Ernest Cornelius is one of those guys who do not take the shortcut. He started out his career washing dishes at 14 and has worked his way up the culinary ladder bringing him to where he is today, an uber-talented chef! His interests do not only lay in the kitchen. Ernest is also passionate about photography, writing, and of course getting tattooed. While he loves talking about food, he also loves talking tattoos- especially for knives and needles! Read on and hear what one of America’s top chefs have to say about tattoos (and a little about food of course!)!!
M: How long have you been a chef?
E: I guess that really depends on your interpretation of the title. A professional Chef? Only a couple of years now. I did, however, start young unlike some of my colleagues who started in college. I took my first job in a kitchen at age 14 as a dishwasher and have “climbed the ladder” over the years. At the current age of 26 I hold a Tournant title at a very well respected European-style café and bakery. In addition to the Tournant position at The Blue Door, I also stayed on a couple evenings a week at Dante Boccuzzi’s newest venture in Akron Ohio, D.B.A. Working for Chef’s with the caliber of Chef Dante and Chef Torsten opens your eyes to cuisine that most hope to see in their careers. Having both traveled the world; they bring to the plate food that sets the curve in the industry in our area.
M: So you are a jack-of-all-trades! When did you start getting tattooed?
E: I actually didn’t get my first tattoo until I was 19. I only had a few friends at the time with tattoos and I was less than thrilled with what I saw so it took me a little longer to get into a shop and make my first, oh so cliché, decision.
M: What was it and do you still have it?
E: Haha well being from Swedish decent, the only thing that made sense to me was a koi fish (I’m sure you sense the sarcasm). It was very poorly done and thankfully too heavy sun abuse and the skilled hands of Adam Oiler at Black Metal tattoos; I have now started the process of covering up the disaster that ended up on my back.
M: What is your favorite piece and why?
E: I have so many different tattoos for an equal amount of different reasons but I guess the one I have that gets the most praise by others would have to be the cheeseburger on my hand. I still, after having it for three-ish years now, love the “Is that a cheeseburger?” question. Why people looks at that and ask I will never understand but it’s a cool conversation piece so yea, the “handburger” it is.
M: That’s hilarious, we at knivesandneedlesblog.com loooove food tattoos! What drew you to tattoos initially?
E: Musicians. I started cooking so I could afford to go to shows so that is my most organic connection to tattoos. Going to see all of these great punk bands at The Agora, Peabody’s and Warped Tour every summer made me want to be exactly that, a rock star. I guess it was more of the lifestyle then the musician aspect that more drew me in closer and closer but that edgy lifestyle has been a wild ride to say the least.
M: Why do you think the tattoo industry and the culinary industry are so intertwined?
E: It takes a certain amount of grit and finesse to do both jobs and I think at the end of the day both artists feel very satisfied with what they do. If you took a tattoo artist and gave him even 5 minuets to plate a composed dish he (or she) would sweat and make a mess of the possibility but could I even imagine picking up a tattoo machine and putting anything even remotely passable as a tattoo on someone? Absolutely not. We’re both artists in our own respects.
M: Have you noticed this correlation (or lack thereof) in your travels in other countries?
E: I have never (with the exception of going to Windsor, Canada.) left the country but I have traveled around the country and you see it everywhere and even more so now. When I got started on my sleeve I was around 21 years old and I moved out of state in the middle of the process. I moved to a resort island off the coast of Georgia called St. Simon’s Island. The island was mostly vacation homes of very wealthy people and basically a golf resort/ tourist trap. I met a few people with tattoos but my arm was a head turner for sure. Now if you go to a restaurant you’ll see servers just as heavily tattooed as the Chef’s and I think that’s cool. Individualism should find it’s way into restaurants, it supports creativity and celebrates how being different should never be a bad thing.
M: Do you have a tattoo experience that stands out for any reason? Funny/sentimental?
E: If I told every story that correlated with the tattoos I have we’d have more than a blog. I have a tattoo on my ankle that I got on a “you wont do it” challenge. So we had this dishwasher named Roy at a place I worked at for quite a while and man was he a treat. This dude was awesome. Out going into every last detail about him I’ll just say he was the dude shopping at Aldo, wearing Velcro shoes and American flag t-shirts, and screaming Lady GaGa lyrics for no apparent reason. So we used to joke with him all the time about sleeping with his wife and honestly should have all been fired for the detail into which we spoke of her. I told him one day mid-service that I was going to get a tattoo for his wife and not only include his favorite phrase, but her name in what would become my “fish taco” tattoo. The expected “screw you Ernie” rang through the kitchen but I wasn’t bluffing. I came to work the next day with probably one of the most disrespectful things you could do to someone, memorializing another man’s wife as a smelly, pink fish taco tattoo named “Tere$a” that says “Yeah Bitches” I’ll clearly be in the market for property in hell after that one. Oh and I even mis-spelled her name…
M: Haha, oh my god! I’m surprised he didn’t kick your ass! Any cooking advice for a novice?
