DINE: Cream of the Crop
Red Hauge and Raul Salinas III met at Grain Station Brew Works. While the two enjoyed beers, their young kids began playing in the outside stage area. The two started talking and learned while the paths they both chose were different, the result of their journeys and their missions ahead are remarkably similar. “The worst part about Red is that he’s a Vikings fan, and I’m from Chicago, so I’m a Bears fan,” Raul observes wryly. “But beyond that, we’re kind of kindred spirits.” Red grew up in Minnesota surrounded by food. His grandma was a longtime caterer; his father, a chef instructor at prisons, hospitals and the Air Force throughout his career. Red considered culinary school — in Portland, coincidently — but opted to enter the workforce while exploring other food cultures. He’s worked in a variety of kitchens from the Virgin Islands, to the East Coast, back to the Caribbean, then Alaska, on to Denver and, finally, Chicago, where he met his future partner, Allyson O’Leary. They wanted to trade “the concrete jungle” for the Pacific Northwest. “I’ve always loved the Pacific Northwest because, you hear it over and over, it’s a chef’s playground,” Red explains. “We have the wonderful bounties of the ocean. We have the wonderful climates to grow pretty much everything. And now we have some pretty incredible fruit in glass bottles that is getting a lot of acclaim all across the nation and the world.” Raul first entered the professional world in public service. He studied law and worked for the Indiana Secretary of State’s office. Burned out already in the legal world, he took off a semester, working at a sushi restaurant. He says, “Seafood is always something I’ve been very interested in. That was kind of my ‘a-ha moment’ with food.” Eventually, he moved to New York and studied at the Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park campus. While there, he worked part time at Williams Selyem Winery. Drawn to the wine world, he moved west, earning his master’s in food at the CIA campus in Napa Valley. Entrenched in the evolving farm-to-table food (and wine) scene, he worked privately for a number of wineries. He met Jim Prosser, owner of J.K. Carriere Wines, who shared with him a shiner of Shea Vineyard. “I don’t remember the vintage,” he says. “But with a wine background and a food background, it was just speaking to me.” He moved to Oregon and worked at the winery, where one of his duties was preparing meals for workers during harvest. Red performed the same assignment for NW Wine Co. When they met and discussed collaborating, harvest catering was an obvious place to begin. They named themselves R&R Culinaire and quickly accumulated 50 winery customers. Raul remembers, “Just a two-man band doing food for about 100 people a day, seven days a week, for 10 weeks.” Requests for private dinners and other gigs followed, and their reputation continues to grow. Currently working from a small commercial kitchen at Biggio Hamina Cellars in McMinnville, R&R has plans to create a large commissary kitchen with a retail market for local produce and other food items. Education is also an integral part of the planned development. “It’s all about education,” Raul explains. “The idea for us is we want to be a clearinghouse for all the great stuff that’s here.” On the pros and cons of formal culinary education: RED: I came (to Oregon) to look at the school, and went home to Minnesota and talked to a chef there. He said, “You can go to school and pay to learn, or you can stay here and I can pay to teach you.” And I thought that was an interesting, very novel concept. The things I really struggled with — and I’m still working on — that I think proper education is great for, is implementing the backside. It’s hard for you to teach taste. It’s hard to teach flavor components that marry together well. But what’s easier to teach is costing, menu development, recipe writing; and then also on the business side of things. It wasn’t until I was in a couple places in Boston or Chicago that my chef role was driven more toward a clipboard and paper, and making sure everything is on par with the partners or whoever the noteholders are on the business — as opposed to just making food making people happy. RAUL: It’s wicked expensive compared to what your salary is going to be coming out. That alone is the biggest issue I have with culinary education. They give you enough education to be dangerous. I had butchery classes that were seven days. Fish processing classes for seven days. I don’t care how intelligent/savant/prepared you are, you can’t learn everything in seven days. But it does open up a network. That network allowed me to go to California and that’s how I got my sommelier gig. I think culinary education is great, but there is a skew with the system because of the costs. I knew going in that I would made $12 and hour as a line cook. I once heard Thomas Keller (The French Laundry) speak at the CIA to an auditorium full of students and their parents. He was being really frank. He said, “There might two celebrity chefs in this room; I’m one of them and maybe there’s one other. If you’re going into this because you think this is a fad or something cool, or you don’t have a purpose otherwise, really think about that; don’t waste your parents’ money.” I thought that was brilliant. It was an honest statement. On influential lessons or examples to follow: RAUL: The things I would like to do as a business owner is pay a fair, equitable wage, a living wage. And I want to have a transparent relationship where this business is supporting families. Our goal is education through food. Obviously, we have to be smart businessmen, too. With that said, I’ve had some great chefs that recognize it’s a team, from the back waiters and the porters, to the farmers and the vendors. Then I’ve had other chefs that it’s all about ego. They’re great chefs and they have the mind for it. I think you have to have that kind of selfish ego mind to really focus to where the most important thing in the world is how that plate looks. But also I think there can be a great balance. That’s what I’ve taken away from my experiences. I think it’s important to recognize the team. It’s important to make everyone want to go to work every day. Everybody is motivated differently. RED: There’s a guy I used to work with in Boston. He set up a system for all of his cooks in which every month you got an allowance of $25 or $50 toward a cookbook ... This guy was a great chef, and you clearly learned enough in his kitchen, but the fact of the matter was he wanted you to be more immersed in other languages of food, or be interested in something else. You didn’t have to come up with a book report. You didn’t have to say, hey, I wanted to do this recipe. He just wanted you to develop your knowledge. I always thought to myself, “That is the coolest thing; If I’m ever in charge, and I’m signing the checks, I’m going to do that.” On building the local food scene and the R&R market concept: RAUL: I went to Counter Culture (at Anne Amie Vineyards) this year, and of the 50 producers, there only one was from this area. Why is that? It’s not that food here isn’t on par with Portland, but it’s just a perception. I would love to be part of a new food scene coming to McMinnville and Yamhill County. We’re all helping to get better talent here. There’s a draw for people to come here, to live here, to sustain the economy with the local farmers. One problem I see is education. Some will go get a $5 latte from Dutch Brothers but be unwilling to spend $10 or $12 for a plate of quality food for themselves. RED: We started the “Harvest Crew Chow” concept that evolved into full-blown catering. Now we want to bring that into more of a vertical spot where we can house not only our catering skills and our cooking skills and our sales talents, but hopefully become a place where people can come buy all the stuff we’re already purchasing and using. It’s ridiculous the amount of producers we have locally. A lot goes to menus in Portland and outside farmers markets. Our goal is to get more of that stuff to local people. RAUL: I also want to see that space as an incubator for talent. We, as a restaurant community, can’t poach each other’s talent. We need to build that talent pool. We want to build this kitchen that our friends from Chicago will tell people, “Go work with these guys, they have great ingredients, they’re doing all this cool stuff. Go spend a year with them.”Maybe that person sticks around and becomes a sous chef somewhere.
R&R CULINAIRE www.rnrculinaire.com 971-328-1781