Chefs have many reasons they like to cook: they were inspired by a certain dish, they find it challenging and artistic, they connect cooking with fond memories or people from the past, and so on. All good reasons, but for chef Mick Gehnrich at The Bristal at Garden City, he keeps it simple.
“I love to eat,” he says. “My number one reason why I like to cook is not because I like to cook, but because I like to eat.”
Besides his love of food, his interest in cooking grew from two main childhood memories. One was his parents, who both worked. If Mick wanted to eat breakfast in the mornings, he says, it was up to him to make something.
Second, Mick’s father belonged to a hunting and fishing club, which hosted a wild game dinner each year.
“I’m still helping out with that wild game dinner,” he says. “My dad’s no longer around, but I’ve taken up the reins on that.”
The Dining Experience at The Bristal at Garden City
Mick’s culinary background evolved from there, eventually landing him a job at The Bristal. He then took an offer to head up the kitchen at their new community in Garden City when it opened in June 2018. He says working at The Bristal is an atmosphere that’s both challenging and rewarding.
“It’s definitely wearing a lot of different hats, and satisfying the residents is a big part of it,” he says. “Going out and talking to them, listening to their stories … we’re getting a (resident) food council right now, and the four people on it are so excited.”
Passing his own love of food on to the residents and other employees at The Bristal is another aspect of the job that Mick enjoys.
“I love the fact that I’m able to teach people how to cook and enjoy eating,” he says. “That’s one of my biggest passions, explaining the dish to the residents and taking that extra minute to talk to the residents about the food.”
Learning to Like New Foods
Of course, there’s bound to be a dish on the menu that some residents might not care for. But Mick says that’s yet another aspect of the job he enjoys: showing someone that something they thought they didn’t like is actually delicious.
“Usually 60 percent of the time people try it, and they’re like, ‘I thought I didn’t like it, but I’ll have another bowl,’” he says.
Next up on the menu at The Bristal at Garden City? Mick plans to use his favorite fall vegetable and whip up butternut squash soup with a Thai twist. While squash isn’t always people’s favorite, he’s hoping to change that perception. Try it for yourself at home by following his recipe.
Thai-style Butternut Squash Soup Recipe
Prep time: 20 min.
Cook time: 30 min.
Total time: 50 min.
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, very roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh ginger, from a 2-inch knob
- 2 ½ pounds pre-cut butternut squash (or one 3-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed)
- 3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 cups quality chicken broth
- 1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
- 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (full fat adds to the creaminess, but can be made using low fat)
- Juice of half a lime, plus more limes for serving
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Sriracha sauce, for drizzling
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- ¾ cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not brown; reduce heat if necessary.
- Add the squash, carrots, broth, fish sauce, sugar, and curry paste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
- Using a hand-held immersion blender, purée the soup until silky smooth. (Alternatively, cool the soup slightly, then purée in a blender in batches, making sure to leave the hole in the lid open to allow the steam to escape). Stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, and salt (if the coconut milk is solidified, use the immersion blender to mix it in). Bring to a simmer, then taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle with the Sriracha and garnish with the scallions, peanuts, and cilantro, if using.