E: If you want it, go get it. No one is stopping you beside yourself. Get a job, work hard and pay attention. You should learn something new every day if you’re in the right place. Write it down when you get home so you can go back to it later. Buy cookbooks, if you think you’ve done something cool, someone’s beat you to it. Think about what cooking means to you personally and embrace it. There should be love in each plate you put in the pass and if there isn’t, get out of the way because the next kid needs a chance.
M: Great advice, especially the love part. I always rely on my feelings about a dish I’m preparing. Have you ever been to a tattoo convention? If so, which ones and did you have fun?
E: I have actually never been to a convention. A couple of the guys that tattoo me are lucky enough to get to travel to ones around the east coast and they have always said it’s a great time. I guess that the separation, when I have down time I always go out to eat and travel. Do the same thing only their medium changes and they probably make way better money haha.
M: Believe me they do! Most of them spend their time drawing and traveling, haha! Who do you admire in the tattoo community?
E: I admire anyone with talent. I know that sounds like a pretty generic answer but if you are good at what you do I think you at least deserve the respect. As far as getting tattooed though, I think you have to know a little more than that. I’m pretty good friends with the guys that have done a lot of my work and that’s important to me. You could walk into a shop and get an awesome piece done but can you share that story with anyone besides yourself after that? My perfect example is the piece I have on my neck for my grandmother. She was a WWII nurse and went through a great deal of hardships raising my father and his three siblings. I went to Chicago this year for my birthday and was lucky enough (again) to be able to stay with my awesome cousin Kristen. She is from the same side of the family and was very close with my grandmother or “grammie” as she knows her. There is a shop called Deluxe Tattoo on Irving Park and I had seen a piece of flash that Dustin Golden had done a few years prior for the Philly convention and I knew that was exactly what I wanted. So on my 26th birthday I had this piece done with my cousin and now not only do I have a great story to tell someone but she can share it as well.
M: Is there an artist you really want a tattoo from?
E: For readers who want to expand their awareness/knowledge of tattoo artists: use social media. I have found countless artists that I would love to get tattooed by and seeing their posts makes that directly approachable. If you see a picture of someone else’s tattoo and you like the style that it was done in, you can relate to the artist and how he looks at tattooing. Adam Oiler has done a huge amount of work on me and I can honestly say that they are all exactly what I wanted them to be. Besides the guys at Black Metal Tattoo Company I would have to say that I’m really into work from Jesse Strother and Brian McFadden at Goodlife tattoos in Akron, Ohio, Dustin Golden is holding it down in Chicago at a great shop called Deluxe tattoos and I have recently found the work of William Fjellman very interesting as well. He does a lot of really bold traditional tattoos that for some reason I keep going back to and looking at so I think I’m going to put some more thought into getting tattooed by him.
M: What type of tattoos are you into?
E: I have all sorts of different styles of tattoos and I’m not sure which ones I like more but I do know that I like a ton of color. Black and grey tattoos are nice and some ideas you may have will only translate into that medium but I think adding color gives them so much more depth and makes them more interesting to both look at and to execute. Not saying that black and grey is lame but it’s a whole different world for me when an artist can correctly use color.
M: Cooking related tattoos for chefs, cool or corny?
E: I have them so I don’t think they are corny. Have I seen ones that suck? Yes. Do I have ones that suck? Absolutely. I do, however, think it’s a cool idea and no more “corny” then a biker getting a skull and crossbones or a girl getting orchids or something. It’s your decision as to what you get tattooed and as long as that’s a true statement on your part and you can own it what’s it matter what other people think? Tattooing is a symbol of individualism.
Ernest has been gracious enough to share an amazing recipe! Walleye is a fresh water fish popular in the Midwest, ah home, brings back memories! It is a fish definitely worth trying so try it and let us know how it went!!
