Totally Boise Interview Series
Aaron Allen | Chef at Knitting Factory
Even if you've only lived in Boise for a short amount of time, there's a good chance that you've been to Knitting Factory. Having been a staple of the local music scene for over 30 years, Knitting Factory has made a name for itself as the premiere concert house of Boise by bringing a constant stream of musicians to our city. But did you know that you can rent out the space for events? Until recently, neither did we...but once we found out what they had to offer, we couldn't keep it a secret for much longer.
Knitting Factory is housed with all of the necessary amenities for your next private event. Here's a list of just some of the benefits you get when booking your next event there:
- Full kitchen crew
- Service Staff
- Lighting and Sound Technicians
- Full use of one of the highest rated lighting and sound systems in the Pacific Northwest
- Projection screens
- Stage tools
The list doesn't end there, though - You also get an on-site chef who will cater your entire event. Over the last couple of weeks, we've been lucky enough to talk with Aaron Allen, professional chef for The Knitting Factory. Aaron invited us over for a wonderful home-cooked meal (he did all the cooking, of course) and we realized he'd be an outstanding choice for our new Totally Boise Interview Series.
Photos Inside Knitting Factory Boise
So Aaron, what brought you to Boise?
I moved in with my oldest sister Andrea, and her family after I graduated high school. They lived in Afton, Wyoming, and I started painting multi-million dollar homes with my brother-in-law Robert Vlaanderen (or Bob). My sister was a loan officer and moved to Boise for a job opportunity and I decided to move with them. I love Boise.
After just a few months after moving here, Boise became my home.
You spent some time in Italy studying food. What was it like over there? How did it inspire you in regards to working in the kitchen?
I had the opportunity to go to Umbria, Italy for my externship from Scottsdale Culinary Institute - Le Cordon Bleu. I worked for one of the largest catering companies in all of Italy and also for a giant hotel next to a large basilica that was famous for St. Francis of Assisi.
Italy was absolutely amazing. The people are beautiful and everyone walks everywhere for the most part. I think the number one thing that I noticed about food in Italy is the freshness of everything at all times. They use the freshest, most beautiful fruits and vegetables you could possibly imagine. The food that they eat is of the highest quality at all times. When I cook Italian food, I strive to use the best ingredients that I can find, most of my favorite ingredients come from Italy; olive oil, pasta, cheese.
Where do you think your interest in food stems from?
My parents, in my opinion, weren’t very good cooks. However, either they or one of my older siblings cooked basically every meal we ate, especially when I was younger. I’m the youngest of six: three sisters, two brothers. My mom had a few things that she made well and my dad could cook a mean pot roast, which we had every Sunday for dinner, but other than that they made very basic food. So, to answer your question, I don’t really know where my interest in food came from! When any of my siblings and I get together, we always eat good food and talk about everything involved in it. If we are eating out, we always share our food with one another, so we can all try out everything.
How did you end up becoming the official chef for The Knitting Factory?
I’ve known Jody Haynes for years. She’s dating Shawn, whom I have known for many years as well. She came to me a few years ago looking for advice on a large catering event that The Knitting Factory was hosting and asked me if I could possibly come and work the event. I accepted and after that they have wanted me there for every other major event that they’ve hosted.
Is there a certain sense of pressure when working at a venue that is a staple of the Boise music scene? Have you seen any good concerts there?
I think that there is always pressure when it comes to catering an event, no matter the venue - although I have never felt any more pressure working for The Knitting Factory. I’m really not a music person per se. I like a lot of different music, mainly from the 90’s, everything from rap to country. I have been to many concerts there, from ICP (Insane Clown Posse) to Teche N9ne to Joshua Radin.
In your opinion, what is the most undervalued ingredient?
Proper use of salt is absolutely the most important ingredient in a great restaurant! The lack of proper seasoning is the number one critique that I have with almost every restaurant I go to. This was the most important thing that I learned in Culinary School.
