave me the chance to learn every station in the kitchen. The whole experience of helping to open a new restaurant was another confidence booster.
QUESTION AESCA: Where are you currently working? How did you secure the position?
As an Escoffier graduate, I am currently working at Bresca in Washington, DC. It is a Michelin one-star modern bistronomy restaurant. (Escoffier) Chef Marcus offered to write me a letter of recommendation and also advised that I looked into the DC restaurant scene. Bresca immediately caught my eye and Chef Ryan Ratino really began to inspire me. I followed the restaurant for more than eight months every day doing research on them and I did the same thing with more than 20 other restaurants all over the country. Then, when I was ready, I picked my top three choices, Bresca, Alinea in Chicago and Canlis in Seattle and sent out my cover letter, resume, and letter of recommendation. All three responded to me and I set up stages with all of them as well. Bresca offered me a position and I knew it was where I needed to be. It was a lot of work but if you want to work in the Michelin level you need to work hard.
QUESTION AESCA: What are some of the challenges you face working in a Michelin restaurant and how do you overcome them?
Every single day is different in a Michelin restaurant like Bresca. We are constantly changing the menu and you never prep the same amount of anything because each day has a different number of customers. The way that we overcome challenges like these is by organization, constant communication between all the chefs and cooks via text, and plain-old hard work. Organization is number one though, for sure.
QUESTION AESCA: You have a strong philosophy based on what you learned at Escoffier culinary school. Why do you feel it’s important to move the industry in that direction?
I am passionate about using the freshest ingredients at their peak. This can mean local but it also can mean getting hand foraged mushrooms shipped in from the west coast. The best is the best and sometimes that’s not local. Ultimately I believe that the ingredients you cook with should be treated with the utmost respect. A farmer, rancher, or nature worked very hard to make it possible for you to have high quality ingredients and the least we can do as cooks, is respect them. I believe that if the industry showed more respect toward their ingredients, the general public would have more respect for farmers, ranchers and foragers and become more knowledgeable about the food and where it comes from.
QUESTION AESCA: You spent time in Michelin restaurants, how has that impacted your personal style of cuisine?
I spent time in two Michelin star kitchens, a one-star and a three-star. These places influenced my cuisine immeasurably. It was like opening a door in your house and Narnia being on the other side. My plating, understanding of flavors and techniques all changed. My roots are in rustic food, steak and potatoes, roast chicken, and cooking with fire. Also, being from Colorado I will always have an affinity for Mexican food. The first chef whose food truly spoke to me was Francis Mallmann. He cooks over open fire and his plating is simple and rustic yet elegant. My new experiences in Michelin kitchens are beginning to make me think of how I can take the same flavors I grew up with and transform them into a more refined package. When I was at Alinea, they had a dish on the menu that was an homage to classic North American rabbit served on the bone over smoking coals. A dish like that really speaks to me.
QUESTION AESCA: Did you learn any great cooking tricks along your culinary journey?
I learned so many cooking tips that I’ve lost count. Every kitchen has different ones but a couple of cool tricks include using only egg yolks in your pasta dough, if you want it to be a tougher, more al dente dough. This helps for making stuffed pastas. Also, add 1.2% of your total weight of agar to a liquid to make it a fluid gel which you can do some pretty cool stuff with.
QUESTION AESCA: What’s the one ingredient you have to have in your kitchen at all times?
Eggs and salsa, I can never get enough, they are extremely versatile.
QUESTION AESCA: What are you top two or three pieces of advice you would give to someone deciding on a career in the culinary arts?
My advice is to make sure that cooking is truly your passion. There are too many cooks in the industry who simply just don’t want to be there. That is not fair to your employer but more importantly it’s not fair to yourself. We should all do what we love. Secondly, I would say the number one skill you can bring with you to school, a stage, or your job is hard work and a willingness to learn. Nothing can substitute hard work, nothing. One of my old football coaches told me, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” This could not be more true in a kitchen. Lastly, always remember to enjoy every single day if you have a bad attitude, your work will suffer.