Preserved Walleye, Farro risotto, Butternut Squash, Leeks three ways
By Ernest Cornelius
I threw around ideas of what to make for this interview for a while. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to do a composed plate or if I wanted to share a bread recipe we use daily at the bakery. Having learned that a good friend of mine was coming up to help cook and another was going to shoot all of the photos, I decided that I should do something we all could enjoy afterwards because that’s what it’s all about right?
Preserving fish is something we only did a couple of times this winter but it is an awesome way to coax a subtle amount of flavor into fish.
2-3 good sides of walleye
Flat baking pan or pyrex dish
1. Rinse the walleye off in the sink and remove any pin bones and scales that may have been left over after the initial cleaning of the fish.
2. Pay dry with a paper towel and place in the baking pan and reserve for later
10lb. Spring water
2c. Distilled white vinegar
2c. Granulated sugar
½ lb. Kosher salt
3 whole cloves
2 ½ T. whole mustard seeds
2T. Black peppercorns
1T. Crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
1/4 Large white onion, julienned.
1. Sachet all of the herbs and spices
2. Add all of the ingredients to a pot and bring to a hard boil
3. Reduce to a simmer until the sugar and salt is dissolved
4. Remove from heat and let cool but not all of the way.
5. Once the solution has cooled to where you can touch it (100 degrees f.) strain and pour over the walleye.
Allow to sit for at least two hours in the pickle and no more then a half a day. You want to use this brine to season the fish and start the cooking process but since Walleye is delicate you do not want to allow it to go for too long.
Remove and pat dry with a towel. Reserve for later use.
1 Whole butternut squash, peeled and medium dice.
6c. Whole milk
4T. Real maple syrup
6-8 Sprigs of thyme, peppercorns, garlic and a bay leaf, sachet.
1. Toss the squash lightly in canola oil and roast slowly in the oven at 325 degrees until fork tender
2. Steep the milk with the sachet until infused
3. Add the squash to a vitamix and start to puree on low, slowly adding the milk until a smooth consistency is reached.
4. Season with maple syrup and s/p.
Reserve for later use, you’ll need to reheat it and mount it with 2T whole butter
Also reserve the rest of the infused milk
1c. Pearled farro
1. Shallot, minced.
1 ½ c. Dashi
1c. Chicken stock
1. Sweat shallot in butter until translucent, about 2 minutes.
2. Add farro and toast lightly
3. Deglaze with sake
4. Start to cook the farro just as if it were carnarolli or ariborio rice, adding ladle after ladle of first the dashi and then the chicken stock until the farro is tender.
5. Finish with butter, cheese and season with s/p
Reserve for later, we will bring the farro back up to tempo with chicken stock and butter.
Clean 2-3 whole large leeks, removing the greens, reserving them and making sure all the whites are washed and free of dirt.
Cut all of the whites into thin half-moons and blanch.
1. Sweat half of the blanched whites in butter and add the reserved milk from the squash recipe. Reduce slowly until the leeks are tender and the milk has reduced.
2. Season with s/p.
1. Add the remaining leeks to a vitamix and build a standard vinaigrette using lemon juice instead of vinegar.
2. Season with salt and pepper, add a touch of honey to control acidity.
1. Finely julienne the greens of the leeks and soak them in ice water/milk until curled.
2. Remove from the water and milk and dredge in wondra or rice flour.
3. Using a deep fryer, fry until crispy and season with iodized salt immediately after removing them from the oil.
4. Allow to cool on a paper towel.
1. Bring a cast iron pan up to temperature. You want it hot but nothing crazy.
2. Add 4-5T. Whole butter to the pan and allow to melt.
3. Add some thyme and garlic and allow to cook in the butter for a second.
4. Add the walleye fillets, skin side down and press them individually as you do to allow the skin to sear evenly.
5. Baste each fillet with some of the butter and remove from the pan.
Warm the farro and the butternut squash puree. Start with the puree first, making a large circle on the plate. Place a plating ring on each plate and pack the risotto into each one lightly, allowing it to sit so it will hold its shape. The walleye filets will sit on top of the risotto, the leeks will circle the puree and the vinaigrette and fried leeks will be garnishes along with some micro red mustard.
Ernest will be a contributing writer for knivesandneedlesblog.com in the near future! But for now check out daily mouth-watering creations by Ernest on Instagram at #ECCooks
Photos courtesy of Ernest Cornelius
If you have any recipes, cooking ideas, delicious photos of food or food tattoos, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!!