This months feature Chef is the Back Burner’s Executive Chef, Kristin McGuigan.
Kristin is a fun loving girl who lives in Wilmington with her longtime boyfriend Brandon Fox & their two cats, Chloe and Eddie. When she’s not dishing it out in the kitchen she’s spending time with her family and friends doing anything and everything but cooking. It’s not shocking to find out that she grew up in a “food oriented” home & remembers being mesmerized while helping her mother, aunts, and Babci (grandmother) on holidays in the kitchen. She has an unprecidented love for food and life as a result of those memorable experiences.
Kristin was featured in an article posted a few weeks ago about the Delaware Day Celebration in D.C. This young female chef is so busy that she can’t even take the time to finish planning her own wedding so, we were lucky to nail her down to get the skinny on life as a female chef among other things…
Kristin learned the fundamentals of her craft studying culinary arts at DelCaslte Vocational. In her sophomore year she began working for Executive Chef Tom Hannum at the prestigious Hotel DuPont. It was then that she discovered her passion for food. “He taught me to respect the food and the craft,” McGuigan said. After graduating at the top of her culinary class McGuigan attended Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island. While attending college she was able to refine her food skills and also learn the inner workings of the restaurant business.
After attending Johnson and Wales, Kristin, still employed by the Hotel DuPont, decided to take a leap of faith and test her luck in the front of the house. Kristin felt in order to be a well rounded chef you needed to become knowledgeable in all aspects of the business, not just the food. McGuigan took the next four years and learned all front of the house operations; from event planning, to server and bartender and finally to management. Though she loved all departments McGuigan felt her true passion was in the kitchen. Her love for food, the combining of flavors and the flare for delivery made her heart race. She has since worked for Nonna in Newark, 1717 in Wilmington and Dome in Hockessin.
Now, as Executive Chef and General Manager at The Back Burner, McGuigan is redefining the food as well as the dining experience. Her knowledge and experience have developed winning combinations of flavors.
Across the menu Chef McGuigan demonstrates a deeply rooted commitment to quality, freshness, and strong culinary practices. Each dish is handcrafted with the freshest local (when available) ingredients; from local seasonal produce to free range meats and ocean friendly seafood.
What’s it like being a female in a male dominated profession?
Being a female chef in this male dominated profession can be extremly challenging at times. You have to prove yourself over and over again to gain the respect of both your fellow chefs as well as your own staff. When I took my first lead roll in a kitchen I wasn’t taken seriously and I believe that had alot to do with the fact I was young, female, and I like to curl my hair and do my makeup:) I was not what people would expect to see running a busy sweaty kitchen on a friday night. Being a female chef you can not have a bad day, or a bad service, you have to push harder then male chefs or people will assume that since you are a girl you are weak (at least that is what I tell myself, I think it motivates me to keep pushing myself harder). It’s hilarious, when I hire a new male line cook they assume that I’ll just be walking around with a clip board barking orders. Then they witness a busy service & are surprised, I dont think they expect a female to be able to handle the line as well as a man. I love proving them wrong! In my opinion, I believe men have it easier as chefs, female chefs are scrutinized and people are just waiting for them to break down and cry when things get tough. Luckily, I have a very thick skin and am very confident in my craft. Male or female, it takes a certain breed of person to become a chef. It takes a great deal of passion day after day to work long hours in extreme heat on your feet. Creating these dishes & praying that the guests love it. We have no down time. Most professions have deadlines that are a few days, or week, in the kitchen we have deadlines of 2 minutes maybe 4. We have to create perfect dishes and have them to the table quickly and without flaw. Demanding is an understatment, but I thrive on the adrenalin rush. What an amazing feeling after a long hard service, a sence of victory, most people will never get to experience that feeling on a daily basis
What is your favorite Spice?
It depends on the season, I tend to utilize various ingredients. Right now I’m using Juniper Berry in alot of things, it is becoming one of my fav’s. We’re playing with alot of game meat this time of year and the juniper berry helps reduce the gaminess of the meat. It adds a nice tartness to my dishes. I use it in everything from marinades & sauces to rubs. If you crush the berry before use it releases essencial oils and enhances the flavor they impart. It is very spicy with a touch of pine, so using it sparingly is a must. I’m finding it to be a very versitile ingredient in my kitchen.
Any “secret” ingredients?
My secret ingredient in the kitchen is probably rendored duck fat. I have managed to sneak it into most of my dishes in one way or another. It adds such an amazing flavor to everything from butters to meat. I even tried to drinking it! As gross as that sounds; its rather delicious:).
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten & would you eat it again?
Craziest thing I have ever eaten? That’s a tricky question considering that we are playing with so many off the wall items in my kitchen right now. I have been tasting pickled pigs feet, chicken livers, salmon belly, chicken gizzards, pig hearts and many more odd sounding and tasting items. I’m really excited for our Jan. 19th wine dinner where I will be working with cow udders for the first time. I’m not sure if I will like them, but I’m super excited to play around with them. I’ll be sure to let you know how they turn out:) I would definitely try all of these things again. I like to take different foods and create different flavors with them. A heart can taste one way braised and totally different if fried. That’s one of the awesome things about food; you can create the same thing a million ways and get different end products from it.
Typical meal at home?
For me that is far and few..Working all day and night I have no interest or energy for cooking on my day off. I think the delivery drivers know my name at this point. We bought this house over 2 years ago and I think the oven has been used less then 10 times. I’m lucky enough to have a family who enjoys cooking. Usually, on Sunday nights I go to my future in laws and have dinner (they never make me cook). I am very faithful to wawa, I’m there 5 nights a week getting my meatball sandwich…delicious.
What’s your favorite restaurant beside the Back Burner of course?
Besides Back Burner I would have to say my favorite restaurant would be Krazy Kats and not because it is our sister restaurant. Chef Donny creates the most amazing food, every dish on his menu is so creative and inspired, and the restaurant itself has such amazing decor. When you go there you are not just getting a meal, you are getting an experience.
What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
I dont think I can pin point my greatest accomplishment as a chef. I have been given some great opportunities over the last few years and each experience has been amazing and has helped me develop my skills in different ways. I’m very proud of what I have done in redeveloping the dining experience at the Back Burner. We have taken this restaurant and given it a new life. We have redirected our aproach to food and the entire dining experience and have been successful. I have put alot of blood, sweat and tears into this buisness and it is paying off. That to me is a great accomplishment.
I am proud of alot of things that I have done as a chef, but one particular day stands out in my head, this New Years Eve. I decided to challenge both myself as well as my staff. We had over 250 on the books so, we knew we were going to be busy. I didn’t want to run with just one menu so, I designed an a la carte menu; a 6 course tasting menu as well as an amuse for the evening. I run with a 3 man line so executing this idea on such a busy night was a risk, we busted out butts prepping for the evening and were ready 2 minutes before service(just enough time to change our sweaty chef jackets). Service went perfect, not a flaw! Our guests were happy, food went out perfect and fast, and the overall energy was amazing. I was so proud of both myself and my staff for pulling it off so well..That night showed me that i was moving in the right direction, and that feeling was awesome!!
What’s on the “Back Burner” for you at Back Burner?
The new year is bringing alot of really cool things to the Back Burner, we are doing monthly wine dinners, 6 course tasting menues, chefs table, and we have extended our wine list and it is amazing to say the least!
This month’s Chef Challenge is also brought to your by Kristin and she can’t wait to see what you come up with!