Tony Hessel, chef of West Flanders Brewing, on practicing patience
This is part two of my interview with Tony Hessel, exec chef of West Flanders Brewing Co; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
Which living chef do you most admire?
Alice Waters. She was my inspiration for becoming a chef, and I love her passion. The first time I ate at her restaurant, it was like heaven, and she still makes me want to be a better chef. I love her philosophy that everything should be as local as possible, and it's cool that because of her commitment to locality, farmers and cheese makers are now becoming as famous as she is. Plus, it didn't hurt that I got to work with one of her chefs for a nice stint.
What do you enjoy most about your craft?
Every morning is the beginning of a new day, so you never know what you're going to walk into, and that's part of the excitement. The adrenaline rush of the line is the greatest thing in the world, and when you're rocking the place and you have the kitchen up on two wheels, so to speak, and it's smooth and everything just clicks, that's what it's all about.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a chef?
Patience. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way. I used to think that I practiced patience, but it turned out that I was burying a bunch of it and not confronting the issues or the people that I thought were making me impatient. Then the heart came knocking, and I had to take a break. I have since learned -- and still believe -- that patience is the hardest thing to practice in the kitchen. Now I practice it differently: I'm much calmer, and I deal with the issues and confront the problems before anything escalates.
If you could make one request of Boulder diners, what would it be?
Remember that food is supposed to be fun, inspiring and creative. Going out to dinner isn't supposed to be a chore, and while I understand allergies -- my son has them -- when you have so many of them, it's virtually impossible for a chef to cook for you without turning it into a science project of gargantuan proportions.
Best recipe tip for a home cook:
Experiment, have fun in the kitchen, and change up the recipes. If you're following a recipe, use a different protein or change it to a vegetable. The whole point of cooking is to take something tried and true and turn it on its side and see what happens. Sometimes it's the biggest flop ever, and other times it's outstanding. The main thing is to always keep on trying and experimenting.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given?
An antique siphon coffeemaker. God, I love coffee, and those siphon makers make the best coffee ever -- plus it's fun to watch the process.
Favorite culinary-related item to give as a gift:
A good French paring knife is a lifesaver in the kitchen. They are the ultimate utility knife for just about everything, plus they don't cost a lot, and they're fun to give as gifts.
What's your fantasy splurge?
A wood-burning grill and oven. I miss the smell of applewood smoke. To have that again would take it to another level.