Arts & Entertainment

Chef Spotlight: 7 Questions and a Recipe with Dustin Olson of the Blackbird

Dustin Olson is the new executive chef at the Blackbird. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Dustin Olson is the new executive chef at the Blackbird, which recently transitioned from a contemporary Southern-inspired restaurant to a full-service barbecue spot.

The menu change took place in spring, shortly before Olson took the helm. He was promoted from in-house, moving up from the position of sous chef.

The 36-year-old has been cooking professionally since he was 19 years old. Here, we learn about why he wants to make Mrouzia and what happened to the man who sent back a ribeye. (The answer might surprise you.)

What’s your favorite dish to cook at home? My favorite dish to cook at home would have to be a porketta, although I rarely have the time to prepare it. I take a pork loin and pork belly, and butterfly both. Then I pound out each so that they are as close to the same thickness as possible. I rub the pork loin generously with minced garlic, fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper. I then stack them and roll them together with the pork belly on the outside. I use butcher’s twine to keep the roll together. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll sear the outside fat of the pork belly, then it’s off the smoker to smoke for 6-plus hours or until the smell is too tempting to resist.

Where do you eat when you eat out? On these rare occasions, we usually keep it simple. If it is just my 14-year-old son Layne and I, we usually go to Epic at Northern Quest Casino. We are both huge sports fans. If it’s the entire family, we usually go to Wild Sage.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef, and how? Local chef Alexa Wilson challenged and inspired me, as a teenage dishwasher, to cook. She saw something in me that no one else did, and I try to use her firm but caring management style with my crews.

What are your go-to ingredients? Go-to ingredients are anything I can add smoke to, or experiment with adding smoke to. Sometimes, the answer is delicious. And, sometimes, not so much. Either way, I’m not afraid to try and fail.

What was the first dish a customer ever sent back to you, and how did you handle it? First dish sent back was a ribeye that was “over cooked,” and I could have handled it better. (With age comes patience.) The patron had let the steak sit for 35 minutes while talking and entertaining his dinner guests. When asked to talk with me, instead of graciously offering to replace it, I asked why he let it sit and bleed out. He had since become an acquaintance and eats at every place I have cooked. It’s now a running joke between the two of us.

What’s a dish you’ve never made but would like to, and why? I’ve recently been studying Moroccan cuisine. It interests me because the area has been a melting pot of cultures over the centuries, and the history of the area intrigues me. One dish I haven’t had the time to prepare is called Mrouzia. It’s a dish consisting of lamb, raisins, almonds and honey. I’ve had it many times but never personally prepared it.

What dish or ingredient best represents you? I would have to say salt. It can be good by itself, but when coupled with other ingredients, it can be used to build something amazing.

Charred Cherry Smoked Ice Cream

I have been a homeowner now for two years, and one of the pluses to home ownership would be my cherry tree. It dominates my backyard and produces huge dark cherries. I found a small commercial grade ice cream maker with a missing lid at a yard sale for a dollar. I spent $40 on eBay to find the lid, and I was in business. First ice cream I made with it was Charred Cherry Smoked Ice Cream, simply addictive.

3 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup half and half

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon vanilla paste or 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

4 ounces egg yolks

1 1/2 cup charred and smoked cherries (see note)

Combine all ingredients, except cherries and egg yolks in pot. Heat on low to medium heat until mixture reaches 180 degrees, then temper in your egg yolks. Once combined, remove from heat and cool overnight. Add cherries to ice cream base and spin according to your specific machine instructions. Try not to eat all in one sitting.

Note: Using cherry wood and a home smoker, char cherries on hot side of smoker then move to cold side to get the smoke. I usually smoke them whole with the stems so I have something to grab onto. Once charred, smoked and cooled, I squeeze the pits out and remove the stem. They can be rough chopped at this point or, if you prefer, blended.