Cafe Society

Tony Hessel, chef of West Flanders Brewing, on practicing patience

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If you could dress any way you want, what would you wear in the kitchen? I already dress the way I want -- no more chef jacket. When I came back into the kitchen after a year off, I decided that I wouldn't be subject to the chef-jacket-and-chef-pants craze. I wear a white button-down shirt and black pants with comfortable shoes in the kitchen. If I have to do an event, then I'll put on a chef jacket, but comfort is where it's at for me. Who knows? Maybe I'll even wear shorts in the summer.

If you could have dinner, all expenses paid, at any restaurant in the world, where would you go? The Ledbury in London. Chef Brett Graham is amazing.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring chef? Being a chef is a commitment, and you have to stay focused. You don't become a chef overnight. Sure, that would be great, but in reality, it's a lot of hard work, and the key is to keep on learning. When you stop learning, cooking ceases being fun -- and presumably, that's one of the reasons you chose this profession in the first place.

What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? First and foremost, I look for street smarts rather than book smarts. I want someone who knows his way around a kitchen, someone who has a passion for this business and wants to work all hours of the day, and someone who's focused and organized.

If you could train under any chef in the world, who would it be? French chef Alain Passard. To learn under him, and to cook and plate vegetables like he does...wow.

If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? A small Mediterranean restaurant on the beach in Costa Rica by the surfing lanes. Taps by night and surfing by day.

Weirdest customer request: An omelet, ordered severely runny. A guy came in all the time to Brasserie Ten Ten, and always complained that his omelet was never runny enough. I eventually got it to a point where he liked it.

Which talent would you most like to have? Multiple language skills. I understand a lot of Spanish and French, and was even fluent in French at one point in my life. I just wish I'd kept up with it. I'd love to be able to go anywhere in the world and switch languages on a dime.

What's been your worst disaster in the kitchen? My first Saturday cooking at West Flanders after a year off the line. We had a really big party upstairs that had a separate menu from the menu we were serving downstairs, and things got mixed up, communication broke down, and food was going to all the wrong places -- and yet all I could think was, "I want back into this."

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson