Duncan Smith, exec chef of Dazzle, on the "Hamdog" bomb
This is part on of my interview with Duncan Smith, exec chef of Dazzle. Part two of our conversation will run in this space tomorrow.
Here's what you'll find in Duncan Smith's refrigerator at home: a six-pack of beer, several types of cheese, beef sticks and fresh produce. "These are the things I like to eat and drink, the foods that make me the happiest," says Smith, executive chef at Dazzle. "I'm a simple guy, and I like to eat and cook simple food."
It's a philosophy that carries over to his professional kitchen. "I like to tap into what I know and what I'm familiar with, and a lot of that goes back to my childhood," explains Smith, who was born and raised in a small town in North Dakota, where farm acreage far outweighs fancy restaurants. "North Dakota is a farm state, so we used to pick all of our own vegetables and then get together as a family every Sunday night for a huge meal. We celebrated food from the farm and being together, and it's those family dinners with fresh ingredients from the farm that still fuels me today," he says.
Like a lot of his peers, Smith got his start in the kitchen scrubbing plates, but by his own admission, he wasn't particularly speedy -- and the North Dakota winters have no compassion for a dishwasher who steps into the chill in a soaking wet shirt. "I'd walk outside, and my shirt would freeze to the point where it turned to cardboard," recalls Smith, who quickly abandoned dish duty to seek warmth behind the burners. "I sucked, so they took me off the dish pit and gave me the chance to cook instead." That move not only saved him from future abuse by Mother Nature, it pointed him to a career.
"By the time I was fifteen -- North Dakota wasn't too strict about labor laws back then -- I had the keys to the restaurant, and I realized that cooking came easy to me," says Smith. "I liked it, I was good at it, and I wanted to pursue it." After spending three years flipping eggs at the flat-top, he moved on to a resort. "It wasn't anything terribly gourmet, but it was definitely a step in the right direction," he remembers, "and by the time I left, kitchen life had really started to grow on me. I loved the camaraderie of it all."