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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Volunteer spotlight: Lunch with Jay Haamen

dorothy hernandez

One of the many awesome aspects of being a Cooking Matters coordinator is meeting and getting to know the volunteers. As volunteer manager, I love to hear about what everyone is up to, how they came to Cooking Matters and most importantly steal their recipes (check out this month's find, The Perfect Roast Chicken, below).

I also love to eat so when I started thinking about how to go about this month's volunteer spotlight, I decided to combine the two. In my past life I was a journalist (and I still try to write as much as I can) so when thinking of my first victim for my poor attempt at writing profiles I asked Jay Haamen if he'd join me for lunch at Que Huong, a Vietnamese joint in Madison Heights.

Here's what I learned. DISCLAIMER: I was too busy scarfing my bahn mi sandwich so I apologize in advance, Jay, if this is not exactly what you said.

Jay Haamen would rather take a huge pay cut and do something he loved rather than work for a big pay day.

And he means it. Not too long ago he was the personal chef of a local wealthy family, cooking for athletes, musicians and public figures. Sounds like a dream job for chefs but ultimately it wasn't what he wanted to do.

Now he runs A Knife's Work full time, an event planning and catering business based in Ann Arbor that he started in 2005 with chef and partner Brendan McCall. They took the business full time in 2009.

While business is doing well right now he sees A Knife’s Work as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, such as his own restaurant. He’s planning a bahn mi lunch spot and food truck, seeing a lot of opportunity for such culinary ventures in Metro Detroit.

At random points throughout our lunch, he exclaims “I’m so happy right now!” You see, he had some really bad pho the day before so he was thoroughly enjoying this bowl.

Where were we? Oh yeah, he started cooking at a pretty early age. “My mom wasn’t much of a cook. So at age 8 or 9 I’d have dinner ready on the table for her. “

What did you cook for her, I asked? “Oh I don’t even remember. French toast? It was always breakfast.”

He didn’t take cooking seriously until after graduating high school when he got a job at Pronto in Royal Oak where he was willing to do anything just to get into the kitchen. He also started attending culinary school, graduating from Schoolcraft College.

One of his favorite aspects of Cooking Matters is the interaction with participants, “seeing how food matters to them. … They are so genuinely interested in learning new information, techniques and recipes.”

Volunteering for Cooking Matters is a natural for the chef, who loves people and loves food (us too!).

What stuck out the most for Jay was during the grocery shopping trip during week 5. One participant, who baked her own cakes for fun, mentioned she now read labels and would put back items on the shelf after perusing the ingredient list.

Thanks Jay for volunteering with us … and sharing the following recipe!

The Perfect Roast Chicken

1 Chicken – Fryer size (3-3.5lbs) Olive Oil Kosher Salt & Pepper – We like to use herbs too, but it's not necessary Root vegetables – half onion, 1-2 stalks celery, 1 carrot, 1 small parsnip and 1 potato Roasting Pan

Prepare the vegetables: Preheat your oven to 425°. Cut your vegetables in a 1/2″ dice/rough cut and place them on the bottom of your roasting pan. Season the vegetables lightly with salt, pepper and fresh herbs if available (thyme is a particularly nice addition).

Prepare the Chicken: Remove any liver, giblets or hearts from the chicken. Blot the chicken with a paper towel so it’s dry (this will help to make the skin crispy). Sprinkle the inside of the bird with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Tie the two legs together at the very end, with a bit of butcher's twine. Rub the bird all over with a light amount of olive oil and season with salt and pepper (don’t be afraid to be heavy handed, this is where you get your flavor). Place the bird atop the raw vegetables in your roasting pan.

Roasting: Place the bird in the oven at a reasonable distance from the heating elements. After the first 30 minutes in the oven, turn the heat down to 375.° The initial high heat helps to achieve the “sizzle” or caramelizing of the flesh that gives roasted meat its distinct flavor. We reduce the heat as the bird will benefit from finishing at a lower temperature after the initial caramelization. Roast the chicken for a total of 1-1.25 hours (depending on the size of the bird) or until the dark meat reaches 160°. To test your bird for doneness you can take a temperature reading by inserting a meat thermometer into the inner part of the thigh, close to the bone.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, let the bird rest for 30-40 minutes before you cut into it. This allows the temperature to reach its highest point (170-175°) and then drop to a temperature more suitable for carving.

If you cut into right away, the juices will bleed out, steam fills the air and the chicken goes dry. During roasting, the high temperatures pull moisture towards the surface of the meat. Letting the bird rest allows the moisture to retract back from the surface.

Enjoy your chicken with the vegetables you roasted in the same pan. Their flavor will be greatly enhanced by the juices and fats absorbed from the chicken.