LIMA — Steve Maki has long enjoyed grilling, but a chance happening opened his eyes to gourmet possibilities.
When he worked in Chicago about 12 years ago, his family’s house featured a catering kitchen in the basement. The previous owner had used it for a business. The nice set-up inspired him.
“I started doing a lot more grilling,” Maki said, explaining the deck out back was beautiful. Before long, he started grilling seafood and ribs.
“I started experimenting with different grilling. I enjoyed it, so I started cooking inside,” he said.
Maki, an engineer, now works at the Lima Husky refinery. He’s been transferred around a bit, working there now four separate times. But that move to Chicago, and that catering kitchen at his beck and call, clicked something on within. Today, he’s interested in perfecting dishes that he and his family love.
Maki has been working on his ribs since 2007. The original recipe now has neat notes written in the margins, revisions upon revisions. He is proud to say the sauce recipe is done. (The secret ingredient is espresso.) The ribs themselves are not quite perfect.
“I’m very close,” he said. “That’s the engineer in me. It’s almost like a chemical formula.”
When Maki finishes a recipe, he types it up neatly, stows it in a sheet protector and files in a large three-ring binder. The second step is to do an Excel spreadsheet on preparation time. He has about a half dozen spreadsheets now for meals. All he has to do is enter the serving time for dinner, and the prep times are broken down into minute-by-minute instructions.
“That’s the engineer in me coming out,” he said, smiling.
The chili recipe he shares today won a recent contest in Lafayette, a fundraiser for the community vacation Bible school there. Maki’s quest for a good chili was shorter than some of his other dishes.
“That one, I got lucky,” he said. “It didn’t quite taste right, and so we started thinking about what can we add?”
The brown sugar brought the recipe around to where he wanted it. He makes it often and freezes it in bags — dunking each bag in a bowl of water to remove the air works best, he reports.
His wife, Donna, doesn’t cook. They even have separate pantries, with Maki’s stocked with all kinds of ingredients and hers loaded with heat-and-serve soups.
“I look forward to retirement so I can cook more. So does Donna,” he said, prompting laugher from both of them.
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