We recently sat down with our new cooking coach, Arik Markus, to chat about his role at the helm of Whole Foods Market Pearl's Cooking department. Get the scoop on his mentor, Daniel Boulud, the chef's knife he's seemingly made part of his family, and the perils of plating with him in a restaurant kitchen.
On the line: Arik expedites dishes (left) like Cured Salmon on Cucumber Noodles with Pink Pepper Crème and a Mustard Tuile
Q&A with Arik Markus, WFM Pearl Cooking Coach
Your role as cooking coach at Whole Foods Market Pearl sounds like a lot of fun. What excites you the most about the Cooking program?
I’ve spent 17 years as a professional chef, and in the back of the house there isn’t a lot of interaction with the people eating your food. In this position I’m finally able to work directly with the public, with the eater, and get people excited about cooking again!
When did your love of cooking begin? Were there any particular experiences early on in your life that shaped your approach to food and cooking?
My first cooking memories are with my grandmother, making tuna salad at her apartment in Manhattan. She was the queen of kitchen gadgets, and our tuna would get very busy: hard boiled eggs, chopped celery, diced apple, minced parsley... I still have the knife she gave me to chop with at home.
What do you believe is the first step to cooking well?
Organization. Every recipe is written with an ingredients list at the top, and that should act as a prep list. Once all the components are assembled, it should be easy to cook through a recipe without having to scramble to prep something that you’ve left out.
Why do you believe cooking with whole foods is an essential part of healthy eating?
I’ve learned so much over my years of cooking about how much more nutrition comes from minimally processed foods, and how much variety there is out there. I love to keep my cooking fresh by using lots of different ingredients in my repertoire, but still grounding my dishes in simple preparations to enhance foods' natural flavors. That way, I get the most benefit out of every calorie I eat.
What music (if any) do you listen to in the kitchen?
It depends on my mood, but good, hard funk always brings a smile and a rhythm to my work. James Brown anytime!
Have there been books, chefs, or people who have inspired your cooking?
I am lucky enough to have worked for some of the greats, especially Daniel Boulud in NYC. His philosophy and approach have informed every single choice I’ve made as a chef and a home cook, every time I’ve stepped up to the stove. He was like a father to me, and took the time to teach me when I really knew nothing.
Arik escapes the kitchen: hiking the Arapaho Pass in the Indian Peaks; touring a pumpkin patch with his son
What is your favorite ingredient for spring?
Asparagus! So versatile and so delicious, it's always the first indicator that the green season has begun.
What cooking tool could you not live without?
Tough choice -- I’d have to single out my Masahiro chef’s knife. I even take it on vacation with me.
What is your favorite regional or global cuisine (anything from Cajun-Creole to Northern Vietnamese)?
There is so much tradition and variety in Italian cooking, and so much regional specificity. I give props to the Italians for sticking with it, too. I also love regional Thai cuisines. My wife spent three years in Thailand in the Peace Corps and she’s taught me a lot about Thai food traditions. I want it to be our next family vacation, and I’m already saving up.
Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster (we're guessing you have a good one!).
It was a busy Friday night at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, and I was working the entremetier station, the hardest and busiest in the restaurant. We were about to plate a big set, and I reached up over the stove to pull down a stack of hot bowls. The bowls slipped out of my hands and shattered all over the top of the stove, into the food, the pasta pot -- shards of china got into everything. We had to quickly clean everything up and start over, and it slowed us down quite a bit. I think that’s the longest I’ve ever seen it take for water to come to a boil. It was hard to ignore the glares from my teammates, but all we could do was keep going. Very embarrassing.
What recipe have you chosen to share and why?
I’m giving you all a link to my profile page, since I don’t think I can single any one recipe out -- it’s the collective experience that best expresses my intentions. While my food is grounded in my philosophy of using fresh, seasonal ingredients and simple preparations, my food is constantly evolving. I think my message comes through in the recipes themselves, and I hope people who try these recipes learn that it’s the quality of the ingredients and the use of basic techniques that enhance inherent flavors and make a dish great.