Chef Pete Tobin grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, and his East Coast edge is infectious. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he found his way to Spokane, where he’s a chef educator at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy. Sandwiched between those culinary landmarks, Chef Tobin apprenticed in ski resort kitchens nationwide.
“I appreciated the healthy lifestyle of the people working there,” he says. “This business can be consuming and relentless. I would work long hours and often seven-day weeks, but I always balanced that with hikes or skiing in the mountains.” His culinary passion also arises from his Italian heritage. His grandparents modeled a simple, sustainable lifestyle that has influenced Tobin’s work in the food industry. “In today’s world of high impact on resources, it is imperative to teach and practice a more ‘slow foods’ approach,” he says.
That sentiment drew him to fellow chef/philosophers who cooked with conscience, creating foods with attention to basic skills and a great respect for the food. It has become his passion.
“I knew if I got the opportunity to share this philosophy I would jump at it,” he says. “It would be the way I would honor my education and those chefs who helped me learn. Professional chefs of this millennium have a responsibility to the craft of cooking and its effect on the people of the world. Supporting local farmers or helping to solve issues like childhood obesity are examples.”
The recall of a zillion peanut-containing products earlier this year served to draw attention to the troubles of America’s food industry. Today’s chefs need to know about food sourcing, and the notion of eating locally grown foods has inspired a number of books — Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma led the charge, while Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle documented her family’s attempts to embrace the concept. Chef Tobin does his part by acquainting his culinary students with local farmers and producers — up close. “I empower the students to produce foods that bring seasonal bounty into our student-run restaurant [Orlando’s],” he says.
Students attend the farmers markets, and they taste what ripe really means. Going a step further, his students butcher whole animals and discuss first-hand the dilemmas a small producer faces to bring good, wholesome food into the current market. In the summer, students are offered the opportunity to live and learn at a local farm.
There’s one more passion that Chef Tobin likes to share: He plays hockey. “I love the competition,” he says, his grin now huge.
“I bring a lot of my quirky hockey stories into the kitchen,” he laughs. “Every cook who has been ‘buried’ in orders on a busy Saturday night knows the exhilaration and rush. This is the same rush of a tied hockey game in third period. Each team is laying it out there to get the next goal. The endorphins are peaking. Each player knows they need to crank it up to achieve the goal: the cook — a cleared line with all the food out and no mistakes; the goalie — a big stop on a breakaway to end the game.”
And whether in the kitchen or on the ice, “Each team deserves a cold beer at the end,” says Chef Tobin.
Palouse Tabbouleh Salad
1 cup spelt
1/2 cup lentils
2 Tablespoons vinegar
4 Tablespoons olive oil
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
10 fresh mint leaves, chopped
4 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
1/2 large cucumber, peeled, diced
Directions: Boil the spelt in 2 cups of water with a pinch of salt. Cook until softened, and drain; rinse with cold water. In separate pot, boil 1-1/2 cups of water with vinegar. Add lentils and cook until softened. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a large salad bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients.Add drained lentils and spelt. Refrigerate for two hours and serve.
Nutrition Notes: 8 half-cup servings.Nutrition Facts: calories 201, fat 7g, carbohydrates 29g, protein 6g, fiber 8g