From The Cedars to the home kitchenPublished 12:02pm Sunday, November 3, 2013
As much as chef Jack Erwin couldn’t see himself being a professional chef years ago, the same could be said for the cookbook recently released through The Cedars of Austin, which contain his recipes.
“The Cedars of Austin Cookbook, Vol. 1” hit Austin last week and is taking off in a public that has come to know Erwin as a jovial, fun-loving and exuberant man, always willing to share fun and food.
“We’re proud,” Erwin said. “It’s not a great big thing, but we’re proud of this.”
The book contains about 30-40 of Erwin’s original recipes that he’s either made during his time at the Cedars or at his ever-growing popular cooking shows. Above all else, the recipes are never too challenging.
“I try to make recipes anybody can make and they won’t be afraid to tackle these,” Erwin said. “I don’t want to make something for a professional chef that makes people think, ‘Oh, that’s not something I want to tackle.’”
Erwin, by his own account, describes his beginning of his nearly 43 years in the kitchen as unimpressive.
“I started out of high school at Country Kitchen as a cook and I was terrible,” he said with a laugh.
From there he worked for Kermit Watts at the then named 76 Truck Stop for a number of years, learning as he went.
“There were a lot of courses and training, but I never went to anything like Le Cordon Bleu,” Erwin said.
The Austin native didn’t stay in the kitchen though and eventually moved to the Twin Cities where he got into restaurant management. At that point in life Erwin was all but certain a return to the kitchen was out of the question.
However, the kitchen drew him back in 1989.
“I started cooking again and it stuck and that was it,” he said.
He ran the kitchen for the Sheriff’s Boys Ranch for 18 years before coming to The Cedars seven years ago, where he has been ever since. It’s also the same time Erwin began doing cooking shows.
In the public eye
Erwins first show came in the winter of 2007. He remembers the nerves of getting up in front of a crowd, but the idea intrigued him at the same time.
“The marketing director at the time and I decided we would do something to bring people to come and see us,” Erwin said. “It was bigger than I thought.”
In that first show, he made sautéed chicken breast in white wine sauce, and ham and egg frittata, recipes that quickly came to mind six years later as did the nervousness he felt.
“I’m amazed I got through it,” Erwin said, again laughing, and perhaps that was what helped get him into the spirit of the shows.
Erwin is a man easy to laugh and he enjoys interacting with others, so the shows took off.
He remembers the show drawing around 45 people for the first show, but the number continued to grow. The next show grew to 75 people and from there has remained fairly consistent at more than 100 each time. His latest show in fact at the Mower County Senior Center sold out.
Erwin’s shows are rarely formal. It tends not to be in his nature.
“I like to get people involved,” he said. “It’s more fun for me. I love the question and answer portion.”
Throughout his shows there are giveaways, joking and of course good food.
You have to put out a cookbook
As Erwin’s popularity grew, it seemed only the next logical choice to come out with a cookbook, which is what his fans began asking for at each show. But Erwin hesitated at first.
“Once I started shows, I had people saying you should put out a cookbook,” he said. “I thought, ‘That sounds like an awful lot of work.’”
But Erwin got together with current Cedars marketing director Lisa Nelson. In the end, Erwin only had to come up with the recipes as Nelson organized the book and Diamond Ridge Printing printed it.
Not that the process was easy for Erwin. His day to day routine of coming up with meals at The Cedars usually has Erwin making meals for the citizens of The Cedars in bulk. Those recipes had to be whittled down to more of a meal-size, mostly for one or two people. Making the process a little trickier is that Erwin doesn’t have his recipes written down.
“Many, many recipes, I of course, don’t have written down,” he said. “Writing recipes takes a long time. Many of them are in my head. I often times make so much that to scale it back takes some practice.”
But if you’re are employee of The Cedars or a neighbor of Erwin’s, life is pretty sweet — literally — as those people are usually the ones who get to test what Erwin is making.
Paging through the small cookbook, one thing becomes obvious. A majority of the foods are comfort foods.
“That is the generation I work with,” Erwin said. “They were very much about meat and potatoes.”
There is also A charitable side of the book. Profits from the book go toward the Mower County Senior Center.
For Erwin, the book was a thrill to write, but what’s more rewarding is hearing how much those people who buy his book enjoy cooking what he offers.
“I love hearing that people are trying these recipes,” he said.
Following is just one of Chef Jack’s recipes from the book.
Chocolate Mug Cake (microwave)
• 4 Tbsp. flour
• One egg, beaten
• 4 Tbsp. sugar
• 3 Tbsp. milk
• 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
• 3 Tbsp. oil
• 1/8 Tsp. baking powder
• 2 to 3 drops vanilla
• 1/8 Tsp. salt
1. In a greased, tall, large mug, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Add egg, oil and milk.
2. Mix well with fork.
3. Place in microwave on high for 2-2 1/2 minutes.
4. Best if slightly undercooked.
5. Cake will rise above mug, but don’t worry. Turn out onto plate and divide before adding your favorite topping.
“The Cedars of Austin Cookbook, Volume 1”
As the name of the book implies, a Volume 2 is on the way, however, if you want to get your hands on Volume 1 then drop a line to The Cedars at 507-437-3246. And don’t worry if they are out of stock.
“If we appear to have run out, we’re ordering more,” Erwin said.