Chef Daniel Eardley of Chestnut @
Peter Pioppo

Daniel Eardley
271 Smith St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231
(718) 243 0049

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Tejal Rao and Erin Hollingsworth: How did you get into cooking?
Daniel Eardley: I started working in kitchens when I was 13 and I enrolled at CIA when I was 22.

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Chef Daniel Eardley
Chestnut | New York

Daniel Eardley first appreciated sustainable agriculture while working on his family’s small upstate New York farm as a child.

He attended culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and graduated with honors. His first job out of school was in Napa at Tra Vigne. From there, he traveled throughout the valley and San Francisco working for free to learn as much as he could about the industry.

He worked for Larry Forgione at American Place in St. Louis for several years. At the end of its run, he left to open Washington Park in New York under mentor Jonathan Waxman. After its closing, Daniel traveled around Mexico and Europe before returning to New York for consulting work. Soon afterward, Daniel landed at Chestnut in Brooklyn, where he focuses on organic products from small local farms, minimal preparations and accessible wines to match. He still frequents Hudson Valley to forage for indigenous ingredients, such as wild mushrooms and ramps.

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Interview Cont'd

TR&EH: Where else have you worked?
DE: I worked at The Tribune in Willamette Valley, then I moved to help out a friend at American Place. When I came to New York, I got a job working with Jonathan Waxman at Washington Park. I left there, worked at a bad place which I won’t name, then opened Chestnut where I’ve been for the last 2 years.

TR&EH: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
DE: I would recommend it, but I think you should go into it with a little experience under your belt. The more actual restaurant experience you have, the more you’re able to get out of school. The Culinary Institute of America, in particular, is the biggest resource this country has for culinary education, which is great. They have a library with over 70,000 volumes of food-related, non-fiction reading material – I spent so much time there, it’s amazing.

TR&EH: Who are some of your mentors?
DE: Jonathan Waxman, who I worked with at American Place, gives his staff lots of freedom to do their own thing. He’s really big on foraging – he got me into sourcing all kinds of stuff for myself.

TR&EH: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
DE: Work at a place for a year, see what happens, and then move on. Don’t worry about money. A chef’s life appears much more glamorous than it actually is – it’s rough.

TR&EH: What is your personal culinary philosophy?
DE: I want diners at Chestnut to feel like they’re going to their grandmother’s house for dinner – their grandmother who is a really great cook. It should feel like home here. It’s a restaurant with no strict cultural identity, although we always keep a Mexican dish on the menu as homage to my predominantly Mexican kitchen staff. 

TR&EH: What ingredient that you like to you feel is underappreciated or underutilized?
DE: Lovage. That’s where it’s at. I found some at the green market yesterday and I bought them out! Celery seed in pickling spices is actually lovage seed; you can make pesto with it, puree it, and it freezes beautifully.

TR&EH: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
DE: Sweet, salty and spicy. I really like Chinese 5-spice, but in general, three flavors is all you need. You start with two dominant flavors, like sweet and salty, then add a more subtle flavor to temper the other two. They all end up marrying really well – you get all the multiplicity of flavors without overcomplicating it with too many components.

TR&EH:What are your favorite cookbooks?
DE: Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter. I like Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison – she is just too cool for school, you know? And then there’s Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook, of course.

TR&EH: What languages do you speak?
DE: Spanish.

TR&EH: What are your favorite restaurants off-the-beaten-path in your city?
DE: Castro’s on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn. It’s the only place in west Brooklyn that makes their carnitas with lard, which is really authentic and awesome.

TR&EH: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? Who would you serve? Who would you most like to cook for you?
DE: I’d like Martha Washington to come here. She was pretty cool in terms of her knowledge of and concern with the science of agriculture.

TR&EH: What are some of your favorite food-related charities?
DE: Brooklyn Eats.

TR&EH: If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
DE: I think I’d be a ski instructor in British Colombia, or a snowboarder. Or I could go the starving artist route and be a photographer. I feel like I was made to be a starving artist.

TR&EH: What does success mean for you?
DE: For me, it’s the beneficial proliferation of local, sustainable ingredients. I’m successful when I’m able to make the absolute best of the products the local farmers provide me with, no matter how scarce the season. Basically, staying natural with my cooking regardless of circumstance, that’s success.

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   Published: August 2007