Chef Garth Blackburn is the executive chef for Sub-Zero/Wolf, the name in professional kitchen appliances. In his role for the company, he oversees executive cooking classes, events, parties, and demonstrations. In addition, he sits on the advisory board of Recipe for Success, a nonprofit organization which teaches inner city students healthy eating habits. He’s a favorite guest at Cabinets & Designs, stopping by once in a while for a cooking demonstration right here in the showroom.
Chef Garth in His Own Words:
Background – Where did you go to school?
I graduated from Lamar High School, attended the Honors College at the University of Houston in Business Management and graduated from The Art Institute of Houston
Background- What brought you to Houston?
I was born in Lubbock while my father was a professor at Texas Tech. We moved to Houston when I was young to enjoy the beautiful mountains and dry, cool summers. All joking aside, after quite a bit of travelling, I realize how much I enjoy Houston, especially the people.
Background- Why did you choose to work with Subzero/Wolf?
I have a private chef company in which I cook meals for clients weekly. One of my clients was using Baroque Fineberg, a kitchen designer, to consult on their kitchen. He told me about the new showroom here in Houston. Having cooked on Wolf appliances and with clients who have Sub-Zero refrigerators that are more than 25 years old, I had great respect for the quality of products. So I visited the showroom and fell in love. After being hired, I had the fortune of creating what I wanted in this position as I’m the first full time chef for the south central U.S. for Sub-Zero Wolf.
Background- Previous places of work?
I was a professional cyclist on the U.S. National Cycling Team for 8 years so that was my first real job. When I retired from the team, I started working at Zula in downtown where we cooked New American cuisine. From there I went to Trevisio, preparing modern Italian fare, and decided that the weekends and holidays of the restaurant business were not for me. Although with rambunctious 3 year old twins now, I’m tempted to go back just to get out of the house more! I then worked full time for a well known NBA player before starting a catering company and private chef business.
Have you cooked for anyone famous, besides yourself, of course?
Haha, actually I wish I had more time to cook for myself and my family. My wife laughs when I’ve prepared an eight course wine pairing dinner and pick up Taco Cabana on my way home! I’ve cooked for some NBA players that I had to sign a non-disclosure contract to cook for. And for good reason, as I could write a book with some of the craziness I saw. I’ve cooked for several Fortune 500 CEO’s, including the former CEO of Continental, Larry Kellner. I’ve also done events with several Texas politicians such as Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison among others.
What was the first dish you ever cooked?
As an adult my first and most memorable dish was a penne pasta with basil sauce. I prepared it for a woman I was dating. I was a novice in the kitchen and followed the recipe exactly, or so I thought. Upon the first bite, my date and I realized we’d be ordering pizza. I didn’t know the difference between fresh and dried basil and had put one cup of dried basil instead of fresh in the dish (I couldn’t believe I had to purchase 4 little jars of dried basil for one dish).
What’s your favorite food/dish to cook for an audience? For your family/children?
My favorite item to cook for an audience is a whole tenderloin that I cut in a jelly-roll fashion. Basically I “unroll” the meat so it is about ¾” thick similar to the steaks that South American restaurants such as Churrasco’s serve, but I am using the entire tenderloin. So it’s an impressive piece of meat: usually about a foot long and eight inches wide. It looks great on a Wolf griddle or grill. I generally just serve it with a balsamic vinegar reduction that I boil down with figs and vanilla beans. That’s also a perfect dish for the house because it’s easy to do and goes well with grilled sweet potato slices or oven roasted potatoes.
What’s your favorite spice and favorite dish to add it to?
A touch of Chinese 5 Spice Powder is a great secret addition to almost any dish. It adds a level of richness and some subtle earthy tones. In large quantity it’s perfect to rub on bbq meats such as pork shoulder.
What basic ingredients should a cook always have on hand?
Food wise: Kosher salt, good quality extra virgin olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and a good hard or semi hard cheese such as Parmesan or Manchego. Equipment wise: A pair of good tongs, jelly roll pan from a restaurant supply, heavy aluminum foil, and parchment paper.
When a recipe calls for white or red wine, what type and quality should you use?
Never cooking wine. One belief on the history of cooking wine is that it was made by salting cheap wine to keep the chefs from drinking it while they’re cooking. What fun is that! Actually for cooking I usually use a higher end “box wine” such as Black Box because it keeps the oxygen out. That way I can use it for cooking for a couple weeks and still enjoy an occasional glass when I don’t want to open a second bottle of 1982 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.
Why did you choose to work for Recipe for Success? Could you give us a brief overview of what it is and what you do for it?
I work for Recipe for Success as a way to reshape how children view food. My approach is different than most: Help kids make the least number of bad decisions possible. That sounds a little backwards, but I don’t think we can expect perfection especially when many of these underprivileged children are not in an environment to make the best decision all the time. I go once a month to teach fourth grade children in a hands on cooking class format. I also bring them to Sub-Zero Wolf once a year for a field trip where they make their own healthy pizzas. And finally I do a fundraiser each year to support Recipe for Success. It’s a fantastic program and Gracie Cavnar has truly made her dream come true, much to the benefit of thousands of children.
Can you give any advice to parents and children about how to eat in a healthy way and/or live a healthy lifestyle?
READ ALL THE INGREDIENTS! If you don’t know what something is or you can’t even pronounce it, why would you put it in your body? The easiest ingredients to figure out are the ones you can identify by looking: fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood.
Do you have an easy, go-to appetizer recipe to bring to parties, since the holidays are coming up?
Can you share with us other favorite holiday (December) entree or dessert recipes?
And now for the fun one; if you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
I know I should say something like Abraham Lincoln or Julia Child or something else, but I’d actually say Thomas Keller, the famed chef of the French Laundry. I’d love to do an intricate meal and have been be disappointed! Truly! Why? Because I want his feedback on how to improve. After I stopped crying.
If you want to watch Chef Garth in action, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf4OLLpe73E.