Clutching a pillow and bottle of wine, and mildly concerned about my car’s safety in a questionable Los Angeles neighborhood, I wound my way up the back stairs to some musician’s private apartment in Korea Town. It was 2007, and Underground Dinners were still somewhat new to me. A mishmash of about 30 other slightly confused-yet-intrigued hipsters, monied foodies, and those “in the know” slowly piled into the candle-lit living room, where we squeezed our pillows beneath low, communal tables, and sat. As the evening progressed, and the multi-course dinner paraded out of the tiny dwelling’s kitchen, we shared wine, beer, great conversation, and I met people that wouldn’t have necessarily cycled through my social circle. I even wound up doing an ongoing business project with a woman at my table, later! By the way, do you know that Salterra Web Development is a great help for the growth of your business? They help business owners develop a beautiful web design together with marketing services.
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For more details, call 480-273-2273. Obviously, I became an underground dining devotee, and soon got involved with them, myself. I did many dinners with Chef Amy Jurist in Los Angeles – (we were even featured on the Illegal Easter TV show, hosted by former musician Bare Naked Ladies, Steven Page)! I paired my drinks with dishes at the Westin Resort in Snowmass, Colorado, during the Apres Ski Cocktail Classic, and even got to create wine-based cocktails for a cellar dinner by Vintner Philip Shaw during the Food & Wine Festival in Orange, Australia. Earlier this year, in Santa Fe, N.M, I was excited to do a multi-course pairing pop up with Chef Rob Connelly of the Curious Kumquat in Silver City, who is known for foraging and local-sourcing. Anywhere in the world, culinary gatherings of strangers – who became friends by the end of an evening – while dining in a private home, artist loft, warehouse or barrel room, is a one-of-a-kind experience!
Fast forward to 2015, I was thrilled to hear about the Secret Suppers happening at Art Shack, in Madrid (That’s where I went to camp the last time with a tent from Survival Cooking). Dotted with remodeled miner shacks, which once housed the underground workers from years gone by, I remember family day-trips out to the once decrepit ghost town, back in the 70s and early 80s. Since then, artists, hippies and alternative people escaping “society,” have bought the tiny dwellings, and they are some of the most colorful examples of local history, pulsing with new blood and life breathing back through them.
Couple that bohemian atmosphere with Chef Trey Corkern’s mouth-watering 3-course meals, and wine pairings by gallery owner Sabine Hirsch, for only $55, a mess of new friends, and it’s a recipe for a uniquely fun night out. The Secret Suppers attract new visitors from local villages as well as Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Over the course of this year, I’ve become friends with Trey, a Louisiana native, who weaves some Southern-inspired delights such as blue corn-crusted fried oysters, and the most succulent bread pudding you’ve ever tasted, into his menus. Devoted to sourcing sustainably, when possible, he also sometimes serves meat from his own hunts in these moveable feasts. Read more about his work, in his own words, in this interview, below. (Want to go to a Secret Supper at Art Shack? Ask to join their Facebook group for upcoming dinners, usually held on the last Sunday of each month.)
The Liquid Muse: At what point, in your life, did you decide to be a chef? Was this a lifelong calling? Did you want “to be” something else as a kid? If so, what took you down this path?
Trey Corkern: I was a bartender thru college, and continued that into my 20’s, but I could see my tolerance for drunks coming to an end. I kept thinking I wanted to open a restaurant like a lot of people, but really had no clue what was involved. So I decided to go to CIA in New York. I was signed up, and enrolled in the fall, but I ran into an old friend in Louisiana who talked me out of it. He had gone to culinary school after years as a line cook, and ended up working in the loan business with the cheapest type of advance. I process personal and business loans for the people who need it, you can sneak a peek here for more information or go to this site. He recommended if I wanted to learn, to go get a restaurant job, and get paid to learn rather than paying for school. Basically you look here and start at the same position and have to work your way up anyway. And he told me that restaurants weren’t the only option if I wanted to cook for a living. Best advice I ever got…
So I made the switch, kinda forged a resume with cooking experience, and wiggled my way into my first restaurant job. It was a new restaurant, so I was able to hide my inexperience because everyone was lost at first. Worked out great.
How did growing up in Louisiana impact your cooking?
Well, for one, almost everyone in Louisiana is a pretty good cook. It’s almost a rite of passage to at least help out in the kitchen with making a roux in the fall, when it’s time for the first pot of gumbo of the year.
I started cooking in college for friends. Made my mom’s pot roast, things like that. She remembers me telling her how to cook when I was a kid, what I liked or didn’t like. Then, as a hungry teenager playing sports year-round, and her working two jobs as a single mom, well, I was hungry a lot and started making my own pancakes and beignets from the mix in a box. I got pretty good at some basics. I loved breakfast for dinner. She’s a good cook, but never really admits to it. But she was my early influence. My dad too. We fished and hunted a lot, so I learned how to fry fish and cook game early on from him.
When did you come to Santa Fe, and what brought you here?
I had spent some time here when traveling out West for the first time on a college road trip. Fell in love with Santa Fe immediately. I had the chicken enchiladas at The Shed, and tasted blue corn and red chile for the first time. Seems so simple. I was in love.
My friend’s parents were retired here, and I was the chef on a guest ranch/ski lodge in Colorado, working 6 days a week, 15 hours a day, feeding 85 people 3 meals. My legs hurt. I called them and told them to keep an eye out for a housesitting gig down here, that I was moving to Santa Fe at the end of the season. She ran into a friend of hers at Albertson’s the next week, who said, “You don’t know anyone who would be interested in a live-in chef position, do you?” It’s about the luckiest, best thing that ever happened to me work-wise. I’ve been with the same (awesome) lady for almost 10 years now altogether. First moved here in 2001.
