Chef Janine Denetdeel
Janine Denetdeel has always been fascinated by food, in particular the cooking of women within her Navajo family. She left her hometown of Phoenix, AZ to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY after high school, graduating in 2008 and working under Chef Dale Talde at Buddakan NYC, where she was able to gain a wide variety of experience and enjoy the benefits of strong mentorship. She has held positions at outstanding establishments, such as Alinea in Chicago and Bar Boulud in NYC, but found herself working with Talde once again in 2012, working as Executive Chef during the opening of his eponymous restaurant. She currently holds the position of Executive Chef at TALDE Miami Beach, where she serves up Pan-Asian cuisine in a club-like setting.
- At first, I planned to be in the medical arts. I was really driven towards that because I enjoyed precision work. I started working in the hospital and I started to realize that the highlight of patients’ days are their meals. The patient’s families would visit with comfort food and it would always make such a big impact on their day. I saw the feeling that they got and thought, “Wow, I want to do that!”
- I was always cooking. My background is Native American and I’m from the Navajo tribe, so a lot of women in my tribe are very cultured in cooking. You needed to know how to break down a whole sheep. It was something I always knew how to do, just not on an industrial scale.
- My inspirations come from everywhere! When I was in New York, I would go to Chinatown and go to shops where I wasn’t familiar with any of the ingredients. We would just buy it and start cooking with it. I also love going through cookbooks, looking at someone else’s recipe, and think about what would happen if I did something a little differently. What would happen if I fried this, put it into a sous-vide device, or baked it? Even talking to my co-workers, both front of the house and back of the house, because everyone is surrounded by food. They would talk about their food memory and comfort food. Right now we have a server who talks about how much he misses Brooklyn and his mother’s butter chicken. I didn’t know what butter chicken was, so I tried making it.
- My favorite food memory was when I was working the wok station at Buddakan. It was a four person wok set up, and all of the older guys that worked there only spoke Cantonese. I was the only girl working the wok at twenty-one years old, so I felt very isolated and I couldn’t talk to them. They all started to communicate with me through food. They gave me tips on working the wok by showing me, and told me that something is too salty by telling me “no more salt.” One of them, we called him “Uncle Mike,” would go to Chinatown to get little pastries to bring to work. One day he started sharing them with me and that is when I felt accepted.
- That is like asking “Who is your favorite parent?” My very first favorite knife was a Togiharu Hammered Damascus Chef knife. I have a tattoo of it on my arm. The story behind that is when I first moved to New York, I didn’t have any Japanese knives at all. I was using German knives. I started working and my chef asked why I didn’t have a Japanese knife. I didn’t know much about Japanese knives, so they told me I should go to Korin. I went on my day off and saw a whole new world of knives that I was unfamiliar with. The next day, I explained to my chef that I didn’t know what I was looking for or what to talk to the sales consultants about. I came to work early that day, so my chef said, “Okay, let’s go to Korin right now,” and we hopped in a cab. He told me that based on my current station, I should get a petty knife or a chef knife. He explained that I needed to think about what I was cutting when deciding on a knife and consider the weight. I ended up buying the Togiharu Damascus and loved it. Now when cooks ask me what kind of knife they should get, I pull out my knives, since we don’t have the luxury of being in New York with a Korin store. I ask them the same questions my chef asked me. Sometimes they will say that it’s too expensive, but I would always tell them that even if you were to spend $780 for a knife, you’re not going to use it just once and you’re going to use it every day out of the year. That is about $2 per day for a year, and only a year. If you’re committed to being in this industry, you’re going to use it all the time as long as you take care of it. I’ve had my Nenox knife for since 2009 and I still use it. Nowadays, my favorite is my Nenox orange handle and g-type knives. I use my Nenox slicer the most, because we get a lot of whole salmon from Skuna Bay that we have to break down.
- Continue to stay humble and keep going with your end goal in mind. It’s good to keep pushing yourself, but remember that there is a balance. It’s terrible when chefs get so caught up on getting to their end goal, and get tunnel vision. They just see what they want and don’t see that they’re pushing people away just by their body language.
- My philosophy is all about the guests. If they are not walking away with a positive dining memory with a full and happy belly, then we haven’t done our job.
2017 Korin Knife Catalog