Defining Delicious

MCC Chef-Instructor Brian O’Malley celebrates regional food Brian O’Malley ate out six times last week. This may seem strange for a former President (he served 2005-2007) and current publication chair for the Heartland Chapter of the American Culinary Federation — as well as Chef-Instructor who’s been at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College since 2003. If anyone were capable of setting a saliva-inspiring table or packing a brown bag full of flavor, it would be this man. For O’Malley, the case for dining out is simple. “In one day a chef probably makes more dishes than a person makes in their whole life,” O’Malley says. “It is the same case I make for having someone else do your taxes. The difference is you’ve done 15 tax returns and the tax preparer has done 1,500 a year. So sure, they don’t know your situation, but with just a smidgeon of half a second of thought on their part, they now know yours and a million other ways.” While O’Malley may frequently defer his expertise to other professionals over dining hours, make no mistake: food is his full-time job. Local food is his full-time passion. Citing Warren Buffett, patron saint of modest millionaires, as a parallel to the ultra-fine-dining scene not being a part of Omaha’s spirit, Omaha native O’Malley bears the same characteristics of that spirit in conversation: Cultured. Sophisticated but never pretentious. Like an eager philosopher sharing a discovery, he waves his arms discussing an artisan vinegar from western Nebraska. His sentences simultaneously reference balsamic vinegar’s holy grail of Modena, Italy and the term “melt-your-face amazing.” The one-of-a kind vintage vinegar he says, is “the best balsamic moment in your life and multiply it by 100. I’m not even kidding.” Delivering his argument for local food with similar enthusiasm, hardly preachy or political — although he can sell the moral and ecological aspects well — O’Malley seems genuinely in love with regional eating. This love for local stretches beyond bragging about the new 3,500 square-foot garden used by the cultivation class at Metro. He brags of eating Bronco burgers for breakfast, then imagines the Omaha landmark locally sourcing its beef, tomatoes and chicken. “They could knock it out of the park,” he says. “I already love it, but I think their delicious would ratchet up along with their ability to tell their story as an Omaha joint.” For those wondering if they misread the quote, it is delicious as a noun, delicious not as something that happens to a food but a thing in and of itself. For O’Malley, Omaha delicious includes the more avant-garde experiences of the Sage Student Bistro and Boiler Room. This is but one segment of the dining experience. Like traditional music or carols, he says, you must understand the original before you can understand what newer artists are doing with it. Part of this basic Omaha culinary education for the layperson is a good grilled ham and cheese sandwich: the Croque–Monsieur at Dario’s. If you haven’t tried it or any items at local eateries, O’Malley says, “there’s no sense trying any of the crazy stuff elsewhere.” This notion of building reserves of dining experience to appreciate artisan food speaks somewhat against delicious as noun, as a spontaneous event. The irony isn’t lost on O’Malley, who, let’s remember, grades students on their ability to consistently deliver delicious. With each unique set of taste buds as judge in the classroom or at dinner rush, O’Malley says meeting expectations is the whole story of the restaurant world. “We’re going to establish an objective standard for [a dish] that you will meet no matter what. Period,” he says. “Then we’ll tell you that you have to be open, engaged and malleable to the demands of your customers once you [graduate].” Learning to navigate that divide requires knowledge and practice. O’Malley, coaches the Culinary Team of Nebraska that competes nationally “feeding people that aren’t hungry and aren’t paying for it.” The value of these exercises is not the events, but practicing a dish dozens of times until delicious is deliverable in competition and ultimately in Omaha’s kitchens. Despite the noble truth, “sometimes cooking is about boring,” Brian O’Malley is passionate about educating students and patrons about his world. And when he isn’t living it, he’s eating it six times in one week.

posted at 12:52 pm
on Wednesday, November 03rd, 2010

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