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Meet Executive Chef Aaron!
For all of you who’ve visited us at Isle Casino® Racing Pompano Park, you know that our restaurants hold food quality in high regard. But we couldn’t offer award-winning dining experiences without the great chefs behind the scenes who make the magic happen! This month, we sat down with two of our top chefs for a peek behind the curtain that is Isle® dining. First up… Executive Chef Aaron Andryka!
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Aaron.
Chef Aaron: I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania where my family and I spent a lot of time camping, hunting and fishing. I attended Penn State University and graduated with a degree in English Journalism. I began writing restaurant reviews and the food column for a local paper and magazine. While immersing myself in the local food scene, I moved to Pittsburgh and attended two culinary schools simultaneously to gain as much professional knowledge as I could while working in various kitchens in the city. I then moved across the country to Colorado to work at The Broadmoor – a five star, five diamond resort in the mountains. During my time with the American Culinary Federation, I met then Executive Chef for the Isle in Blackhawk Colorado and started my career with the casino.
Q: Where did you get your passion for cooking?
A: It was mainly the holiday season with my mom and grandmothers. We would go to our camp for the holiday school break and make everything from scratch for Thanksgiving. During hunting and fishing season, we would cook what we harvested which included everything from ruffed grouse, spring gobbler and venison, to rainbow trout and yellow perch.
Q: What is your favorite dish to make at the Isle?
A: Our whole chickens and ribs. We have a rotisserie smoker out back that can hold 60 racks of ribs and up to 40 whole birds. I am constantly working on new rubs and sauce recipes to utilize on our buffet and for our special marketing events. We burn about 4 pallets of Cherry and Hickory a month, so were always smokin’!
Q: Other than those available at the Isle, what’s your favorite dish to make personally?
A: I like to grill and smoke at home on my Big Green Egg®. I make smoked wings and spare ribs at home for parties and tailgates. I still enjoy my game meats, so once in a while I even like to grill a nice buffalo ribeye on the natural charcoal. It arouses a unique flavor you can only get from cooking over an open fire.
Q: What’s the most challenging dish you ever made?
A: When I was in culinary school, we had to make a classical French Ballotine, which is deboning a bird leg, making a forcemeat, re-stuffing the leg, tying it back together to look like the leg and then poaching it and hoping it stays together. Let’s just say I didn’t get it right on the first try!
Q: Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.
A: In high school and college I was a weekend radio DJ for a Country Western station and then an alternative rock station. To make extra money I was also their mascot, a giant coyote. I did parades, parties and while live on location, I occasionally dressed up as my alter ego. I had fun with it and took my talents to college where I was the mascot for basketball and volleyball games at our local branch campus. There’s a lot of tradition with that mascot so it was actually quite the honor.
Q: During your time at the Isle, our buffet has changed from a traditional buffet to a farm-to-table concept… as a behind the scenes look, what goes into making that transition?
A: It’s really about getting out there and seeing what other people are doing in the local scene, as well as nationally. I try to go to farmer’s markets and local festivals to find some unique items we can bring to the buffet and I’m constantly scouring our vendors for new and unique items, local produce or meat cuts. I also eat out quite often and am always looking for dishes that we can apply to the Farmer’s Pick® concept. I’m constantly brainstorming with my chefs on what we can do next to keep the buffet exciting and fresh. The biggest thing, though, that helps distinguish us from a traditional steam table buffet is that everything is made fresh from local ingredients and the majority of our dishes are prepared right in front of you.
A huge thank you to Chef Aaron for taking the time to answer a few questions, we hope you all enjoyed learning a little bit more about him. Up next this month… Chef Richard Kurian! Stay tuned.