The Chef Special – Mike Backouris, C.E.C.


Chef Mike Backouris has over 15 years of culinary experience including working at local restaurants like The Hobbit and Le Quia. Chef Mike will share his professional cooking philosophies and teach future CulinaryLab students how to develop a deeper understanding of various techniques while constantly challenging the status quo.

How long have you been cooking professionally?
15 yrs
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What is your regular comfort meal?
​In and Out, specifically a #1 double double combo with spread and pickle only, light fries and a Coke. I moved to New York to attend culinary school and missed the burger I grew up with. Whenever I came back home I would quickly find an In and Out. I’ve had burgers in lots of places in lots of states…I’ve even had burgers as far as Mexico and Italy, but nothing for me will ever stand up to the simple perfection of my #1 and the sense of place it gives me.

What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant?
Mac and cheese.

What are some of your favorite activities to do outside of doing chef things?
Spending time with my family and dog, working on cars and motorcycles, SCUBA.

Any specific teacher, mentor that you got your greatest inspiration/training from?
Francesco Tonnelli, who showed me what technical perfection looked like, and George Higgins who taught me that if you understand what the technique is and what the outcome should be you can use common sense to work quicker and more efficiently. ​

What can students look forward to in your class?
An instructor that cares about their education as much as they do. I don’t teach on “auto-pilot”. I give them everything I can to make them successful. I give a lot of myself to the student. My experiences, what worked, how I stumbled along the way; all the things I can pass on to the student I will. Like all chefs, my normal work day was somewhere between 12-17 hours in a restaurant, but it’s not uncommon for me to be more worn out after teaching 7 hours of class then I normally was leaving the restaurant.

What would your message be to aspiring Chefs?
It isn’t going to be easy, but it will be worth everything. ​

What culinary school did you attend and why did you choose that school? What was your greatest lesson learned there?
I attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I wanted to attend the school that I thought was the best. I was willing to move and live somewhere else so that opened up the possibility for me. The greatest lesson I learned was that my attitude and my results would be what made me successful. I didn’t come in with the best skills, but I left at the top of the class because I paid attention to everything around me.

What advice would you give to prospective students who are contemplating culinary school? What should they look for when choosing a school?
They should look for a school that offers them the best opportunity for success. Look for the program that allows real world learning in a real world setting. Cooking in the real world, especially at a high level, is different than a classroom and the student who goes to school but can’t really apply the lessons to see the validity of the lessons will be in for quite a shock.