Interview with Chef Bryan Sikora of Django – Philadelphia, PA
Pamela Lewy: : Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Bryan Sikora: I have always been a creative person. I went to art school and I’ve also worked in restaurants during high school. The transformation was simple. Restaurants were a good way to make money, and I enjoy the instant gratification of preparing a dish as opposed to spending days on a painting. I later went to culinary school and gained more inspiration.
PL: Who are your mentors?
BS: Robert Trainor, whom I worked with during my externship in Cape Cod and Nora Pouillon from Nora’s in Washington, D.C. Her method was very interesting and it was my first opportunity to work with someone who uses totally organic products.
PL: What chefs do you most admire?
BS: Daniel Boulud, Charlie Palmer, Jasper White and Dean Fearing.
PL: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
BS: A Chinois.
PL: You’ve traveled to many places all over the country. What cities do you like for culinary travel? Why?
BS: Every city has such a different environment. They’re more ingredient-driven on west coast and on Cape Cod. I prefer the towns where there are actual working markets. That’s why Philly’s so interesting. There are so many different kinds of markets that bring ingredients to the people directly from the producer. I love cities with historic food involvement.
PL: You actually thank the farmers and local producers at the end of your menu.
BS: Yes, I think my costumers respect that. Django buys food from local neighborhood places. Customers see my wife and me at the market and they know that they are being served quality ingredients.
PL: What are your favorite food haunts in Philly?
BS: I generally like simpler places. My wife and I like to go BYOB’s and we’re very open-minded when we go out to eat. We like the Standard Tap and Dimitri’s for Greek-Mediterranean food. I don’t like contrived restaurants.
PL: Your cooking is very labor-intensive. You make your own pastas, breads, ice cream and even pickles. What inspires you to cook “the old fashioned” way when there are so many gadgets for short cuts these days?
BS: There are many ways to take short cuts, but not taking them goes back to the concept of becoming a chef. This is what people expect because this is how we created it. My own restaurant gave me the experience to learn how to cook and create new things. Right now, we smoke our fish and meats and this motivates me and keeps me interested. Short cuts aren’t worth it when my name is on the line. It’s more work this way, but it’s well worth it in the end. It’s what the restaurant and what my wife and I love.
PL: What is your favorite spice?
BS: Probably fennel seed.
PL: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
BS: Do you consider yourself highly dedicated, open and willing to learn and take on new skills and new information?
PL: What advice/tip do you have for culinary students just getting started?
BS: Find a place you like and appreciate it. Find a job and stay there for a couple of years to gain real fundamental knowledge. Don’t be too concerned about pay and how quickly you’ll become a sous chef. Learn technique over everything else.
PL: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
BS: Still operating Django as it is or in a larger environment. I would eventually like to own and work in a boutique hotel that features good food, like the Inn at Little Washington.