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Kerry Simon on StarChefs


Interview

StarChefs: You have worked in some of the world’s finest restaurants before becoming an executive chef yourself. At which restaurant and with which chef did you learn the most?
Kerry Simon: Oh that's a tough question. I learned different things from different people. Off the bat, working with John George Vongerichten was the most exciting food situation I had. He would come in and every day was a new day. He would challenge you to come up with new ideas. It was myself, Pierre Shultz (Vong's chef under John George) and John George. It was the first time I had a little independence.....once he trusted me.

SC: You had a tremendous opportunity to work at Lutece under Andre Soltner. What was it like to work under such a master chef?
KS: It was the first place I worked before I went to CIA. I remember how glamorous it was – whites, toques. It was all about being disciplined. It had a certain Zen to it. Everyday you'd do the same thing. At some point you'd change your jacket and put on a toque and the place would get crazy. It was always busy and glamorous, filled with celebrities. I was there to learn and follow in Andre's tracks. I learned a lot about Alsatian cooking.

SC: You were also the executive chef at the Edwardian Room in New York's Plaza Hotel. What was it like working for the Trumps?
KS: Intense. It's the first word that always appears in my mind whenever I think of that period of time. Their lives were insanity. Ivana interviewed what seemed like hundreds of chefs. There was a lot of weight on my shoulders. It was fun, but required many hours. But I was able to innovate once he (Donald Trump) trusted me. This was after I was able to meet a certain criteria on the menu.

SC: At the Plaza you were famed for having a special table smack in the middle of
the kitchen where celebrities would eat. What was that like? Did it make you self-conscious?
KS: At first I never thought I could do that. I used to watch Andre (Soltner) do the same, and at first it was difficult for me. Then I got used to it. It probably changed my career. Sometimes certain celebrities would come in and I'd get flustered. It was great for my chefs overall. Right away they could see how people reacted to the food.

SC: Sounds like a lot of fun! Are you ever planning to have a table inside your kitchen again?
KS: Yeah, I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I am always looking for that
perfect kitchen that could accommodate a table. I know Le Bernardin has one and so does
Charlie Trotter.

SC: David Burke has one too at Park Avenue Cafe in NY.
KS: Oh, that’s a funny story. I came into work one day and someone said there was a chef here that had a measuring tape and was mapping out the dimensions of the table area in the kitchen. It turned out to be David. He didn't take the idea from me. It's not something new. It's been done for years in France and other countries.

SC: If you were to describe your cuisine what words would you use?
KS: Modern American. Everything is based around American products.

SC: How has your cuisine evolved over the years?
KS: I feel almost like a chameleon. After leaving the Plaza, I wanted to do food that
was very simple. So you didn't have to be wealthy in order to eat my food. I wanted
to be more accessible to the public. And I guess I'm going a bit more vegetarian.
I'm very fat conscious with my cooking.

SC: Except your famous meatloaf! What makes your celebrated meatloaf so good?
KS: It's partly because it has veal and is made with fresh herbs. It's finished with
smoked bacon. We took it off the menu in some restaurants I’ve been in because it didn’t work well with the feel of the restaurant, such as Mercury in Miami.

SC: Oh, what a disappointment! How do you feel about that?
KS: I don't get attached to dishes. Maybe I'll make another that will be just as
popular. But I'm there to please the public. If they still request it. We'll see.

SC: Where do you think American cuisine is going? What do you think the next trend is going to be?
KS: It's hard to read right now. It's the first time that it seems that there are so
many things going on. Comfort food was a trend for a while. It’s higher end
again. There are a lot of Asian things going on. Vegetarianism is getting a bigger
market. There is a lot of cross cuisine. For instance, sushi bars in restaurants, like
Match. Also, more and more people are requesting low fat. They have been for
10 years but it is becoming considered the norm.

SC: What is your favorite ingredient?
KS: Ooh boy, that's a hard one. Right now I'd say Chiso. It's a green leaf that the Japanese use. It has a mint-pepper taste. It's spicy. The Japanese roll sushi up in it. I steam fish in it or wrap tuna in it. Also, I like soft shell crab.

SC: How do you prepare it?
KS: With a curry cinnamon crust and then sautéed. I serve it with a blood orange and
tomato salsa. Then I add a cilantro pesto.

SC: What tools can you not be without in the kitchen?
KS: French knives, my Champion juicer and my All-Clad sauté pans.

SC: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Chef!
KS: Anytime!




  

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