Salt is a flavor enhancer. You add salt to food to make it taste the best you can possibly make it. There’s a fine line between flavorful and salty and you want to get as close to that threshold as possible, which can be hard because if there’s someone who doesn’t ever use salt on their food, they might find my food to be slightly too salty.
As a professional chef, you get to make and eat food that some would say is quite "fancy" - So, I'd like to ask, what is one of your favorite simple meals?
I’m single, so unfortunately I don’t really cook that often for just myself - as often as I should, at least. After cooking for everyone else, the last thing I want to do is go home and cook for myself.
I eat a lot of fruit. A good watermelon is probably my favorite food. They don’t seem to taste as good as when I was growing up when they actually had seeds. I also love juicing. I juice apples, carrots, kale, red chard, beets, celery and anything else I can get hands on in the morning.
I don’t consider my food fancy at all, usually they only have four-to-five ingredients. I learned this from my chefs in Italy. They only have three-to-five ingredients in every dish for the most part. We as Americans hear it all the time as “keep it simple, stupid.” I think my go-to dish would just be a simple pasta dish - whether spaghetti pomodoro, or just a bunch of fresh veggies with pasta.
Sometimes I just cook pasta and add a good olive oil and parmesan!
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I recently this last summer started getting into woodworking. I fell in love immediately! I started making cutting boards, wooden knives, cheese boards, coffee tables and whatever else I could. I’ve sold everything that I’ve made except the cutting board I’m using in these pictures - that one's mine. If I found woodworking earlier on in life, I probably wouldn’t be a chef today.
What advice would you give an aspiring chef?
What I say to people that inspire to be a chef is always try new things! If there’s a food or ingredient you don’t like, keep trying to cook it differently until you do. Learn to properly use salt. Try not to be too hard on yourself, I have messed up more times in the kitchen than I care to admit, so learn how to fix it.
Is there a chef you admire the most? Who and why?
I really enjoy Alton Brown. I think he is probably the most knowledgeable chef in the world. Good Eats was one of my favorite cooking shows.
A good friend of mine that I went to culinary school and to Italy with, Chef Ivan Ruiz, is now the Executive Chef at Westgate Park City Resort & Spa in Park City, Utah. He is an amazing chef and one of my heroes when it comes to this profession. He’s extremely determined, smart and absolutely dedicated to his profession. I definitely look up to him.
What's your favorite cuisine? (Italian, French, Thai, etc.,)
I don’t know if I have a favorite cuisine, I love so many of them. Every region of the world has something that they do better than anyone else. I want to try them all!
What city do you enjoy visiting, if only for their food?
When I travel to Logan, Utah, where I grew up, I always stop at Mandarin Gardens, which is a local Chinese food restaurant and I get Tiny Spicy Chicken which is my favorite. I thought that this was a well known dish until I left the valley and found out that no restaurant outside of Cache Valley has ever heard of it!
I’ve never made it to the east coast and I would love to one day, just to eat along the way. The best restaurant I’ve ever been to has to be Rincón Típico in Antigua Guatemala, which means typical corner in Spanish. It’s very casual there - the kitchen is in the entryway to the restaurant! It’s also extremely inexpensive; under $3 for dinner with absolutely amazing, simple, great food.
What are the most important rules in your kitchen?
Salt the pasta water! It should be salty like the ocean. It’s the only way to properly season your pasta. The same goes for mashed potatoes. I put so much salt in the water, even I’m surprised sometimes.
What's your next big goal that you'd like to accomplish in the coming years?
I just bought a home. It’s from 1941, and it’s not in very good shape, especially the outside. So I think that I would like to get my home up and running in better shape. I started doing a burnt wood siding, which is a traditional Japanese wood burning technique where you burn the wood to different degrees of black or charred. It’s gorgeous and fun to do.
I have my small shed done and a fence next to it. I’d like to get the whole house done this way.
I would also like to get my own catering company underway somehow. I’d rather do what I’m really good at, cooking, 3-4 days a month, so that I can actually do what I love, woodworking.