On a sunny
winter morning, I sat with Gordon Hamersley in his homey, warm resturant and
spoke about his philosophy on his cooking, food and mentors.
The night before I had enjoyed Gordon's generosity and hospitality at Hamersley's
Bistro, housed in an old piano factory in Boston. Gordon's seasonal menu was
so welcome on a blustery, cold night. Everything on the menu was delightfully
Here's what he had to say.
StarChefs: How did you become a chef?
Gordon Hamersley: I learned cooking by watching and listening. I started
as a dishwasher and eventually moved to the line. I worked for a Parisian
baker/wildman who was open for breakfast,
lunch and dinner. His cooking was very simple and straightforward. It was
a perfect place to start.
SC: From there who became your biggest influence?
GH: A number of people....Wolfgang (Puck) changed my perspective about
food and its potential. And...I almost never say this, but my relationship
with Julia Child has been a very long and a very good one. She has always
kept me focused and put me in the right direction. The first time I met her
was in LA during a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. I was relatively young.
I was hanging out watching her prepare. At a certain point she realized that
they weren't going to get the dinner done and she invited me to help her.
She had people in stitches. She is unique. She is at once old -fashioned and
at the same time up-to-the-minute. She's always respected the professional
chef. But in the kitchen she will stop to talk to the dishwasher, or anyone
who will strike her fancy. She'll be genuinely interested in them.
SC: And what about Wolfgang?
GH: I arrived in LA. I'd already worked in a kitchen for about 4-5
years. People always asked me what I was doing working in a restaurant, saying
I had more to offer. Wolfgang changed all that for me. He opened my eyes to
the possibility of becoming a good chef and making a living at it. Working
at Ma Maison, he introduced me to new ingredients. I thought what was going
on was very contemporary,
recreating the culinary world. We were approaching cooking from a very natural
point of view rather than classical french stuff. Wolfgang taught me a tremendous
sense of what was important.
SC: What do you like to do when you're not cooking?
GH: Other than playing with my kid, I'm an avid baseball fan. I have
a love affair with the Boston Red Sox. I also love fly fishing. I fly fish
for trout. Unfortunately one doesn't get enough time...nothing is as good
as fresh pan-fried brook trout.
SC: I love asking chefs what their favorite ingredient is...
GH: What I find satisfying is cooking seasonally. Paul Bocuse said,
in the days of jet age food, we need to work hard to maintain the ingredients
of the seasons. Doing business in LA we needed to reset our alarms. Oops it's
fall. In Boston we wait in anticipation for the first peas. The old Shaker
calendar revolves around the harvest. Certain things are traditional to certain
seasons. Days should be gone that your status of cooking is defined by what
ingredients could be gotten. Whoever started that is wrong.
SC: What kind of cooking short cuts can you give our readers?
GH: Well, using the basic tenets of French Nouvelle of the '70s. It's
been interpreted badly in America. But if you throw away a lot of the heavy
stuff, you have an honest meal. It's the way I was taught to cook. Forgetting
about the fact that it's sexist, I am infatuated with the Italian concept
of a new, young wife going with the mothe-in-law to see how to cook. It's
the transference of knowledge and tradition.