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Vincenzo’s Chef Shares a Lifelong Love of Cooking

West Concord restaurant offers classic Italian dishes.

The life of a chef requires thinking on your feet, paying attention to your surroundings, and not being afraid to get your hands dirty, according to Michael Simard, chef of Vincenzo's Ristorante since 2000.

The Concord native has always had a love of cooking from as far back as elementary school when he said he took out cookbooks and started making meals for his parents.

He began his career in cooking by starting as a dishwasher and working his way up to a line cook and finally chef when the position opened up, as he had been with Vincenzo's since November 1997.

Simard said in a recent interview with Patch that he enjoys the whole aspect of his job.

I like "the fact that you are not sitting at a desk all day, are up, moving, thinking, and creating nonstop since you are walking in the door," he said.

In fact, Simard said one has to have a short attention span when they are chef because "you can't focus on one thing for too long because there are 16 things going on at once."

Vincenzo's — located at 1200 Main St. in West Concord —  is an Italian restaurant which serves classic dishes such as chicken parmesan, veal parmesan, lasagna, and a variety of pasta dishes.

Simard said people are drawn to the restaurant because of "our core Italian specialties people come in looking for … (such) as classic chicken and veal parmesan."

The menu is designed by Simard and the owner of the restaurant who modify it a couple times a year to compliment the seasons, according to Simard. Simard is responsible for coming up with six or seven different type of specials a day, whether it is the soup or risotto of the day or even a special appetizer.

Ideas for those specials, including pan-seared ahi tuna, often come from many different avenues.

"Some of it is pulling in products we have not used in a long time, trying something new or looking at the stock we have on hand," Simard explained. "I have 100-plus ingredients looking at me. It is seeing what we have and what we want to use."

Indeed, Simard said he likes changing the style of his cooking on a regular basis whether it is grilling one day and roasting the next or even sautéing or cutting a tomato in a different shape.

"Sometimes we will have an idea and jump on the Internet and find six or seven recipes on the product and combine the recipes to suit our needs," he said.

Four days a week, Simard comes to work at 10 a.m. and often doesn't leave before 11 p.m.

Asked what dishes are his favorites, he answers that as a chef "you have to enjoy cooking all your dishes. If you don't enjoy cooking, you are not enjoying your job or your profession."

At home, Simard said he is the one stuck with the responsibility of cooking dinner, which he doesn't seem to mind, as cooking seems to be not only a profession but a love of his.

As new chefs join the culinary field, Simard offered several words of advice, including not being afraid to just get in there and cook.

"Everyone is going to make mistakes," he said. "You just have to learn how to correct your mistakes and not make the same" (ones)

Mike Simard's Key Lime Pie

Crumb: 1 ½ cup graham cracker crumb

            2 tbls sugar

            2 tbls melted butter

Filling:10 egg yolks

            2 cans sweetened condensed milk

            1 cup key lime juice

Meringue: 10 egg whites

            ¼ cup sugar

            1 tsp cream of tartar

Procedure: 1.  Combine graham, butter and sugar to make crumb mix

2.     Pack crumb into 8 Pyrex soufflé cup

3.     Toast crumb for 5 minutes in  300 degree oven.   Let cool.

4.     Mix egg yolks, condensed milk and lime juice.  Pour into soufflé cups

5.     Bake at 300 for 25 minutes.  Let cool

6.     mix egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar to form stiff peaks

7.     Top cooled soufflé with whipped egg whites

bake 5 minutes to brown meringue

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