Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Chris Kearse: I always liked [cooking] and helped my grandma. I watched “Great Chefs” on PBS. And when I was in a car accident at 15, I had to be home schooled. I was in and out of hospitals and in the house for two years. I started watching the Food Network and helping my parents with dinner. I worked in restaurants, and got good at it. I went to restaurant school and graduated when I was 20.
After graduation, I sent 10 letters to 10 chefs over and over until they called me, [including] Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Charlie Trotter. Some places I stayed two days, some two weeks, or two years.
CH: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
CK: You won't have a life for 10 years. You can have anything you want in life, but you have to sacrifice everything—your personal life, finances. Do you homework. When you’re home, read and dine out. That’s paramount. If you work 12 hours here, you then need to do your homework; go to farmers markets and talk to other chefs.
CH: Tell me about the Philadelphia culinary community.
CK: Right now, it’s my whole generation. We're a little different. Lacroix in 2003 or 2004, it was old-school with a Four Seasons-type feel. Right now, it's very communal. We're all friends and colleagues. It's a close-knit team.
CH: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
CK: Dining is an experience. On Friday or Saturday night, you don't go to clubs, you eat. You get dressed up, spend three hours here, with the service, food, and flavors. That's the whole concept here. It’s based on a French philosophy. It has to make sense.
CH: What’s the toughest challenge you have had to overcome?
CK: Staff. It took such a long time to find the right staff. The staff is almost perfect. I need people to take the job very, very seriously. We opened at 9am this morning. It's a lot of work. I’m out at 1am and here at 8am.
CH: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
CK: Not seeing my family. My social life. The rest is cooking and managing people.
CH: What’s your greatest accomplishment?
CK: I couldn't eat for almost two years. I’ve overcome that. Working at the best restaurants in the country—Alinea, Tru, The French Laundry. I learned a lot about myself.
CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to get reviewed and get accolades, and cook at the James Beard House. I want to have fun and challenge myself. I'm cooking every day—if I had 10 restaurants, I couldn't do it. Money is money. I’ll keep doing what I'm doing and see what happens.