Campo's Chef Michael Ehlert on Working with Boulud, Eddie Campbell and Tex-Mex
Michael Ehlert moved to Texas from New York City in 2011, where he worked at DBGB, one of Daniel Boulud's concepts. In Dallas his first kitchen home was at The Chesterfield in downtown. Last month, he moved over to Campo, where he is now the executive chef. We sat down last week to discuss his culinary journey.
Where are you from originally?
Born in Virginia Beach, but grew up in the Twin Cities. We moved around a lot. My dad was an editor. Went to high school in Iowa, and college in Colorado. Then moved to New York in 2005.
How was Boulder?
I loved Boulder. Went to University of [Colorado] for a journalism degree. At first, I got a job cooking just to pay the bills, but I liked that a lot more than interviewing people.
What was your first job in a restaurant?
In Boulder I worked at the Sink for two years, which was just off campus, always really busy. That was just a natural environment for me. I'd always meet such interesting people. That has always been an attractive aspect of it for me too. After a while, I knew that was going to be my path.
You didn't like interviewing people?
I liked it OK. I tried to mix the two together. I thought maybe I could write about food, which is not something I've written off completely. But, I would go interview chefs about the scene and what was going on, it got to the point where I didn't want to talk to them about it, I wanted to do it. And I couldn't wait to get out of class to go cook -- even just to flip burgers. I got absorbed in that culture pretty quickly.
Boulder is sort of known for its farm-to-table movement. Did that have much influence on you?
The scene [local movement] there existed naturally before there was a label on it. Then, when it started to happen, there was a trend of really long menus because every item had to have a description of what farm it was from. And that happened but it was exhausting on the diner's part -- so that sort of fizzled. But, still the idea was always there.
What do you think about the larger-scale national trend towards eating local?
I think it's OK that it got more attention, but I don't think it's something that people should use to try to elevate their cuisine when really it's kind of always been going on.
But, it's definitely something you focus on here, right?
My biggest influences are French chefs, like Ferdinand Point and his restaurant in France, La Pyramide. Every day he writes a new menu after he goes to the market. It doesn't mean that every restaurant in Paris does that, but it's the idea that you should never write a menu then scamper around to procure the ingredients in case something isn't good enough.
But, that's not realistic most of the time...
Right. Somewhere in between is the idea that you can somehow support your community. But, still give people cuisine that's interesting. If all that is available for a week is squash and raspberries and Swiss chard ... you can't just make squash boats with raspberry passengers and be like, "Well, that's all I had."
Do you like the local bounty?
With the things that occur naturally, it's great. We have a local guy, Toby Haggard, who pulls his Prius up the back door with a couple coolers full of stuff and we generally buy a little bit of everything he has.
We also work a lot with Chefs Produce. Those guys shop the market every other day. They have great relationships with a lot of farmers in the outlying farms.