Spicing up the waterfront

Walking into the restaurant, which is almost hidden at the bottom of Main Street next to Lake Champlain, the  fragrant  aroma of freshly made tortillas and hot peppers, the sizzling sound of beef, pork and chicken on the grill waft through the doorway:  the smells of a Mexican restaurant.Inside Maderas, which is adorned with neon Coronas and Mexican flags, there is a small kitchen where kitchen manager Josh Williams prepares one of his signature dishes:  arroz con pollo, or, rice with chicken. After a flashy two minutes of flipping mushrooms, onions, peppers and chicken high up into the air and bathing them in a luxuriously rich – and slightly spicy – sauce, he serves them on an enormous platter with lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded cheese. As The Vermont Cynic sat down to interview this mushroom-flipping fiend, Williams explained that his position as kitchen manager is an amalgam of head chef and supervisor – he really does, as he says, “do everything in the kitchen.”Vermont Cynic: How long have you been cooking?Josh Williams: Probably for 10 years now. V.C.: What made you decide to be a chef?Williams: I actually went to school … to build houses, but I actually got into cooking and I liked it. I enjoyed what I was doing, so I just succeeded with that. I’ve worked at many restaurants and cooked many different styles of food.V.C.: What got you into cooking?Williams: I really don’t know, all I can tell you is I went and did it, and I liked what I was doing and that was what really made me stick with it.I really didn’t think I would like cooking, but as soon as I went and did it, I enjoyed it, and I just wanted to stick with it. I like cooking food; I like preparing stuff for people. I love the smells and everything in the kitchen.It’s tough. It gets really stressful, but it’s something I like to do.V.C.: Why Mexican cuisine?Williams: This is the first Mexican restaurant I’ve worked at. It’s a lot different [from] the other restaurants.This is a family restaurant. I know everyone here. There’s something about the Mexican cuisine that I just really like to cook.V.C.: Do you try to stay as authentic as possible, or do you still experiment?Williams: We pretty much stick to our own style. It is authentic as it can get. I’ve been to Mexico, and I’ve had their food down there. It’s pretty much the same. Everything is homemade.V.C.: What is your favorite dish to make?Williams: Oh man, that’s a tough one. I like making the arroz con pollo. I like making anything sautéed.V.C.: Do you cater to vegetarian and vegans diets?Williams: We do gluten-free, vegetarian stuff.  We have specific menus. If it’s something where we can accommodate them, we’re happy to do it.V.C.: Did you have any formal training?Williams: I didn’t. I taught myself. I just learned from working at different restaurants. People taught me different things, and it sticks with you.V.C.: What is the most useful gadget in your kitchen?Williams: Our cheese cutter — that is a lifesaver. V.C.: Do you have any kitchen disaster stories?Williams: Oh, there’s always kitchen disaster stories.  Last month, I was pulling shredded pork out of the oven, and I was wearing shorts, which you really shouldn’t be wearing in the kitchen, and the grease spilled down my leg. It was a lot worse, but it burned my leg pretty bad. Then you got your obvious cut fingers, and this is a good burn right here from a couple years ago. Burns and cuts is what you’ll find in a lot of kitchens.V.C.: What advice do you have for the “home-chef?”Williams: If you really enjoy cooking and you want to make something authentic, don’t follow instructions. Experiment and make something you’re going to enjoy and you’re going to like to eat.I cook things the way I like, what would make me happy. I like to make things up. Come up with new things.V.C.: In your own words, what is a chef?Williams: What is a chef? I would say a person who is dedicated to cooking … and  [who] loves what they do.You have to love what you do if you are going to cook in a restaurant. It gets very stressful, and if you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be in the kitchen.But I think a good chef is someone down-to-earth who cooks with their heart and enjoys making good, tasty dishes.