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One cook’s ingredients to a fulfilling life

April 7, 2012

by Brittany Schweiker

At Juniors Bar and Grill on Madison Avenue on a weeknight,  it is likely line cook Bobby Mitchell is not only dishing out plates, but a joke for his co-workers on the side.

Mitchell, 24, stands tall, yet unassuming in his slightly over-sized green Frank Zappa sweatshirt, grease-stained sneakers, with his brown curls peaking out under his backward baseball cap. He is controlled and courteous upon initial impression, but find a common interest and it doesn’t take too long to get him going.

Bobby Mitchelll checking on a pizza in Juniors kitchen/Brittany Schweiker

In the kitchen Mitchell is all about business. However, his diligent work ethic doesn’t keep him from enjoying what he does. His most popular plate, both at home and in the restaurant, is the corned beef reuben, but Mitchell most enjoys cooking the recipes he creates on his own. From a “Strawberry Fields” summer salad to unique wing sauces, both Mitchell’s creativity and skill in the kitchen is recognized by his co-workers.

“One good thing about working with him is he can talk and cook at the same time, so it’s like you’re not at work, you’re having fun,” said fellow line-cook, Chris Homer. And with 10 years of experience in the kitchen, Mitchell is also someone Homer says he can depend on. “He’s the most calm one out of all of us. When it gets busy people get flustered, but Bobby stays level-headed.”

Mitchell started cooking in fast food restaurants when he was just 14, working his way through several corporate owned franchise restaurants around the Capital Region. After growing tired of the strict guidelines and poor management practices of the corporate cooking world, he searched for a job at an independently owned restaurant. Mitchell eventually found himself at Juniors in the summer of 2010, and has since relished in his new position.

“They are a lot more flexible and personal with the way they treat their employees here,” Mitchell said. “It’s much more relaxed.”

Born and raised just outside of Albany in the suburb of Latham, Mitchell moved downtown in 2009 after graduating from Hudson Valley Community College. Three years, four exasperating moves, and several sets of apartment keys later, he and his girlfriend of six years settled into their new apartment off of New Scotland Avenue this past fall after hearing about the neighborhood’s appeal from his manager.

With his new proximity to the restaurant, Mitchell usually makes the 15-minute walk to work each afternoon. Along the way he often encounters the quirks and character of his new neighborhood. From the previous nights party favors strewn along the sidewalks of South Main Street to the random oddball neighbor on Woodlawn Avenue, he is certainly having fun discovering the Pine Hills.

“You even get to know some other people’s schedules,” he said. “I used to end up following this one guy almost every day, coincidentally, and I think it took awhile before he realized I wasn’t actually stalking him.”

When not en route to Juniors, Mitchell continues to take in the neighborhood with his one year old dog, Bowie, a border collie mix.

Mitchell with his dog, Bowie / Brittany Schweiker

“He’s a great dog, but he has so much energy. It’s definitely been a lifestyle change, but a change I’ve come to love.” Mitchell often takes Bowie up the block to Ridgefield Park where he can wear off some of that extra energy by outpacing most other dogs, and showing off plenty of the endearing tricks his doting owners have taught him.

“They’re best buds,” Mitchell’s girlfriend, Kelly Hans, said of the pair. “They’re always together.”

To take a break from the responsibilities of work and owning a young pet, Mitchell spends his free time going out and enjoying a pint, or two, of pale ale at Albany’s local pubs with a few close friends. A buddy of his introduced him to craft beer a few years ago, and he now pairs his growing interest in brews with his choices in bars. He usually frequents Albany’s beer bars such as City Beer Hall, Gastropub and Mahars. Mitchell also enjoys taking in the area’s craft brew fests so that he can get a taste of other selections local bars do not offer.

Actual vacations allow him to do a lot of traveling, but little relaxing. With his favorite band, Phish, back on tour, Mitchell and his girlfriend have journeyed up and down the east coast and even headed west to California to see the group play. With the recent announcement that the popular jam band will be bringing their show to Saratoga Performing Arts Center for three nights this summer, the two will not have to travel far to see their favorite group which will leave a little room for leisure in Mitchell’s life.

“I want to go on a real vacation this summer,” Mitchell said. “I want to relax, maybe go deep sea fishing if I can.”

Including his adventures to see Phish, Mitchell estimates that he attends between 20 and 25 concerts each year, but tries not to limit himself to one genre. While he most enjoys catching show at his favorite Albany venue, The Egg, Mitchell doesn’t mind settling for a guy on a piano in the corner of a local bar or selecting a few tunes off the jukebox.

“He’s the happiest when he is seeing any sort of live music,” Hans said of Mitchell. “That’s when I see the biggest smile on his face.”

While Mitchell’s travels to see his favorite band have given him the chance to experience the different cultures of several U.S. cities, he doesn’t see himself leaving Albany soon. Mitchell and his girlfriend have found what they’ve been long looking for in their new Pine Hills neighborhood; the privacy of the suburbs, and the culture of downtown living.

Mitchell enjoying a craft brew / Brittany Schweiker

“There are going to be aspects of anywhere that you’re not going to like, but I love living here, especially this new neighborhood.”

Mitchell aims to enjoy the life he has, but doesn’t expect anything to be handed to him. He takes pride in the things he feels responsible for, but makes it a point to separate work and pleasure. So at 2:30 a.m., when he is finally able to climb the stairs to his top floor apartment after trekking home from his late night shift, there is always one particular pleasure he looks forward to.

“Bowie is always there waiting for me when I get home from work,” he said with a smile. “No matter what time, looking to see whatever leftovers I may bring with me.” -30-

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