Chef Kevin Maxey
Craft | Dallas
Kevin Maxey, a native east Texan, grew up in a family in
which good food was the focal point of every gathering, sparking
an interest in the culinary arts at an early age. Further inspired
by cooking shows on PBS or family outings to Peking Garden
down the road, Maxey was drawn to the notion of working behind the
swinging doors of a professional kitchen.
In 1994, Maxey graduated from Texas Christian University
with a degree in marketing knowing that, actually, the only thing
he wanted to do was cook. Two months after graduating, he moved
to California in hopes of learning the culinary ropes first-hand.
He took his first cooking job as a butcher’s apprentice, and
though this less-than-glamorous position was not what the neophyte
had in mind, Maxey committed himself to working up the ranks to
becoming a chef. A year later he was back in Texas working at The
Riviera under Chef David Holben where he learned the foundations
of French culinary technique. Two years later he embarked on a self-directed
apprenticeship that took him to Seattle, Aspen, and then New York.
It was Chef Thierry Reautureau at Rover’s
in Seattle who suggested he go work for Tom Colicchio at Gramercy
Tavern in New York. By then Maxey had been cooking for four
years and felt ready for the challenge of cooking in Manhattan.
Over the next four and a half years he developed his skills among
the best aspiring chefs in the country and learned that a cook must
look, listen, smell and be aware of everything going on in the kitchen.
Maxey adopted a simple culinary philosophy of letting ingredients
speak for themselves with proper technique and seasoning.
Maxey took a break from New York in 2003 ending up
in Louisville where he worked for local chefs, including a stint
at an artisanal bakery where a passion for the best ingredients
and a strict adherence to precision reflected his own approach to
cooking. In 2005, Colicchio called and asked if he was ready to
rejoin the Craft family and head up the Craft
Dallas project. Maxey jumped at the chance to not only
work for Colicchio again but also to be back in Texas with his family.
At Craft, Maxey's menu reflects his philosophy
as a chef: perfect ingredients perfectly cooked. Never has a sparse
plate of barely-dressed pasta felt as sensual as Maxey's Kabocha
squash-filled tortellini with chestnut honey, sage and parmesan.
His understated presentations and flavors find their way into simple,
unpretentious roulades, risottos, and galantines that never crowd
the palate, or the plate, with too many fussy flavors. His crab
risotto, rich with layers of lemony sorrel and lemon confit, creates
the illusion of being absolutely effortless while exploring how
a minimum of flavors can play off each other and stand alone all
in the same dish (and sometimes even the same mouthful). With mentors
like John Schaefer, Damon Wise, and Akhtar Nawab, it’s no
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
KM: I moved back to Texas and
got a job at The Riviera under Chef David Holben where
I learned the foundations of French culinary technique. Thierry
Reautureau suggested I go work for Tom Colicchio. After almost five
years, I left New York for Louisville, KY and worked at an artisanal
bakery for a year. In 2005 Tom called about setting up Craft
in Dallas, and I got in on the ground floor.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you
hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
KM: I don’t think it’s necessary, but I don’t
prefer a degree or discriminate against those who don’t have
one. I went to TCU for marketing so I can’t say it’s
necessary. I think it helps tp be able to develop kitchen vocabulary
and good knife technique. You just need to be able to keep up in
a kitchen. I suggest a self-directed apprenticeship.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
KM: Tom Collichio is really
my biggest mentor, and I met him through Thierry Reautureau so he
is one as well. John Schafer, the chef de cuisine at Gramercy
Tavern influenced me a lot, as did Damon Wise, the chef de
cuisine at Craft in New York.
AB: In which kitchens have you staged? Which experiences were the
KM: I staged at Le Bernardin
for three weeks and with Jan Louis at Palladin for three
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re
interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer
are you looking for?
KM: I ask them to define the word “sauté.” I’m
looking for them to tell me the French definition. I also ask how
they braise short ribs. There is no wrong answer to that one. I
want to know if they have been trained in a professional kictchen,
and I like to know about their vocabulary and process. 95% of it
is gut feeling. I watch them doing service one night, ask questions,
and figure out if we can get along.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
KM: You have to be realistic
and realize that it takes a number of years to become a chef. Culinary
students often take on too much too soon. You need four to six years
of good hard work before you become a sous chef, and each position
you take on prior to that should pose a different challenge. You
have to have at least ten years of experience before you can start
AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
KM: Chris Ward at Mercury
Grill and Stephan Pyles.
AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under
appreciated or under utilized?
KM: Parsnips because they add
an unexpected sweetness and richness to dishes, and they have a
good starch content. I roast or puree them. Pureed, their texture
is like velvet.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
KM: I like citrus and poultry
or citrus and game together, like blood orange and guinea hen or
tangerine and rabbit.
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
KM: The Gray Kunz sauce spoon is perfect for saucing plates. Meat
forks are pretty important as well.
AB: What's your advice for
KM: I teach line cooks about food cost, controlling cost, and the
scope of job changes. I also go over protein invoices with all meat
cooks with a calculator because I think it’s important for
everyone in the kitchen to be part of the entire process.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
Mario by Mario Batali because he has an uncanny knack for
giving people what they want. He knows how to create the whole package
while still keeping it simple and not going over the top. Julia
Child’s book are great for classic dishes.
AB: Where would you like to
go for culinary travel? Why?
KM: I like to go to Vietnam
because everything here is so Americanized that its hard to figure
out what is authentic. Also, they've hardly toned down their French
AB: What are your favorite restaurants-off the beaten path-in your
city? What is your favorite dish there? What are your favorite after
hour places and bars?
for Mexican; I love their chicken mole enchiladas. I like Kuby’s
for sausage and beer - they start serving beer at noon on Sundays.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry
KM: Steak houses are huge.
Tom Collichio’s Craft concept of everything being
a la carte is really popping up all over the place. And chefs seem
more concerned than ever with using local and seasonal ingredients
as much as possible.
AB: Which person in history would you most like to have dinner
KM: I’d like to eat with my ancestors, or my grandparents
on my mom’s side in East Texas.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
KM: I think it’s important to source the best, most unadulterated
ingredients based on freshness and pureness. We use locally grown
ingredients as much as possible while still combing the globe to
find the best of everything.
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be
KM: I think I would like to
be a finish carpenter. Sometimes I think I missed my calling as
a brain surgeon because of my ability to function under pressure.
AB: What does success mean
for you? What will it look like for you?
KM: In five years I hope to
have struck a good balance between professional and family life
because right now I'm working 50 to 60 hour weeks with a 12 week
old kid at home and it's pretty tough. I would like to be the chef
of two or three restaurants in Austin.
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