George Ennis: Chef and food blogger
After leaving the professional kitchen, the US chef continued his passion for cooking via his 'Well Seasoned' culinary blog.
Meet George Ennis: aka chef_gygglz on Instagram. George's adoration for the culinary arts has led him down a path spanning over 16 years in the foodservice industry.
Tell us about how you got into cooking.
When I started working in restaurants, I started with the front of the house where I was a food runner for a very long time, five years to be exact. I was in the back of the kitchen for 70% - 80% of my shift. It was a nice restaurant with a seasonal menu, so we had lots of turn arounds in terms of dish creation. I got the opportunity to see lots of different types and combinations of food. I remember there were times when the shifts were a little slow, and chefs would basically use you as labor doing some of the food preparation work. Watching food prepared by chefs all day had me develop a passion for food over time and I became more and more inquisitive about it, so I started talking to the cooks and chefs, asking them questions. Eventually, the questions turned from just trying to understand the fundamentals to building so much knowledge that you're answering your own questions. I wanted to put the knowledge I learned to use so I asked my chef if I could jump back behind the line, so that's how I started cooking!
Instagram is a great place to put out a portfolio, but we're still curious as to why you started a food Instagram account?
At a certain point during my restaurant career, after I had worked in restaurants for a very long time, I just got burnt out. I left the kitchen and took the opportunity to work for an online restaurant equipment retailer with a former chef of mine. A lot of times in the office we'll talk about food or cooking as you have lots of people with different culinary backgrounds. Being out of the kitchen didn't take my passion away from cooking. I cook at home a lot and started taking pictures of the finished dishes and kept a collection of those. My girlfriend is actually the one who suggested I create an Instagram and post my dishes there. Having stocked up a giant pool of pictures, I started posting a dish a day. Once those ran out it evolved into a dish a week, while showcasing various steps along the way.
Most chefs on Instagram post a beautiful finished plate but you begin with the ingredients, why is that?
Yeah, everybody likes to post the final dish as that's typically what's pretty and looks really good. For me, I like the idea that you can see the final dish at the end but at the same time see what is being used at the beginning; you can understand that these were just simple ingredients that we all have around. If you follow along, you can understand how these simple ingredients are used to transform into delicious dishes.
Why do you think it's so important to know where the food comes from?
A lot of it drives back to that initial restaurant I worked at. We worked with a lot of local farmers, so it was just kind of an ethos burned in me. Because I'm specifically in the bay area we're very much about that supporting local farmers and understanding where your food comes from. For me, it's more interesting to use these local providers as I feel more connected to them.
What do you think your audience wants to see in your blog?
I think people want actual knowledge and I want to provide them with something that they can sit there and chew on, and I'm not just giving dictionary definitions for cooking. My main idea is that I want people to learn something, go out and do their own thing with that knowledge. I don't want people looking at my recipes and being regimented. There is not one absolute way of cooking; as long as you understand the principle it's more flexible, and you can go about it the way you want to go about it. I think it's important to understand the base, then they can flexibly use it the way they want to and play around with it. At the end of the day, cooking is just about playing with your food.
Going back to where you left your restaurant job and you were burnt out, what was the reason behind that?
The restaurant that I was working at had to undergo changes after the big recession in 2008. The restaurant basically had to change its format as it just wasn't working. The menu morphed from fairly nice dining to something more simple and casual, which was what people were buying at the time. The menu was very stagnant, not very seasonal, so I was just doing the same thing over and over again, and eventually, I got tired of making fish tacos. I reached a point where it got too repetitive and it didn't feel special anymore. I wasn't learning what I wanted to learn or seeing things that I wanted to see. I got frustrated with that and I needed a change. By that time, I had been working in restaurants for ten years, so the promise of higher pay and a completely different schedule with weekends off was just enticing at the time.
What do you think restaurants can change to avoid chefs from burning out and make the working environment more interactive?
Restaurants need consistency, so if you can create a product consistently, customers will keep coming back. If Jerry makes the best burgers in town, then you keep him on the grill making burgers and eventually at some point he gets to hate the burgers. I always heard other cooks griping about the same things they had to do every single day. Concerning what restaurants can do, I think cross-training is very important; so if one week a chef is working the grill station then the next they'd work the saute station. If there were job rotation and then a menu rotation (again, I'm a fan of seasonality): I believe that changing the look of things can help.
It's interesting what you say about consistency as robot automation is growing in the restaurant industry. Are you a fan or hesitant that it's not made by a human?
I think it depends on what the product is. I feel a little imperfection and nuance in food can be a very exciting thing, like you may like that little burnt edge of the steak. I'm not necessarily against automated food as long as the person who's eating the food knows that that's how it's being cooked. I understand big chains want consistency; if you eat a McDonald's cheeseburger in Tokyo, you want it to taste the same as a cheeseburger in California. I think in terms of smaller restaurants that the nuance should be appreciated by the human hand. You hear about the dishes created by ridiculously amazing chefs and it's all about the way they treat the food. They can only teach so much to the next person, who's going to go away and make it their own. If at some point, we all just eat the same sushi from robot model 3000, who makes it the same everywhere, then you've lost the nuance with food. I think its a trend which will happen no matter what but I like to think people can appreciate what's been made by the human hand. If you have a robot shooting out the same amount of something the same way every time it's not interesting. Inconsistency keeps intrigue.
What sums up your passion for food or cooking, or any advice you have for aspiring chefs?
I think it's really important to be exposed to a lot of different ideas, and you naturally grasp onto the ideas that work for you and that you like. You make them into your own. Most of my dishes aren't necessarily things I've seen before, I'm doing them strictly verbatim the way I've seen them done. I get a general idea but I like to make tweaks to the dishes. It's about taking the knowledge and being flexible and using it the way you want to use it. It's all about using your imagination and playing with food. This whole Instagram thing is me creating my own path and doing what I want to do. I'm super fortunate people are willing to follow along and willing to ask me questions. As long as they're getting something out of it and makes them think, it's all been worth it.