THE HOT SEAT
VETERAN CHEF THRIVES UNDER THE GUN
By C.J.SULLIVAN April 23, 2007 - New York Post Online
Nick Janusewski began working in restaurant kitchens at 14. He'd always had an interest in food, so when a friend who worked as a chef offered him a job as a cook's helper, he jumped at the chance. Twenty-two years later he still works in a kitchen, only now he's the chef.
Janusewski, 36, who was raised in Glendale, Queens, and still lives there, is head chef at the Jackson Ave. Steakhouse in Long Island City. He likes to joke that he learned to cook from the best school - the school of hard knocks. At 18, he enrolled in New York Tech's culinary program, but as he was working full time in a kitchen and making more money than his father - a machinist - he decided to learn as he earned, and dropped out.
Before the lunch crowd came in on a recent morning, Janusewski, who with his beefy build and long hair could be the bass player in a local metal band, sat at the marble bar in the restaurant's sunny front room and talked about how he handles the heat in the kitchen.
The worst part of this job is the summer. The heat can get to you. In June, I apologize to my staff that I'm going to be cranky for the next three months because of how hot it can get. The oven can get to 1,000 degrees, and you have to wear the heavy chef coat because you sweat so much. If you wore a light shirt you'd have to wring it out, and if you went from the heat to a cold walk-in refrigerator you could get pneumonia.
I like the creativity of being a chef. That's the best part of the job. Making something. Also, I'm a people-pleaser, so when someone likes what I cooked, it feels good. I make a soy vinaigrette sauce for salad, and people come in just for that. They'll ask me where can they buy it, and I tell them I make it here. My favorite sauce is a jalapeño-honey mustard I use for lunch with a chicken wrap. It's a little hot and a little sweet.
I read a lot of books on cooking, though, and I like to put my own spin on recipes. The one that really inspired me is "Kill It and Grill It," by Ted Nugent, the guitarist. That inspired me to start serving wild game dishes.
I do the prep work, and I have a couple of helpers. I go with the pace. I put on my rock 'n' roll music, and it moves right along. I serve the staff a lunch at 3 p.m., and we all sit down family-style. Some chefs won't do that - they sit alone. We're part of a team, so we eat together.
I was 18 when I got my first job as a chef, at a place in Astoria. Then I got into the music business, managing a heavy metal band out of Pennsylvania called Leviathan. I took a part-time job as a sous-chef so I could do that, but the long hours caught up with me. I'd be at a show all night, and then have to go work. I never slept. I quit and went back to work as a full-time chef at O'Neal's in Maspeth, Queens.
Now the only job I would take over being a chef is maybe a lifeguard sitting in a chair on a beach. I couldn't sit in an office cubicle. This place feels like home to me - I don't even mind working holidays. It can get real busy, and I like it like that. Everything moves so quick the time just flies.
This job can be tough on your hands. After all these years my fingers are made of asbestos. The hours are long, and it's not a light job. You don't have time to eat. I eat dinner at midnight, when I get home. I cook at home when I have a chance, but it's not as easy. Here, I don't do the clean-up.
To order Ted & Shemane Nugent's Kill It & Grill It cookbook visit www.amazon.com or www.fanfire.com - Autographed copies available at Tedquarters 800-343-HUNT (limited availability).