Photo by Kelly White
Chef Michael Niksic, of freecookingprograms.com, led the discussion on multi-layered flavors and compound cooking approaches, as well as straightforward approaches to making various types of chili on Jan. 29 at the Oak Lawn Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave.
The Super Bowl means gathering with friends over football and delicious food. With this in mind, the Oak Lawn Public Library staff provided a presentation conveniently titled, “Serious Chili Cooking.”
Chef Michael Niksic, of freecookingprograms.com, led the discussion on multi-layered flavors and compound cooking approaches, as well as straightforward approaches to making various types of chili on Jan. 29 at the library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave.
“Everyone who attended was ready to have many misconceptions about food preparation shattered,” Niksic said. “Understanding why you do things in a particular manner allows you to transfer that knowledge into all facets of cooking. It separates real chefs from wannabes.”
“Attendees were able to learn how to liven up their basic chili recipes for exciting meals to help make it through the rest of winter,” said Melissa Apple, adult programming librarian at the Oak Lawn Public Library. “I chose this program because I thought it was perfect for the season, and also in preparation for Super Bowl Sunday.”
More than 50 people attended the free event hoping to spice up their cooking skills. This was not a hands-on class. However, substantial portions of roast turkey and red bean andouille sausage chili were served to all in attendance.
“Chili should be eaten with a fork because it’s supposed to be made robust and hearty,” Niksic said. “If you’re eating chili with a spoon, you’re eating soup.”
Niksic said it is also important not to take recipes to heart while cooking.
“Recipes are only suggestions; they are not contracts,” Niksic said. “You can take a chili recipe and change it up, adding additional flavors. Embellishments are always a smart idea. You should always go along with your own flavor line.”
This was the first time the library has ever held a chili cooking presentation, according to Apple.
“We don’t have too many programs where patrons can watch food being made and get to sample it,” Apple said. “This was definitely a fun and tasty event.”
Niksic said with all of his chili cooking experience, he has never entered a chili-cooking competition for one important reason.
“In those types of cook-offs and competitions, you are instructed to cook chili in a large aluminum pot,” Niksic said. “As a chef, I recommend to never, ever cook any of your food in an aluminum pot or pan. Aluminum is a soft metal. When you are heating up items in it while cooking, the aluminum immediately comes off of the pan and goes directly into your food.”
Niksic said he prefers stainless steel for this reason.
Apple heard about Niksic’s relaxed cooking classes from other libraries and reached out to him personally for the event.
Niksic’s cooking career began on the South Side of Chicago in the Rupcich Family restaurant in 1976. He entered the Washburne Trade School in June of 1976, and graduated from the chef’s training program in May of 1978. He also completed a meat cutting program at the Washburne Trade School after his chef training. He then apprenticed as a line cook, sauté cook, grill man and banquet cook under Stuart Johnson at the Hyatt Regency Chicago in the 4 star French restaurant Truffles.
In Chicago, he eventually opened La Grillade, the first mesquite grilling fine dining restaurant. Since then, he has opened, or helped open, over 22 restaurants of various cuisine and themes. He began freecookingprograms.com in 2004.
“It’s important to remember that the way you cook something in your kitchen (and) in your own home is the absolute right way to cook it,” Niksic said. “Every cook is different and has a different palate.”