Chef Dooling: using food like a painter’s palette

Photo: Tina Larkin; image published in Taos News

Story originally published in Taos News

Chef Adam Dooling remembers being keenly interested in food since childhood. One of his first kindergarten projects was to write and illustrate a Chinese menu.

“My mom still has it,” he said. “And I was always helping her and my aunts in the kitchen.”

Originally from New York, Dooling moved to Taos when he was eleven years old and graduated from High School here. The first place where he worked was Orlando’s, where he started as a dishwasher and later learned the basics of cooking.

In 2003 he went back to New York to attend the Institute of Culinary Education.

“I got my degree there and was lucky to start immediately in the high end of the cooking industry,” he said. “I worked in Spasso as chief of cuisine and executive sous chef.”

He also worked in Marea and Alto, under Chef Michael White.

“Though I was fresh out of culinary school, my years of experience in Taos counted,” he said.

Dooling spent ten years working as a chef in New York. He says that, though he enjoyed the vibrant city life, he also found it too intense, stressful and competitive.

“There was a moment when I felt ready to come back to Taos and enjoy a slower-paced lifestyle,” he said. “I wanted to take a break, recharge my energy and bring my skills and knowledge back to this town.”

Dooling didn’t have a job when he moved back but a few weeks afterwards, he happened to run into Orlando Ortega, who needed a chef for Station Café, a new restaurant he was planning to open.

“It was fate,” Dooling said.

He started working at Station Café in May 2013.

“I make simple food, but it is consistently good,” he said. “That’s what people expect.”

He is always challenging himself and learning new techniques.

“The culinary world is changing constantly,” he said. “Therefore, you have to change with it.”

A special spoon

Like most chefs, Dooling considers the Robocut as one of the most useful appliances in the kitchen.

“I also like prep blenders, but when it comes down to creating works of art on a plate, my number one utensil is a Gray Kunz spoon,” he said. “I like its light weight and the volume it holds, around two and a half ounces of liquid. It also fits in the hand so perfectly that it becomes an extension of my fingers.”

The Gray Kunz spoon, made of stainless steel, is also known for its ergonomic design, tapered edge, and measurement precision.

“A chef with a spoon is like a painter with a brush,” Dooling said. “The dish is our canvas. And we have a huge palette too!”

Temperamental dishes

As for favorite dishes, he enjoys the challenges presented by pasta.

“It’s a very temperamental dish,” he said. “It has to be cooked at a very specific temperature and the sauce has to be perfect also, not too watery, too dry or too oily. It’s all about finding the exact timing and making different cooking techniques come together for a great dish.”

He also enjoys working with chile in its many permutations.

“I like green chile so much that, when I lived in New York, I would have it shipped from New Mexico,” he said. “I also love the smoky, earthy qualities of chile poblano, the best to give a deep flavor to marinated meat or grilled pork. Chile is not as temperamental as pasta, but you still have to be very careful when using it.”

Life in a restaurant

The most difficult task for a chef today, Dooling says, is managing his time and having a life outside the restaurant.

“Having a personal life, not just a professional one, isn’t easy when you spend most evenings in a restaurant’s kitchen,” he said. “But I also get a wonderful sense of satisfaction when I make people happy with a well cooked and beautifully presented dish. I feel so accomplished when someone thanks me for a special meal!”

And then there are the funny, quirky situations that often happen in a restaurant setting.

“When I worked at a New York steakhouse, there was a patron who invariably ordered one of the most expensive cuts of meat, a whole pound of it, and ate it totally raw, cold out of the refrigerator,” he said. “He only seasoned it with olive oil and sea salt and seemed to like it very much.”

Dooling also enjoys the rush of adrenaline that he experiences in busy nights.

“There are times when you have twenty things to do and have to figure out which one comes first,” he said. “Your mind is always racing, but this is awesome. That’s the life of a chef for you.”