Chef Cristian Feher is the head chef at Tampa Bay Chef Services where he provides food lovers in the Tampa Bay area with gourmet personal chef services. He is also a food writer, videographer and food stylist. Chef Cristian graduated from George Brown College in Toronto and completed his apprenticeship with Chef Michael Rosano at the York Downs Country Club in Canada. He was also the sous chef of the singing chef Pasquale Carpino. Chef Cristian has been a professional Red Seal chef since 2002.
Chef Cristian took time out of his busy schedule of preparing food for the Tampa Bay Lightning to answer some questions for us!
1. You’re the personal chef for the Tampa Bay Lightning. What does that entail?
Yes, I was the personal chef for the Tampa Bay Lightning during their 2010 season with Rick Tocchet. My job was to work with the strength and conditioning coach, Chuck Lobe, and the team coordinator, Ryan Belec, to come up with delicious pre-practice breakfasts that were low glycemic, high in protein, and would balance out their energy levels during practice and training.
2. What is the weirdest food a Lightning player has asked you to prepare?
Hockey players, as opposed to some pro football players, tend to be very disciplined when it comes to their nutrition. So they are pretty good about sticking to their diets. I’ve never been asked for anything weird or unusual from a hockey player.
3. You’re also a food stylist, what are your tricks for making food look appealing in pictures?
I love to style food. It takes much patience, but the creativity involved makes it a worthwhile activity. A lot of people have the preconception that the foods they see in magazines and on TV are artificial. The truth is that most food stylists use real food. We spend a lot of time sourcing beautiful produce and fresh ingredients.
A few “tricks” of the trade are to keep some vegetables and herbs in ice water to keep them rigid and fresh looking until it’s time to shoot. To make foods look juicy and moist, you can paint them with mineral oil, spritz water on them, or brush them with glycerin. Green veggies, such as broccoli look best when cooked in boiling water for about 30 seconds (when that really bright green color change happens) and throw them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and capture that bright green color. I use my kid’s wooden block and Jenga set, along with some door stops, to prop dishes up to get better angles, etc. I’m also that strange guy that goes to a department store and buys one dish, one saucer and one fork. The cashiers can never figure out why I don’t just buy the whole set! Food styling takes creativity, patience and an engineering point of view where you can very often find yourself having to improvise on the spot.
The other important factor in food styling is artistry and know-how of the photographer, the quality of photo lenses you’re shooting with, and the software you use to clean up the photos if necessary.
4. What chefs have influenced your cooking style?
I probably couldn’t tell you their names. I grew up in Venezuela during the early part of my life and my parents would take my sister and I out to nice restaurants all the time. Our family hobby was fine food. I would enjoy classic seafood paellas made by real Spaniard chefs, table side Caesar salads from scratch, fresh pastas made by third and fourth generation Italian restaurant families, and superlative French cuisine. I credit my parents for having introduced me to so many foods at such a young age. This gave me the opportunity to appreciate fine food and to be able to know how it’s supposed to taste. I noticed during chef school that some of my classmates just had “no tongue!” as the Chef would say (in reference to their inability to make foods taste the way they were supposed to taste). And in conversation with some of them I would discover that while growing up, their parents would feed them “kid food” while they enjoyed “adult food”. Having grown up on mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and pasta with ragu sauce, these guys have no experience to draw from. They didn’t really know what a beurre blanc sauce was supposed to taste like because they never had it. Or they never had enough of it to be able to tell which one tasted right and which one was off. So I would say that my cooking style draws a lot of influence from the foods I experienced growing up in Venezuela in the late 80’s.
I was also deeply immersed in Toronto’s Asian culture where I had the opportunity to eat genuine Asian foods every day of the week. Toronto is like an airport in terms of the multiculturalism of the society. It also has some of the best and most readily available food supply in the world. It was pivotal for me, as a chef, to have grown up in a city like Toronto, which really opened up my culinary tastes and experiences.
As for cooking skills: Aside from the strong base acquired in chef school, I learned a great deal from Chef Michael Rosano and sous chef Matt Matias at the York Downs Country Club where I did my apprenticeship in Toronto. I also gained a higher appreciation for showmanship and philosophy from Chef Pasquale Carpino who became a very dear friend of mine. As a personal chef I continue to develop and learn different cooking styles towards a never ending sharpening and honing of skills which is the career of a chef. In the words of Will Smith, “You can have all the talent in the world, but your skill comes from practice, practice, practice. While the other guy sleeps, I’m working on my craft.”
5. What’s your favorite coconut oil recipe to make for your clients?
I like to use coconut oil when I’m working on recipes that are lean and fresh. I like the lightness of coconut oil. It doesn’t leave an oily residue like animal fats, corn oil, peanut oil, etc. It’s also very good for vegetarians. And since it’s solid at room temperature, it’s also workable for pie dough and baked goods.
I like to use coconut oil to pan sear fish like sea bass, black grouper and American red snapper since it heats up hot enough to really crisp up the skin in little time, and leaves very little residue behind. I also use it for stir-fries and most Asian dishes in the wok.
*Check out Chef Cristian’s coconut oil Recipe for Pan Seared Halibut on Steamed Jasmine Rice and Bok Choy!