College Student Cooks Gourmet Comfort Food

by | Aug 2017

Chef Donny holds an avocado

Photo: Emily J. Davis

Andrew Enriquez, better known as “Chef Donny” of University of Wisconsin-Madison runs one-man food service for students

It’s almost time for dinner, and college junior Andrew Enriquez is pushing a shopping cart from his fraternity house on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus to an apartment complex a few blocks away. Inside the cart, Enriquez has piled food he will prepare for his classmates who’ve become his clients. What he’s discovered is that college students tire of Kraft Easy Mac. So he launched his own online order catering business last spring.

Known as Chef Donny, this Edina native runs his own independent, one-man food service called the College Cook. Online, anyone close to campus can order from a menu of entrées and sides that evoke home-cooked comfort food with a culinary edge. Although the College Cook does provide a good side hustle for Enriquez while he earns his English degree, the pre-cooking, organizing, extra grocery shopping and a “borrowed” grocery cart speak most of all to his long-nurtured passion for food.

Like many callings, this one started in childhood.

Andrew’s uncle, Chris Johnson, once owned two restaurants in New York City. In the summer, Enriquez and his family would visit. In the East Village, Enriquez recalls his uncle taking him behind the scenes of his French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant Bao 111, where Enriquez witnessed “the controlled chaos of chefs working at their own speed, but as a unit at the same time, with so much going on at once.” The vibrancy and collaboration inspired him.

Anytime Johnson visits Edina, he cheerfully takes over the Enriquez kitchen. “Andrew would always volunteer to help, including with cleaning up,” says Al, Andrew’s father. “He would watch—observe—and ask questions.”

“And I’m one of those guys who says, ‘You want to learn? Get over here,’ ” Johnson says. While other millennials often learn to cook by necessity post-college, something drew Andrew Enriquez to it early on.

“We had a lot of good male role models,” says Lisa, Andrew’s mom, referring to her son’s food-savvy uncles, including Johnson. “No one was afraid to be in the kitchen. A lot of times, generationally, it’ll be the women in the kitchen. But for us, it was everybody.”

Visiting New York one summer when he was around 12 years old, Enriquez  learned from Johnson how to cook flank steak. It was the first thing he ever cooked, and he realized it satisfied a certain desire. “I had seen how happy my uncle’s food would make other people in the family,” he  says. “I wanted someone to have that reaction eating something I made—to really enjoy it.”

From there, Enriquez started small. He chopped onions at Edina Grill for one summer between school years at Edina High School. “I definitely cut myself multiple times that first summer,” he says. He fried more than he cooked—disappointing for someone who grew up watching the Food Network. But there he learned “anything can be high-end; it’s really what you make of it”—a lesson he applies today, elevating simple, classic comfort food.

One summer, at a Japanese restaurant Johnson ran called Cherry in New York’s Meatpacking District, a chef took Enriquez under his wing. “Show up at 7 a.m.,” he told him, “with knives.” Back home, Enriquez landed an internship with lauded Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis.

In college, lackluster cafeteria food inspired Enriquez to offer up his cooking talents on campus. Johnson conferred with him on how to price menu items. The business model for the College Cook cuts waste by requiring clients to order at least two days ahead of time. Enriquez can buy exactly what he needs—unlike a restaurant that might throw out half a salmon because only one person happened to order it that night.

At his busiest, a graduation party will want Enriquez to cater to 120 people in late spring. If school gets busy, he asks clients to reschedule. But rather than extra work, “cooking is a nice way to de-stress after a busy day, when you want to do something else,” he says.

Before the College Cook, Enriquez toyed with the idea of teaching cooking classes to his peers, who mostly don’t connect with food in the same way.

On his way to classes in Madison, Enriquez likes to stop by the food carts that line a street closed to traffic. He does his best against a language barrier to discuss the spices in a Thai curry with a vendor. Later that night, dinner at his fraternity house might go too quickly for his taste. Without a dining table, the brothers used to order food, crowd the main floor, “and then we’d stand around shoveling food into our mouths for 15 minutes,” Enriquez says.

He says no one else uses the fraternity kitchen, other than for a frozen pizza here and there. But since he launched the College Cook, his housemates have noticed wonderful smells emanating from the oven.“Being exposed to good food intrigues you, gives you that desire to know how it’s done,” Johnson says. “It shows you why you don’t want to just boil ramen in the microwave all the time.”

But this is still college. Enriquez has a $14 bacon-jalapeño mac-’n’-cheese on the menu.

Enriquez finds his shopping cart full of food connecting him with new friends as fast as it connects them with new flavors. Looking ahead, he hopes to travel to France and Asia—as many chefs, including Johnson, have—to meet more people over more food.

For more info, menus and prices, visit Chef Donny’s website.


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