We are so excited to announce our newest team member: Justin Frankenberg.
Justin Frankenberg is Catering by Michaels’ new Executive Chef, helping to develop new recipes while experimenting with new flavors.
We sat down with Justin to learn more about his past and how he can help Catering by Michaels continue to innovate.
What Did You Do Before Working at Catering by Michaels?
I was a Johnson Wales graduate. I stayed in Providence for about 8 years when the fusion cooking scene was just getting started. I worked for a few hot places that got me some good, solid cooking experience outside of school.
Eventually, I moved because of a job opportunity back in DC, where I’m from. I worked for Pesche, under two of my biggest food idols (who were both critical in terms of defining the food scene in DC). I initially started as a sous chef and eventually became the Executive Chef. Later, I worked for another DC hot spot — Red Sage.
I moved to Chicago in 2005 and got involved with catering shortly after. I started with J & L Catering but moved on once the economy tanked. I also worked for Paramount events as well as the Stefani Group, where I helped rebrand their catering division.
Upon having my third child, a little girl, and after 20 years of seeing my other kids mostly after they were already asleep, I took a break — and now I’m here!
What Experience Do You Bring to the Executive Chef Role?
I think one of my biggest assets to the team is a fresh take on things in terms of kitchen management. Much of the Catering by Michaels staff has been here for a long time (20+ years), which is amazing, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to shake things up! So far, people are responding positively to the changes I bring.
As far as food goes, I’m pretty simplistic in nature. I bring a fresh set of eyes when it comes to plate appeal, making things more modern but still practical.
I think the pinnacle of testing as a chef is being able to work in conditions which may not be ideal yet still produce great food — like so many of the venues where Catering by Michaels works! It’s a rarity to have a full kitchen at your disposal at an event: it’s more like a glorified broom closet!
What are You Looking Forward to By Working For Catering by Michaels?
There’s so much!
I’m most looking forward to research and development-related tasks. I haven’t really been in a position before where I’ve had such a strong team I can rely on so that I can focus on creating new recipes and testing them properly. We have a great system in place where we can develop and test recipes three to four times to get them right before looping in other departments (and putting them on our menu).
Unlike a restaurant experience, so many different things have to be taken into consideration in catering when it comes to the food. We have to deal with less-than-ideal conditions. I also have to think of ways to perfect our dishes by using equipment not associated with the experience I obtained during my past restaurant life.
These are all challenges I’m looking forward to in this new role.
What’s Your Favorite Type of Cuisine?
I’m a hardcore francophile when it comes to the food I like to eat because I think it’s under appreciated in today’s food world. Luckily for me, there are plenty of places in Chicago that manage to pull it off.
We use so many cooking techniques the French have perfected which don’t change. For instance, we take for granted that duck confit really takes multiple days to finish before you eat it!
What’s Your Favorite Thing to Do in Chicago?
I love that Chicago has great museums and gardens.
Washington Park is one of my favorite places to go. They have a beautiful Japanese garden that was donated by the city of Osaka! I also like going to Hyde Park, where I can watch wild green parrots. I’m also a fan of local Farmer’s markets — I live in the ‘burbs, so Oak Park’s farmers market is my place.
Anything Else People Should Know About You?
I ended up getting three degrees in college: an Associates in Culinary Arts, and two Bachelors’ in Food Service Management and Food Science and Education.