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Chef Talk: Michael Yoder of the Blue Rooster

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Michael Yoder of the Blue Rooster.

Michael Yoder of the Blue Rooster.

For nearly two decades, Michael Yoder has been becoming a pro at cooking sophisticated southern fare and working with the freshest, real ingredients. Before joining the Blue Rooster (1525 Fourth St., Sarasota, 388-7539, blueroostersrq.com), he was a chef de cuisine at Fred’s and Morton’s, as well as a sous chef at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion in Sarasota and chef/partner at the Philadelphia location.

Tell me a little about your cooking background before the Blue Rooster.

I’ve been in food service for about 19 years, and I started like most professional chefs, as a dishwasher, then moved through the ranks. In the kitchen is where I thrived and was in awe of what was going on. My first sous chef position was at the Chelsea Grill on Main Street in the late ‘90s. I spent another seven years with Epicurean Life as a chef de cuisine at Fred’s, and with their catering company, Morton’s, before moving onto Roy’s.

What inspired your culinary passion?

PBS and public TV cooking shows, back before it was hip or trendy to be working in the kitchen. I used to watch them all the time when I was a kid, never knowing what it would lead to. I’m half Polish and half Amish, so food was always important. Both sides of the family are known for their great, simple comfort food.

What is your favorite type of cuisine to cook?

I started at a barbecue smokehouse with a 20-foot pit. I moved onto an upscale dining steakhouse where I learned to butcher and grill to perfection. At Roy’s, I used lots of fresh ingredients, bold spices, citrus and the best seafood. I learned to be a fishmonger and to use everything (today’s vegetables scraps are tomorrow’s chicken stock veggies). Now I’m back in full swing using my knowledge—making barbecue and southern comfort food, just like when I started, only on a more refined level.

How does positive feedback from your guests motivate you?

It’s the ultimate compliment to watch someone’s facial expressions and know they truly enjoy your food. Not everyone will tell you to your face that they didn’t like something; they just won’t be back. But when it’s good, you see them take a bite, close their eyes and smile. I try to scan the dining room and read the faces like a game of poker. But the best is when someone stops by the kitchen window or pops their head through the door to tell you this is their favorite place.

What is your life like outside of the kitchen?

I really love music, and I have a home music production studio where I’ve been recording, engineering and producing. I only record with friends or acquaintances, but I have over 100 tracks completed and more in process. I’ve been doing this for almost as long as I’ve been in kitchens. It’s the same concept: Make something for people to enjoy and fall in love with.

CORNBREAD DRESSING WITH FENNEL AND SAUSAGE

Ingredients:
8 cups old cornbread, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound breakfast sausage (bulk or links, with casing removed)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 fennel bulb, medium-sized, chopped (keep fronds for serving)
2 carrots, medium-sized, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
8 scallions (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Bosc pears, peeled and chopped
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 eggs, beaten to blend
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Divide cornbread between two large-rimmed baking sheets, and bake, tossing occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove cornbread from oven and reserve for later.

Meanwhile, cook sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat, breaking the mixture up with a spoon until it is dark brown (about six to eight minutes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a small bowl and let it cool.

Reduce heat to medium and heat eight tablespoons of butter in the same skillet. And fennel, celery, carrots, scallions and garlic, stirring until vegetables are tender. Add pears and wine, increase heat to medium-high and stir occasionally until most of the wine is evaporated (about five minutes).

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Combine sausage, fennel mixture, all of the chopped herbs and 1½ cups broth in a large bowl. Toss in cornbread, and season with salt and pepper. Let mixture sit for 10 minutes, add the remaining ½ cup of broth and toss. Add eggs and mix gently to combine.

Transfer dressing to prepared baking dish and dot with the remaining two tablespoons of butter. Cover dressing with foil and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until the dressing is golden and crisp on top (about 20 to 30 minutes longer). Top with reserved fennel fronds, and serve.

Blue Rooster is at .

 

Last modified: January 20, 2014
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