Interview with Chef Evan Hanczor or Parish Hall

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April 2013

Dan Catinella: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?

Evan Hanczor: It wasn't necessarily the plan. I cooked basically as a way to have a little more money to go out my last semester. I came back to Connecticut after graduating. I was a writing major and I was looking for a publishing or editing kind job. In the interim I found this small place called The Dressing Room with Chef Michel Nischan. I walked in with minimal experience and they had a position open and the chef took a liking to me and gave me the grill. I learned a lot while I was there and came to understand that's what I love doing. We had a farmer's market in the parking lot and everything. A lot of things have come with me from there. After about a year there I decided if I'm going to do this the right way I have to go to New York. I started working at Locanda Verde and, it was great, but it just wasn't right. I couldn't fit it into my life at the time. I later started working at Egg and it was here that I realized this was something I wanted to do long term. George Weld and I have similar ways of looking at food and that's where my ideas started to grow. It was the balance between a good amount of stimulation and tactile feeling of cooking.

DC: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
EH: I have a hard time giving school a blanket thumbs up or thumbs down. For me I came to cooking relatively late, after college. I wasn't into paying for more schooling. For me it wasn't the right fit but I feel strongly there are a lot of people who can still learn and benefit.

DC: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
EH: John Holzwarth from The Dressing Room has probably taught me the most and Michel [Nischan], obviously it was his vision so the both of them were formative relationships. As far as the way I think about food, George Weld has done a lot to shape and direct the way I think about food. He has taught me more than just learning how to cook a piece a meat.

DC: In which kitchens have you staged? Which experiences were the most influential?
EH:
I like going on one day trails. I've been to Blue Hill, Dovetail, Gramercy Tavern, What Happens When, maybe one or two other places. I've also been to Charleston at a place called Fig and McCrady's.

DC: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
EH: The first thing would be to read a lot of cookbooks. Maybe that's my perspective but that's basically how I taught myself. Try to expand your perspective of what's out there and try eating at as many restaurants as you can afford to I guess. Find a restaurant you're really excited to think about and where you have a chef that inspires you. If you can be excited and motivated by every step of the process, receiving ingredients, designing it, plating it, then you're on the right path.

DC: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated or under utilized? Why?
EH: I mean in a broad way, like as a country, we don't eat enough vegetables, right? But in a more New York City focus I think winter vegetables aren't given a fare shake. A lot of people say winter around here, you cant cook locally and interesting or they just east carrots and parsnips.

DC: What's your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
EH: A great team. I know it's kind of hokey, but I think the most important.

DC: What are your favorite cookbooks?
EH: Bouchon Cookbook is one of the first I read and freaked out about. Noma when I first read it was really exciting. Roast Chicken and Other Stories by British Chef Simon Hopkinson; this book got me cooking when I started back in college.

DC: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
EH: Thailand, Paris and San Francisco. Thailand, I love the street food. Paris is just that place you always think about going. San Francisco is just really vibrant food scene especially over the last few years.

DC: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
EH:
Our philosophy is improve everything you encounter. That extends to the food we cook the people we work with, the customers lives, the soil we grow in and the food system we are a part of.

DC: Have you taken any steps to become a sustainable restaurant? What are those steps?
EH:
We have our oil picked up by a fuel company; it is turned into fuel. We compost all our food waste, and we obviously recycle. Another thing we think about is employment. We try not to have people have overtime and we try to pay people at a rate that allows for that to be the case. A lot of cooks rely on those 20 hours of overtime and we try not to make that the situation. Of course the way we source our food is extremely meticulous in terms of the way it's being grown—the type of food we are buying, and the way we construct our menu to have it embody a sustainable way of buying and cooking.

All of our food or like 90% comes from the Northeast, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey up to Maine, and for the most part the farmers we work with are friends of ours and we have good relationships with them. As far the menu, we always think about the dishes having a heavy vegetable component to have the food we are buying be more sustainable to produce and sell for small farmers. We just recently starting buying kinds of beef and in this area pastured animals are kind of essential to farm economics and the eco-system. In some places it doesn't make sense to raise them properly but here at certain times of year people should be eating more things like beef and pastured animals.

DC: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
EH: We buy produce from our neighbors upstate and try to bring more money to places that are economically stretched. There's a Quality Automotive high school and we help them raise money to build and install some raised gardening beds that students can garden in. We work with a few different organizations on the charity side. There's a great soup kitchen and Wellness in the Schools. The wholesome wave was started by The Dressing Room chef, and we do a lot of one-off events with organizations that are related to the communities we work in.

DC: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
EH: I'm not totally sure. I have high ambitions for Parish Hall and I hope we can develop a following and team and to achieve the strides we made in our first year. Also my role in the company is much bigger than just the restaurant. I have our other restaurant Egg and we have a food stand called Hash Bar. We are looking to grow into a bigger business. I would really like to be involved in national and local conversations on food and food policy. Getting more involved in the conversations in the development of food systems, cooking, food policies and things like that.