CityBeat: Are you glad to be out of school?
Molly Thompson: I’m glad because of the time commitment, but it was great in terms of what I learned. It was the best route for me to get experience. It will be a year at the beginning of June since I’ve had this new position, Chef de Cuisine — the person who cooks, but not the author of the menu. I still have so much to learn that I can’t think of myself yet as a big chef, but I am coming up with specials now, at least the ideas for them. Then Paul and I collaborate on the final dish.
CB: What special are you most proud of?
MT: We’d gotten some USDA choice lamb chops, really nice, and I made a shitake and oyster mushroom gratin to go with the braised chops and a pinot noir reduction for the sauce, and it was a big hit. My parents were there and my dad loves lamb, but I wouldn’t let him just say it was good. I made him give me a true review.
Actually, a lot of people come back to the kitchen and give me feedback, which is great. Sometimes it will be an older gentleman and you can see he’s looking into the kitchen thinking “Where’s the man who cooked my food?” And I love introducing myself: “I’m Molly, I was your chef tonight.”
CB: Do you see yourself as a role model?
MT: Well, maybe. The daughter of some of our regular customers did a report on me for school. (Laughs) At culinary school, my class was about 60/40 males to females, and some people still assume that the girls will be pastry chefs or get put in the pantry because they can’t handle the pressure.
That’s silly. I know restaurant culture can be a “boys club,” but I haven’t experienced that.
Paul and Emily are such great people, with great energy — they’re so positive and fair. It can be a high stress industry, but I’m fortunate.
CB: What got you here?
MT: Actually, how I got here … it’s an interesting path. I started out, right out of college, working at the Mercantile Exchange in Chicago. Really fast paced, and I’ve had lots of jobs on my feet, working hard, but not with passion. I thought that maybe I didn’t need to have a fulfilling job to be happy. But you do … I do. So I moved to Covington with no job and I did a self-inventory.
I tried writing down what I loved and I kept writing cooking and entertaining and fast-paced work, and I thought, “Maybe I ought to go to culinary school.” I started out having dinner parties for my friends back in high school. I made lasagna and served it on my mom’s good china. But I never had any formal training. So culinary school was definitely the best thing for me to do. It gave me good basic knowledge.
CB: So what would be your dream meal to cook?
MT: Meat! A bunch of meat. I love meat. All different kinds, all different ways. I guess I’d want to go to Jungle Jim’s and buy a bunch of meat, a bunch of mushrooms — all different kinds — and some crazy funky vegetables and just figure out what to do with them.
CB: It’s not all about cooking, right? What have you learned about the restaurant business?
MT: Paul still does that, of course, but I’m learning more about food costs and sourcing. Like during the volcano (in Iceland), you wouldn’t think that would affect restaurants, but we had to shift some of our sources, go a different route. School teaches you about cost control, but you need to take it on yourself to apply that, to be conscious about waste.
We are doing well at Otto’s, we’ve continued to get busier. I think people are selective about where they can spend their money, but we have a great staff and the menu is approachable and it’s a comfortable atmosphere. We’re fortunate. I’m fortunate.
CB: I’m hearing a lot of confidence in your answers.
MT: Self confidence? I built that at Otto’s this past year. It was neat to see that growth in myself. I used to second-guess myself. Should I add this ingredient? Should I take a chance? And now I have the confidence to take chances and I like that in myself. I think about the journey I’ve taken and I kind of pinch myself. There’s no reason not to be happy doing what you are doing. Just take that first step.
CB: So who would intimidate you?
MT: Anthony Bourdain! If they came in the kitchen and said he was sitting in the restaurant … he's eaten all over the world! But he's probably also the person I'd most like to get a chance to cook for, just because of the challenge. And Julia Child. She's the person I wish I had had a chance to cook with. She was so good, but she didn't take herself too seriously. Like me, really.
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