Meet Our Culinary Team
Written by Rebecca Leon
An interview with the Chefs of Deborah Miller Catering
Executive Chef Michael Wendt and his sous chefs Maxwell Roll and Matt Haskell are the backbone of the kitchen at Deborah Miller Catering. They are behind the creative thought process and execution of each of our dishes, and work hard every day at making our food look and taste phenomenal. We thought it would be interesting to delve into their process and learn how each chef came to be what they are today.
Where did you grow up and how did you get into cooking?
Chef Mike: I was born in California, but I grew up in Carson City Nevada. I have loved cooking for as long as I can remember, but I got into cooking by observing a friend of my fathers, who was a chef. I used to wake up early and go cook with him at his house whenever he had dinner parties.
Sous Chef Maxwell: I’ve always been interested in cooking and I was always in the kitchen with my mother. I grew up in Atlanta GA and I started cooking in a fine dining restaurant named Curate in Asheville NC after I graduated college. It was a way to make money while studying for the LSAT. I really just wanted to get my foot in the door with the owner and chef Katie Button. She studied under the father of Molecular Gastronomy, Ferran Adria, a chef I came to idolize. After a few grueling months of work, I knew I wanted to be a chef.
Sous Chef Matt: I grew up outside of Philadelphia, then moved to New Hampshire, and eventually went to school in New Orleans. I was a pretty picky eater as a child and teenager but the gastronomic culture of New Orleans really showed me what real flavor was and inspired me to learn and cook more.
Who would you say is your biggest inspiration in your life, cooking or otherwise?
Chef Mike: My wife is my biggest inspiration ever. Not only did she inspire me to follow my dream of being a chef, she also inspires me to continue setting new goals and also helps me accomplish them.
Sous Chef Maxwell: My father. I was fortunate enough to travel the world and eat some amazing meals with my family. I have a great memory of my father ordering us each a piece of Ikura (salmon roe) nigiri with a quail egg nestled inside.
Sous Chef Matt: My biggest inspiration in life has definitely been my father, mainly in terms of his amazing work ethic, kindness, and patience. He’s also a great teacher which I strive to be every day in the kitchen.
What is your favorite thing to cook at home and what is your favorite cuisine?
Chef Mike: My favorite thing to cook at home is anything on the grill. I love being outside surrounded by nature and family. My favorite Cuisine would be Mexican comfort food, because that's what I grew up eating with my family.
Sous Chef Maxwell: I love to make pickles at home, I have a Japanese pickling book I bought in college that I still reference. I love making a good bowl of sumeshi rice, with some pickles, fish, and sake. I could live happily on that diet.
Sous Chef Matt: My favorite thing to cook at home are flavorful grilled meats with simple delicious salads. My favorite cuisine is probably Vietnamese or classic American comfort, tough call.
What has been your biggest challenge to overcome being a chef?
Chef Mike: Keeping my cool. Once I learned how to remain calm under extreme pressure and difficult situations, my leadership skills thrived.
Sous Chef Maxwell: Finding time for family.
Sous Chef Matt: My biggest challenge as a chef has been managing large teams of very diverse cooks from different backgrounds. It can be difficult to have a guy from Honduras and a guy from Burkina Faso see eye to eye sometimes.
Could you briefly talk about what you think is the biggest difference between cooking in a restaurant for a maximum amount of covers a night versus cooking for catering which could mean possibly thousands of people a day?
Chef Mike: The biggest difference is the time delay between the food leaving the kitchen and the client receiving it. In a restaurant, you can cook things ala minute and have it perfect and beautiful right before it hits the table. In catering, you're battling time and temperature to keep the quality of your food at a high standard, which is more difficult.
Sous Chef Maxwell: Restaurant cooking is instant gratification, selling plate by plate and doing it over and over until technique, space, and people become extensions of yourself. It’s an amazing experience if you are comfortable in that setting. Cooking catering food is gratification by longer standards, with a sense of accomplishment that’s by the event, day, or even the week. It’s a rewarding job that takes you to many places and forces a sense of flexibility on any chef due to constant changes in requests, settings, and menus.
Sous Chef Matt: The biggest difference between restaurant cooking and catering production cooking are the techniques and processes used to get from point A to point B. Working with larger numbers is just more of a challenge. Producing Thai curry for 10 people is very different than producing for 500 people. Maintaining consistency at such high volumes can be very difficult as most recipes are written for much smaller numbers
Do you have a favorite piece of food writing?
Chef Mike: My favorite piece would have to be “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. It is a very accurate insight into the life of a chef.
Sous Chef Maxwell: Charcuterie: The Art of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman.
Sous Chef Matt: My favorite piece of food writing is probably “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee, “Kitchen Mysteries” by Herve This, and anything by Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen.
What’s your favorite cooking show, and if you don’t have one, what’s your most hated and why?
Chef Mike: My favorite cooking show is Top Chef, because the challenges are well thought out and inspire me to push myself harder in my own kitchen. I don't hate any chefs, but I frown upon the chefs who care more about their image than their craft. These are the guys with the sleeve tattoos and the mechanic looking aprons who don't have a lot of technique or skill, but they talk a lot and look the part.
Sous Chef Maxwell: If I had to choose, it would be the older seasons of Top Chef. Now, I just like watching clips of Gordon Ramsey mowing down cooks for improperly boiling water.
Sous Chef Matt: My favorite cooking show is Chef’s Table on Netflix.
What’s a food trend that you see now that you think needs more recognition?
Chef Mike: I really enjoy cooking with open flames. It's becoming more popular, but I would like to see more chefs develop their menus around fire cooking techniques. It's so natural and primal and that's what all Cuisines have evolved from.
Sous Chef Maxwell: 1. The emergence of research and development positions within restaurants, catering, and food production companies. 2. I don’t know if it needs more recognition, but I’m enjoying the butcher-to-table concepts. I have a friend opening a concept that entails only Chinese BBQ (ducks, pigs primarily) and good rice. The place will have classic Chinatown duck house look with glazed ducks and legs hanging in the window. These concepts usually have a great butchery program, a few charcuterie items, and a good bar. I’d like to see more of that, sort of a push back to the rise of the vegetarian comfort option, which is also trending.
Sous Chef Matt: I’d really like to see a bigger foray into the Middle Eastern/North African/Arabic trend. Not only are there just amazing flavor profiles and ingredients in those regions, but also food is a great way to bring people together and a great equalizer. These days in this particular world political climate it could be a great way to better understand each other.
Lastly, what is your favorite thing about summer?
Chef Mike: My favorite thing about summer is the freshness of all the produce around us. Everything is ready to eat and bursting with flavor. It's also a great time to get outside into nature and experience cookouts, BBQs, and family.
Sous Chef Maxwell: Nothing. It’s hot and I work in a kitchen. I’ll take the snow over musky New York summers any day.
Sous Chef Matt: Grilling with family and friends outside with great fresh summer ingredients, no question.
We’d like to thank our Chefs for taking the time out of their day to give us a little peek into what they’re all about! Thanks chefs!