It is lunch time in the ADR, the Associate Dining Room at Grand Casino, Hinckley. The place is busy with casino associates ordering everything from omelets to salads, burgers, pizza, soups, and snacks. Today’s lunch specials include jumbo shrimp with fries, and ribs with Jo Jo potatoes. ADR is home to short order cooking, done quickly and priced inexpensively.
In addition to delicious food, Matthew Binkowski serves up a playful banter with a smile. He knows many associates by name, as well as their food cravings. Binkowski is the ADR Line Cook, and has been in his current position for the past seven months. Prior to ADR he worked as a cook at the Grand Grill. He has been at Grand Casino for a total of nine years.
“On a typical day I come in, cook food for the guests, stock and clean as I go,” Binkowski says. “At the end of the day we deep clean the line.” He also preps the food if he is asked. Binkowski’s favorite thing to cook at work is an omelet. “Because they are easy,” he says laughing. His least favorite is stir-fry. “Because it is time-consuming and takes me away from the rest of the line,” he explains.
Outside of work Binkowski loves to cook baked oregano chicken. “It’s phenomenal,” he exclaims. “I had it twice this week.” His second favorite food is ice cream. “My wife said: ‘you need some vegetables with that chicken,’ so I slapped ice cream on my plate. It counts,” Binkowski says. “I can’t stand not having ice cream in my life.”
Binkowski’s favorite aspect about working as a Line Cook in the ADR are the people. “It’s the ones I work with, and 90% of the ones I cook for,” he chuckles. “My management here respects me and everyone backs each other up.”
Binkowski started out his restaurant career as a dishwasher at Perkins, and within a year became a supervisor. He went on to work at Country Kitchen, and as a sous chef at Marriott. He also owned Black Woods Grill & Bar in Duluth and Two Harbors. His advice to young people just starting out is to do your job well, and to go above and beyond what is expected of you. “People will notice when you do a good job,” he says. “Kids come in and they want something for nothing. It’s more work than you expect, but the rewards are more also. They don’t realize all the benefits that we have. I use the exercise room on-site, we have medical insurance through work, medical leave, and so much more. You can’t find that up here anywhere.”
Binkowski studied at Le Cordon Bleu culinary program in MN and Oklahoma. He also attended an executive chef school in Montana, and the MN School of Business. He holds seven degrees. He is also a world traveler. Following his high school graduation, Binkowski traveled to Africa, Australia, Germany, France, England, Poland, Russia, Italy, Ireland, Japan, and China. “In Russia I loved the architecture and art. I went to Italy just for the food,” Binkowski says. But his favorite destination remains the African Savannah. “It gives a sense of how miniscule we humans really are when you are in a vehicle in the middle of a nowhere and a lion is staring at you,” he says. “It’s a very humbling experience. If animals got together, humans would never survive.”
Outside of work Binkowski’s hobbies include dancing, horses, building model railroads, and of course, cooking. He moved to this area from the Twin Cities because he wanted to have horses. “My wife and I purchased a 200-year-old house with beautiful woodwork on seven acres,” he says. They now have three horses. When he retires, Binkowski plans to purchase a truck with a horse trailer, and travel around the country and go horseback riding with his wife. After that he wants to travel around the world again, but this time he wants to share that experience with his wife. Until that time comes, he can be found cooking up delicious dishes in the ADR.