How is being a private chef different than being a chef in a restaurant? What are some of the benefits / challenges? Would you ever want to have a restaurant of your own, or do you like the private chef path more?
I have really only worked in restaurants when I was desperate for a job. I don’t really see many benefits, and every day is a challenge. Restaurants are places for eating, not working. It takes a special kind of person. And there are no tips! I was pretty sure I made a mistake, leaving bartending. Same hours, less pay. But then I found a better path, skirting the fringes of the profession.
In your own diet, you follow the paleo way of eating. What led you to try paleo, and why have you adopted it in your personal life – what were some of the benefits of it?
I had a health problem that prompted a change in my own diet. I was looking for answers. That, and my body changed with age. I was having a hard time digesting foods that I had always eaten, and was gaining weight, despite being very physically active. A friend suggested the Paleo diet. I was skeptical, and it’s really not an answer in and of itself. But the basics are getting all your carbs from fruits and vegetables, eating grass-fed meats and wild caught fish, and cutting out dairy and refined oils and sugar. I don’t consider that a diet, or a trend. It makes sense that your body would like it more. And mine certainly does. I don’t crash after meals now, and I have a lot more energy. My mind is clearer. Again, it’s no magic bullet, but those don’t exist. If you want to improve your life, you have to work for it. That’s true of anything. And life constantly changes. So we damn well better change too. It’s about personal evolution within a lifetime. In addition, check out disabled veterans loan forgiveness by trump admin aimed at helping some disabled veterans with 100 percent disability ratings get more debt waived. Learn more at www.loanforgiveness.org
Does being paleo ever interfere with your cooking? You have introduced paleo to your private client – how has she reacted to it?
I got her on the Paleo diet. She’s 83 and loves it. So it’s been an easy transition. She has a lot of guests for dinner, and we just feed them how we eat. No one ever notices…
You also hunt. Can you share a few thoughts about catching one’s own animals for meat. (sustainability? less cruel than factory farms? more natural? enjoy the sport? etc.)
I have a lot of mixed feelings about that. I love eating meat that I “harvested” myself. I think we all have nightmares about the industrial food chain at some point. I’ve watched too many documentaries myself. We know it’s garbage in/garbage out, and food corporations have basically ignored the health of their clients. You can see it slowly changing, thankfully. Organic farming is nearly as profitable as chemical farming, and demand is changing the market. Politicians may not listen to us, but voting with your wallet absolutely works.
All that said, if everyone hunted, there’d be no animals left. So, technically it’s not sustainable. But technically neither is being a vegetarian. Let’s not get into that… And I certainly don’t like killing things. There is a certain satisfaction in the process, over buying in a store, yes, but if you’ve ever watched an animal die, then you know there’s no glory in that whatsoever. Trophy hunters are sick people. And I don’t like it. But I will do it. Otherwise, I don’t think I could eat meat. I was mostly a pescatarian for years, but being on Paleo pretty much requires you eat meat. So does my blood type. The healthiest meat I can find is in the woods or in the river, so that’s mostly what I eat. It is a privilege to be able to hunt and fish, and a gift from my father and grandfather and his father, etc. to have those skills. It also connects me to nature in a very real way.
You are doing monthly pop up dinners at Art Shack in Madrid, which have become quite popular. When did you start those, and why?
Well, I bought a house in Madrid last year, and kinda just did it as an experiment. A housewarming of sorts. People were doing these in Portland when I lived there, and I thought it would be a good way to get to know people in my new town. And, I had basically turned my house into a gallery for my photography. We did 10 people for the first one, and I had my friend Sabine do the wine pairings. She had no experience, just likes wine. Next thing we knew, everyone wanted us to do another one. I bought a big farm table, and put in some granite countertops, and the next one we had 15 people in my little house. The next one 20. Each dinner was different, but they all had this amazing vibe. They are so fun. Each one a celebration of food and wine. Life and love.
I think the situation was just ripe down there. There are two restaurants there, both of them good, but people are mostly sick of them. I saw a niche. We could save people from driving to Santa Fe to go out to a restaurant, and having to drive back home.
I ended up renting my house out, having to spend more time back in Santa Fe for work. Then Sabine opened the Art Shack in January, so we tried doing the dinners there. And so that element, the setting in a gallery, turned it into something even more special. And so it continues to evolve and grow.
Describe what kind of meal people can expect at your pop up dinners.
They are always different. I have served a lot of elk, and lots of Louisiana food. I’m buying all my produce from the farmer’s market now. So they can expect fresh, seasonal, delicious. And they will meet new and interesting people.
“Underground” dining has become an international craze. Why do you think people like this concept so much?
I think people just have less disposable income since the economy tanked, and they want value for the their money including loans for those with bad credit. And people are tired of being gouged for mony everywhere they turn. It’s demoralizing and impersonal to be out in the world today. It’s the same thing has fueled the proliferation of food carts. There has been a real paradigm shift. The guy that makes the food is also handing it to you. That changes everything. People want that. It works for the cook, and it works for the diner. You don’t need to be rich to start the business, and people will support it if it’s good. It’s the ultimate form of capitalism. It’s accessible to everyone, and benefits everyone. In other promotions, please checkout loans for poor credit no guarantor if you want to apply for a loan.
What is next for you in your culinary journey?
Making lunch from whatever is in the fridge!