By Kristi Ruggles
Holiday Inn Select Executive Center Executive chef Brian Taborski.
Warning: The contents of this article may cause uncontrollable salivating.
Brian Taborski, executive chef for the Holiday Inn Select Executive Center in Columbia, wants the dishes he creates to be delicious to his guests before their forks hit their plates. And so he entices them with detailed descriptions. He tempts them with food so cleverly built on a plate that they conclude the meal is sumptuous before they taste it.
“People eat with their eyes,” he said. “That is the point of entry. People look at it and decide whether it’s going to be good.”
They eat first with their eyes, yes. But they cannot be fooled. And Taborski knows it. He insists that a plate be pretty but knows the taste of it must be equally unforgettable.
That is the philosophy that the 30-year-old chef brings to his role at the Holiday Inn Executive Center, where he began working in the spring. He wants to take what he describes as a classic menu, add a twist, and present it fashionably.
Take, as an example, the salmon and jumbo scallop pinwheel.
“I put the salmon in the middle and spiral the scallop around it,” he says. “I sprinkle brown and yellow mustard seeds on it, then I put it in the oven.”
Or, the green tea-seared tuna that is not yet on the menu but that guests can request.
“We take green tea leaves and Japanese bread crumbs,” he says. “We grind them until they’re fine, then we coat the tuna with the mixture and sear it. We serve it with jasmine rice and a carrot ginger coulis. We cut the tuna into triangles and stand them up. We put rice on the top and bottom, vegetables on the left and right, and four dollops of sauce.”
Then there’s the standard steak and potatoes – or not.
“I put mashed potatoes in the center and pipe them out. I cut the steak into strips and I stack them. I put fried sweet potatoes on top.”
Visual Enthusiasm And so it goes with Taborski. He describes the height, color and contrast in textures of dishes much the way an author may revel in foreshadowing or suspense.
He admits his enthusiasm for a visually appealing plate may complicate things for the people who carry the food to the tables. It is easier to carry a horizontal piece of steak than one that has been made to stand. Taborski said he does what he can to simplify the servers’ work.
“It is hard to get a plate like that to the table,” he said, “but we cut the meat at an angle so the pieces will lean on each other.”
Taborski’s twists are most obvious at Churchill’s, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. He calls the restaurant his “creative outlet,” but said dishes on the menu there may be requested for events.
Even the rice and seasonings Taborski and his staff use are not simply rice and seasonings. They are blends – customized, tested and exclusive to the dishes at the Holiday Inn.
One of the spice blends at the executive center arrived in the kitchen after Taborski began to experiment at home with spices his wife could eat (she’s allergic to herbs such as oregano, thyme and basil.) The blend includes salt, lemon, lime, orange juice powders, Vietnamese cinnamon and three types of peppers. Taborski and his staff use the blend on meats and seafood dishes.
Taborski’s Background Taborski’s ascent in the food business has been on a deliberate and steady course. He grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago and decided in high school to attend culinary school. He graduated from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago in 1995. He and his then wife-to-be moved to Madison, Wis., after graduation. He worked a few jobs there and gained experience in cooking for events.
The couple moved to Kansas City in 1998, where Taborski continued to broaden his experience. He joined Ophelia’s Restaurant in Kansas City as a sous chef in 1999 and became executive chef in 2002.
He moved to the middle of Missouri and the Holiday Inn Select Executive Center earlier this year. The job was an opportunity to quadruple the number of guests he could serve.
The biggest event space at the hotel and conference center, the Expo, can accommodate as many as 1,600 people for a banquet. The space also can be divided. Other venues include a ballroom for as many as 900, and smaller ballrooms for up to 260 for banquets. The center also offers meeting spaces for about 50 guests.
Taborski leads a staff of 24. He said he likes the challenge of cooking for so many. In his biggest meal to date, he served 5,000 people. Those guests, at a fund-raiser in Chicago, ate filet mignon with béarnaise sauce. For dessert, they had a white chocolate cowboy boot filled with chocolate mousse and served with raspberry sorbet.
“Whether you cook for 100 or 100,000, it’s all the same,” he said. “The bigger volume just requires much more planning and organization.”
Taborski embraces the challenge.
He wants to join an elite group of chefs who have attained the distinction of master chef. Only 52 chefs are designated as master chefs in the United States. Taborski is a certified sous chef now and will next become a certified executive chef. After 10 years at that level, he will be eligible to take a 10-day test that includes writing menus to meet exacting caloric and nutritional requirements and creating what he describes as classical meals.
Those classical meals almost certainly will be a lovely sight. And tasty, too. MM&E
(Kristi Ruggles is a contributor from St. Louis, MO.)
Jaime McGarvey (573) 445-8531.