Do you believe anyone can cook?
“Yes, anyone can learn to cook. Turn on the TV to find any cooking channel or pick up your phone and find a recipe on Pinterest. Once you’ve done that, you just have to keep trying until you learn.” -Chef Mario Moreno
Although it is his first month on the job, the Erwin Center’s new executive chef, Mario Moreno, has worked at the University of Texas for several years. After starting out in hotel work, he spent most of his career in catering with Aramark and most recently spent two years as a sous chef at the Texas Athletic Nutrition Center (T.A.N.C.). Food and Beverage services at the Erwin Center, and many other UT facilities, is managed by 1883 Provisions Co. At the Erwin Center, this service is essential to many of the events we host and facilitate. “We serve a variety of events like pre-show receptions, expos, suites at concerts and sporting events and any special events in our Lone Star Room. In addition, we help out at Texas Performing Arts and also serve suites at football games,” says Moreno. He says his team will cook for anywhere from 25 to 10,000 people.
Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, Moreno moved to Austin, Texas almost 30 years ago. He relocated to Austin so his wife could finish her degree here at The University of Texas. Having studied Accounting in Mexico, he began a brand new career in his new home by working at several hotels, where he learned to cook and began to seek more opportunities. “I had never cooked anything before. In Mexico, at that time, men did not cook at all and I had never had the chance. Once I was here and needed to find a new skill, I learned little by little and worked with great mentors who helped me. I felt inside, cooking is for me.” He says whatever it is you are learning to do, great mentors are the key to long-term success.
In his new role, Moreno manages a team and is also charged with new administrative and planning duties. “I really enjoy being in the action. In the kitchen cooking.” He shares that “The cooking is the best part, but planning is also important.” He describes this as a new responsibility he is still adjusting to, adding that his accounting degree helps him greatly with this portion of the job, a skill-set he feels many chefs struggle with.
Moreno says his favorite food to eat is grilled steak, which is the only item he knew how to make as a young man. However, his favorite items to cook now are Italian or Asian dishes. On working in a busy kitchen, he explains that “the thing in the kitchen is you must always be aware of your surroundings. To avoid dangerous situations, we communicate all the time. You say ‘hot stuff coming through’ or ‘walking behind you.’”
Finally, when asked his favorite part of his job, he says “If you like to cook, take pride in your work. The best reward is to see people enjoying it and saying ‘I love the food,’ ‘Can I have the recipe?’” He says he always cares about quality and taste and that “while everyone makes mistakes, gets a burn or messes up a recipe, it’s important to try again.” Chef Moreno has elected to share two recipes from the 1883 database he feels are warm, easy to make and great for Fall. We encourage you to try out one of the recipes below and hope to share a meal with you at the Erwin Center sometime soon.
Creamy Sweet Potato Soup
2 pounds Sweet potatoes, halved lengthwise (about 2 large)
¼ cup Water
2 teaspoons Olive oil
1 cup Onions, chopped
½ teaspoon Ground cumin
¼ teaspoon Crushed red pepper
4 cups Unsalted chicken stock
¼ teaspoon Salt
6 slices Bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 ounce Fresh shaved parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)
2 tablespoons Flat leaf parsley leaves (optional)
1. Place potatoes, cut side down in an 11×7 inch microwave safe baking dish. Add ¼ cup of water, cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Cool slightly. Discard potato skins.
2. Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onions; Sauté for 1 minute or until the onions are translucent. Stir in cumin and red pepper. Next add stock to pan and bring to boil. Place half of sweet potato and half of stock mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid and blender. Place clean towel over opening lid (to avoid splatters); blend until smooth. Pour pureed soup into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining sweet potato and stock mixture. Stir in salt. Divide soup evenly among six bowls. Sprinkle cooked bacon and parmesan cheese evenly over top. Garnish with parsley (optional).
Flank Steak with Herb Dressing and Charred Broccolini
Adding the steak’s juices into the dressing it’s served with boosts savory satisfaction
¼ cup Olive oil, divided
¼ cup Finely chopped fresh poultry herbs, divided
2 teaspoons Minced fresh garlic
1- 1 pound Flank steak
¾ teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoons Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Broccolini, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup Water
2 teaspoons Fresh lemon juice
1. Combine 3 tablespoons oil, 3 tablespoons herbs, and garlic in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook 1 ½ minutes, stirring frequently. Remove mixture from pan; place in a bowl.
2. Cut steak into 4 equal pieces; sprinkle with 3/8 teaspoon salt and pepper. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add steak to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove steak, and place in a shallow dish to collect juices; sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon herbs.
3. Return pan to high heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Add broccolini; cook 2 minutes. Add ½ cup water to pan; cover and cook 3 minutes or until tender. Sprinkle with remaining 3/8 teaspoon salt; drizzle with juice.
4. Divide steak among 4 plates. Combine steak juices and herb mixture in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Serve steak with dressing and broccolini.
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