Sous me: A chat with Erick Fisher of Blue's Egg
A Long Beach, Calif., native, Erick Fisher fell headlong into the service industry while he was still in high school.
"I went through a regional occupational program," he tells me. "I took an elective that required me to work on site. I did brunch prep at the Hyatt. Then I moved over to the Sheridan."
He worked for the Sheridan for a number of years, and eventually they transferred him out to Long Island, N.Y., where he cut his teeth in his first sous chef position.
"I thought I'd be the big shot from California," Fisher chuckles. "But that wasn't going to fly out in New York. Needless to say, I wasn't there very long."
From there, Fisher moved out to Philadelphia where he worked at Devon Seafood Grill.
"My father-in-law offered me a house in Philadelphia. It was an awesome house – a nice big row house. Of course, He conveniently neglected to tell us that he had to live with us. The house had three stories, and they call the third floor a mother-in-law suite. So, that's where he stayed."
Unfortunately, Fisher and his wife grew increasingly disgruntled with the school system in Philly, where they were paying top dollar to send their kids to Montessori school. So when he found out that there were public Montessori options in Milwaukee, they decided to make a move.
In 2007, he transferred to Milwaukee to help open the Devon Seafood Grill here. He also worked part-time at Watts Tea shop, where he learned the name of the breakfast and lunch game.
Tired of corporate restaurant life, and yearning for a way to bring more creativity to his work, Fisher applied for a job at Blue's Egg. He was hired and has been there ever since. As head sous chef, he works with owner and executive chef Joe Muench to ensure that everything is top notch at the popular breakfast and brunch location.
"It's a great gig," Fisher tells me, "for a lot of reasons. One is that being here in the morning, I'm home in the afternoon. I can go to my kids' Scouts meetings. I can watch cartoons with my son and play Yugioh!"
Fisher is charming, knowledgeable and just as dedicated to the kitchen as he is to his family. And he's convinced that the "foodie" community is going to be the element that propels Milwaukee into the next phase of its food scene development.
We sat down this past week in the Blue's dining room and talked about his experiences, his opinions on being a sous chef, and his vision for the future.
OnMilwaukee: What made you choose food as your career?
Erick Fisher: I don't know that it was that romantic. It was the opportunity that I had with school. In fact, it wasn't really my choice. I wanted to be a mechanic, and do auto body. But, the sites were far away and the restaurant sites were closer. During that, I got bit.
OMC: What do you wish you had known when you took your first sous chef position?
EF: I wish I'd have had more patience. My first sous chef job was at the Sheridan in Long Island when I was 22. I went into that place and thought they wanted the young California guy to show them how to do food. But, that wasn't good – not in New York. I knew everything. I'd worked my way around the line, so I thought I was the cats' pajamas. That didn't go over well.
OMC: From your point of view, what's the most important role a sous chef plays?
EF: Teacher. You have to be able to teach. If the guys aren't learning and getting better, they get complacent and problems happen. But, as long as you're communicating and giving them new things to do, they keep their interest. It builds their confidence.
OMC: What's the most challenging part of your job?
EF: Stepping back and delegating. In the beginning, my hands were in everything and that's where I was most comfortable. But, now that we've grown, my job is to delegate. It can be tough.
OMC: What's the best part?
EF: Food! Aww, man. We get to do so much. Joe likes to surprise us every now and again. He sends things over the restaurant and tells us to do things with it. Some of our food bombs with the guest, but he's open to it. That's why I left corporate. We have lots of room for creativity here.
Right now, we're playing around with sous vide. Pork ribs, turkey. It makes an awesome, deli-textured turkey. It's not dry.
We've been making duck pastrami, duck confit. We've done duck confit with bacon fat. Being able to do that stuff … who confits turkey legs? The food here is definitely the best part.
OMC: What have you learned most about yourself while working in the kitchen?
EF: I'm more versatile than I thought I was. Breakfast was initially a tough concept for me to grasp after working in dinner and fine dining. But, being able to really communicate my style through breakfast food… I didn't think I would ever get there. I force myself to work the line every now and again.
OMC: Of the chefs you've worked for, from whom did you learn the most? Why?
EF: There are really two. A chef of mine in Philadelphia – Jitandra. We called him G2. He knew everything about his cooking, his restaurant. He knew his building, his business, in and out. He had great relationships with all the purveyors. He knew exactly how to order. His numbers, his costs – food and labor was all in his brain, and he was able to teach it to me. I still call him to this day.
And Joe Muench really makes you comfortable about making mistakes – to the point where you make less and less.
OMC: How would you describe your cooking style or philosophy about food?
EF: Make it taste good … I don't know that I have a particular style. I've been doing so many different things, using so many techniques. It can be simple or complex. But, at the end of the day, it just needs to look good and taste good.
OMC: What's the one thing you wish people knew about sous chefs?
EF: Sous chefs have a lot of responsibility. To be the right hand of an executive chef, especially someone who's not in the building … there's a lot of pressure to perform and maintain and keep up standards.
Reality TV has given people the concept that this is an easy business. But, it's not. You have to be all in.
OMC: Where do you envision yourself five, 10 years from now?
EF: I'm not sure I've thought about that. My youngest son would just be leaving the house … I think I'll enjoy being an empty nester for a little bit. I think I'll like that. My wife and I talk about a business of our own. Maybe a food truck or a small sandwich shop, but I can't say I've put a lot of thought into it.
OMC: What's missing in the Milwaukee food scene?
EF: Maybe just publicity. We have a lot of small, cool restaurants doing great stuff here. I think we need people talking more about what's going on.
For us, we're still finding people who've never heard of us. So, I think people in Milwaukee like what they like and they stick to that. But, new stuff … it's hard. The foodies need to get out there and start preaching the gospel. There's great chefs doing awesome stuff, and they're just not necessarily known. The more people get out there and start talking and tweeting … there has to be more conversation.
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