From Tradition to Table

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Have Knives, Will Travel Mike Lauletta

For most professionals, stability is one of the most salient features of a “good” job.

Not so for most of the world’s chefs.

The sheer volume of potential techniques, ingredients, and cuisines necessitates a fairly transient job history. In that spirit, Have Knives, Will Travel is a series highlighting those cooks, chefs, journeymen, and food pirates who embody this city’s spirit of culinary adventurism—a place to celebrate their contributions and efforts at making our city a more vibrant and robust place to eat.

– Will Johnston

Name: Mike “MikeGyver” Lauletta, so named for his ability to improvise a solution to any kitchen catastrophe

Jobs held (in the last 18 months): Strongwater Food & Spirits (sous chef), OH! Empire (OH! Burgers & OH! Chips), Blue & Fig (catering), various food trucks

Job title(s): Executive Sous / Vice President of Sales / Customer Service Representative / Fire Chief / Master of Repairs / Enforcer / Fabricator / Sculptor

Number of food trucks worked concurrently : Six

On the prospect of working just one job: “I think I’d be bored … I think that’s why I like working on the food trucks. Every chef is different—they all have their own cuisine. Every day— sometimes twice a day—I’d work on a different truck. It’s the same with OH! Empire: sometimes I’m on the truck, sometimes I’m making the chips. The more things you can do, the more things you can do, ya know?”

On learning on the job: “For most of the work that I do, I’m not coming in as an expert. If you aren’t learning every day you’re not doing a job that really challenges you. People don’t hire masters, they hire people to work under them and to learn. If you’re a master already, you probably own the business.”

On a recent use of his extra-culinary abilities: “We just had an epic gas failure on the (OH! Burgers) truck. They called me from the truck and told me there were no flames on the grill, so we had to pack up for the day. We thought it was a bad regulator that needed to be replaced, but when I checked the gas lines, they were completely detached. We were probably just hemorrhaging gas, which is super dangerous. But we had a catering [gig] the next day so I had to get new parts at 6 in the morning and run a new gas line, which I had never done. But we watched some YouTube and figured it out.”

On his recent turn as an office manager: “Honestly, making chips is really hard work, and sometimes its nice to go in the office and answer some emails for a couple of hours.”

On the relationship between art and food: “When I’m making food, I consider it art. It’s just like sculpting with food. And all the fabrication work that I do for the food trucks, I know how to do because I went to school for sculpture. It’s basically all the same thing.”

On the downside of working multiple jobs: “Sometimes people don’t call you. When you’re mixing a piecemeal schedule together, sometimes things get slow. And when you’re working on the trucks, they don’t make a lot of money during the winter, so you don’t really know what you’re going to do.”

On his resume: “My resume is admittedly pretty crazy at first glance. It’s repeated employment with a lot of different businesses—a lot of on-and-off periods and mixing between restaurants and food trucks, which may look weird for a potential employer. But my references are all outstanding. I’m like, ‘Call them. I’ve got nothing to hide!’”

Do you know a journeyman cook, or transient chef whom you’d like to see featured here? Email editor@614columbus.com to set up an interview.

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