Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Q-and-A: Patina Green sous chef talks local ingredients and squash sandwiches
The sandwich shop has a rotating menu based on the availability of veggies.
MCKINNEY Andrew Trollinger is no more than four feet from his audience. They can hear everything he says, see every little movement and every slice of the knife. Robert Lyford, the chef and co-owner of Patina Green, where Trollinger works as sous chef, converses with the customers naturally; whether it’s a talent learned through necessity or one that comes naturally is hard to tell. Weather, pastrami, antique bird cages and trips to England are all on the conversational docket as the two work to shorten the lunch line at this unique shop on McKinney’s Historic Downtown Square, where lunch seekers and antique hunters and all sorts in between find themselves eating meals that give life to the woefully abused term ‘artisan.’ House-cured meats, pickles and preserves are made from products sourced from farmers and ranchers down the road – quite literally a two-minute walk, in some cases.
We talked with Andrew about working in such a unique kitchen as Patina Green’s, what it’s like to be a sous chef in a kitchen without a cooktop, and why necessity can prove to be the mother of the tastiest inventions.
Entree Dallas: Thanks for taking a few minutes to sit down with us, Andrew. Can you give us a little background on how you came to be the sous here at Patina Green?
Andrew Trollinger: Well, for five years after I graduated college I worked for the federal government. For the disaster relief department. I worked for the government for five years, and I met my wife during that time. It ended up being the one benefit of my college degree and five years of professional office experience! Other than meeting my wife, I didn’t really like it very much — it wasn’t fulfilling and I guess I’m one of those people that has to be doing something I feel has meaning to me.
So I’ve been into food since I was about 17; my older brother kind of got me into it, and once I had a little bit of my own disposable income I started eating out a lot and was like, “Wow, this is something I want to be a part of.” So one night, my wife and I were at the Loft 610 in Northwest Plano while Tre Wilcox was at the helm. Being the chef he is, he was making his table touches and he got to us. I asked him, “How do I do this? How do I get back there in your kitchen?” And he was kind of like, “Well, you’ve got to have a lot of experience, but you know, you could just do whats called a stage. You know, it gets your feet wet.”
Well, I didn’t go to culinary school – you don’t necessarily have to go to school, so I don’t think he really thought anything of it – but I just asked him if I could do that there. He was like, “Yeah, man, here’s my card.” I wasn’t really working at the time, I was more of a reservist employee, so I ended up going there about 35 hours a week for somewhere around three months. I had nothing else better to do and I really loved being there! I was completely unpaid, they were just letting me do prep work in the back where I’d hang out with somebody on the station - I’d just sit by them on the station and being like, “What’s that? What are you doing there? Why?”
Eventually they kind of just expected me to show up. They never really let me on a station or anything while I was there, but I would clean floors and flat top it most nights that I was there. After Loft 610 closed and was reconcepted, Tre moved down to the Village Marquee and he shot me an email that asked if I was still cooking. I told him I was staging somewhere else, and he just said, “Well, why don’t you come on down here. I think I’ve got something for you.” I never really looked back.
So he started paying you?
(Laughs) Yeah! I started prep and I was the prep guy for a good nine or 10 months and then finally he put me on his lunch line, so I was a line guy for about eight months there and I learned a whole lot.
So you’re well acquainted with a busy lunch. What’s it like at lunchtime here at Patina Green?
Well, it’s funny, because on paper it doesn’t seem like it would be similar to working in a standard commercial kitchen. We’ve got four panini presses, three hot plates, an induction top and one fairly good sized convection oven, and an immersion circulator. So on paper it sounds like, “Wow, thats not really a kitchen.” Then on top of that, the ‘sandwich, soup, salad’ approach doesn’t sound like a lot either.
But it didn’t take long to realize that working with a guy who’s as serious about what he’s doing as Robert is – as important as everything is to him – it creates a very intense work environment. You get here at seven and it’s just a throw down until the first customer walks in. I think a lot of that has to do with how fresh we like to keep everything and, you know, we’ve basically got to start over every single day.
Speaking of starting over every day, how is it that you are able to do all the meats in house with such a unique kitchen arrangement?
Yeah. Well, first off it really helps being a stone’s throw away from Local Yocal, Matt Hamilton and his whole operation. We can be frequently seen over there multiple times a day! It’s kind of like, “Lunch is over, lets go see if Matt has those rounds,” or “Does Matt have any brisket flats?” We might end up with an abundance of pork shoulder that we’ll use for the next couple days. We’ll always go over there and just check out all of the great locally sourced meat that he has. It’s such a blessing to have that and come back and maybe get our corned beef going for the next week or something like that. It’s really cool.
In fact, that’s something that’s really fun across the board. A big part of the fun here is not only seeing the customers face to face and learning you all of that and all of their names and everything, but all the farmers and random individuals who will come in. They’re like, “Hey, I got these figs!” Se we’ll throw that into the mix. There’s always a rotating cornucopia of vegetables and that dictates our menu. Fortunately, we like to change the menu a lot so it always helps to have a lot of random stuff. One farmer might come in one day and all she’ll have is 10 pounds of lettuce. So we’ll find something to do with 10 pounds of lettuce. So thats always really fun. It really does make it feel like a community – I know that sounds a little cliche, but its true.
So what are some of the things you’ve learned here that come immediately to mind?
Is that knowledge something you’d like to apply to your own place someday?
Yeah, definitely. I think there are very few people that are in this industry that don’t want to eventually do it for themselves – it’s so hard, you miss out on a lot of life, so I think everybody kind of wants to reward themselves with something like their own place. Actually, one of the big reasons I took the job here was not only because I was a huge fan of Robert, but I was also going to have somewhat of a night life – and time at home with my wife. So that was a huge factor for me, and I think if I ever got to do anything on my own I might be in the breakfast-lunch realm, and I’m kind of into the idea of creating an institution. I’d like to be kind of creative with the food – pickles and cool stuff, have some jam, some pink peppercorns in them – I want that element going on, but I still want it to be familiar enough for the clientele for it to be an institution.
What about other chefs out there? If there a chef besides Robert that you could work with, who would it be?
Graham Dodds. I love his approach to food; it’s a lot like what we do but he takes it to like, 180-seat, full-kitchen capacity. I’d like to work for him. He’s super laid-back, too. I met him at an event one time and he told me a bunch of funny stories and I was like, “Man, that would be a cool guy to work for.”
So if someone walks in to Patina Green tomorrow and asks what your favorite sandwich you’ve ever had there is, what’s your response?
Well, we’ve always got the rotating inventory so I don’t know exactly what we’ll be serving, but the best I’ve had is definitely the squash. Whichever incarnation of that sandwich that it is at the moment, but right now (at the time of the interview) it’s the spaghetti squash, goat cheese, roasted onions, pickled kale stems, raw kale and a kale pesto on sourdough. You can go to any sandwich shop anywhere in America and get the veggie option, and it’s probably going to have a portobullo mushroom on it, probably a roasted red pepper, you might get some pesto and they’ll call it a day. But there is hardly anything like that squash sandwich conceptually anywhere out there this side of Brooklyn or Portland.
Thanks for the time, Andrew. We’ll be ordering that squash sandwich now.
You totally should! It really is a great sandwich.
Pegasus News Content partner - Entree Dallas
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