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Cooking with what’s ‘in season’

Springfield chef shares how he got his start, his best cooking advice and a favorite recipe.

One of Springfield’s most popular eateries is Seasons Bistro and Grille, the attractive family-owned and operated restaurant run by the brother-sister team of Doug McGregor and Margaret Mattox.

The restaurant, located in the central block of the downtown area, opened in 2008. Readers have recommended it for Our Good Cooks because of its attention to fresh, local and seasonal foods.

In keeping with its name, Seasons introduces a new menu each season, with local art changing at that same time.

Mattox runs the business side of the establishment; McGregor is the chef. Both were born and raised in Springfield.

McGregor remembers watching Mr. Rogers early one morning when he was about 7 years old.

“He was talking to a chef about all of the things you could do with eggs,” he recalled. “I knew I liked French toast, so I paid close attention — then went straight to the kitchen when they were done talking and prepared French toast for my parents and my sister!

“My dad came down and sort of panicked, fearing I was about to burn the house down. I reassured him that I knew what I was doing!”

He’s been cooking ever since. While in college in Durango, Colo., McGregor worked as a dishwasher, then a prep cook, then a line cook, and eventually as sous chef. He went on to graduate from the Colorado Mountain College with a degree in culinary arts.

These days, you’ll find him creating dishes like miso-honey glazed shrimp skewers with rice and farro pilaf and Gemelli pasta baked with alfredo sauce, chicken, red peppers and arugula.

We talked to McGregor about how he got his start and asked him to share with readers some of his best cooking tips that can be incorporated into any kitchen and a favorite recipe.

Q. What are your early memories of food?

A. I remember my mom’s cooking and her trying new things. She was always a good cook. One specific memory I have is of my parents trying their hand at smoking a turkey. We had our neighbors over and they all said it was delicious. At the time it was too much smoky flavor for me.

I also have great memories of the feasts we would have at family gatherings.

Q. Why did you become interested in cooking?

A. For several reasons. During my first job as a dishwasher, I was fascinated with how a professional kitchen works. As I was chopping vegetables, storing, then watching them get prepared, I would reminisce about one of my early jobs at my father’s business, where I would watch a similar process take place with steel. I was intrigued by the whole picture of getting food in, proper storage, preparation and final product.

I loved the camaraderie of the kitchen and all of the knowledge that the people around me had about cooking. I wanted that knowledge.

And I loved the way the team worked together to create a product that makes people happy. It has always been satisfying to me to be able to create something that gives somebody a positive feeling. Everybody has to eat, so it is important to me to offer food with good flavor that is made from quality ingredients.

Q. Who taught you to cook?

A. It wasn’t just one person. Colleagues from culinary school, chefs from culinary school, my first kitchen manager and really, everybody I’ve ever worked with has taught me something. I like to think I’ve been very attentive to people in the industry around me whenever they were teaching or passing on knowledge — showing me new recipes or cooking techniques.

Q. What is it about cooking that you find interesting, fulfilling?

A. It’s really a similar answer to how I became interested in cooking — creating a quality product that satisfies the customer is very fulfilling to me. I also love the science of food and flavor. Using heat to caramelize things, using refrigeration to set, things that happen on a molecular level are fascinating to me. I want to learn more about it.

Q. How did you end up opening a restaurant and how would you describe the foods you like to make and serve to your guests?

A. Close to my graduation from culinary school, my sister, Margaret, called and told me she was bored here in Springfield. She asked me to move back and open a restaurant with her — and it was done. As the name of our restaurant implies, I like to prepare grilled foods and bistro type dishes.

Q. What are your specialties?

A. Protein cookery. I love the grill, slow roasting, smoking, searing and the challenge of the perfect temperature.

Q. What are the advantages of a family business?

A. I think it’s best to go into business with someone you can trust completely and someone who is as devoted to the success of the business as you are. I always know where to find my sister if I need her. Our parents are also in business with us. Family (our parents, spouses and siblings) make great guinea pigs for new menu ideas. We have a lot of good cooks in our family and we love to try things out together before putting it on the menu. Some of us like to do the cooking, and others tend to focus more on the critiquing.

Q. What are favorite ingredients?

A. I love saffron and garlic. I also love fresh produce, honey and maple syrup from local farms. Some other favorites are balsamic vinegar, bourbon, bacon, pepper and sea salt.

Q. Do you have a favorite cookbook you would recommend?

A. “Food Lover’s Companion.” It’s not a cookbook, it’s a reference book. It’s loaded with information and easy to reference quickly. We have copies in the kitchen, in the office and behind the bar and they are all weathered. Sometimes I do like to wade through Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.” It’s not a cookbook, but really fun learning about the science behind food and what happens when it’s prepared and consumed.

Q. What advice do you have for a new cook?

A. Keep a notebook for things like recording recipes, cooking procedures or techniques, plate presentations. You may never look at it again, but its always there if you need it. Writing these things down is a great way to memorize. Also, chefs don’t like to repeat themselves. Listen to everything everyone says in the kitchen. Experiment.

Q. What should new cooks avoid that can get them in trouble?

A. Mis en place, mis en place, mis en place. (Which translates into ‘putting in place.’) Never start a recipe without all of the ingredients weighed, measured and recipe ready. Once you start cooking, you won’t have time to go get that cup of sugar before your butter burns. Also, always set a timer. I don’t know how many times I’ve burnt something because I neglected to use a timer.

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