Stephanie DiStefano presents an interview of Chef Richard Huarte of New York on Rye, one of eleven top San Diego chefs competing for Chefy at this year’s Bootleggers’ Ball on June 30.
Q: If you were deserted on a remote island and only had 2 spices with you- what would they be and why?
Basil without hesitation, it could be sweet, it could be savory, it makes any dish better. I once did a basil cheesecake, basil and mint are cousins, so you can mix them real fast, and other stuff you can just do anything with it. Obviously my tomato soup had the basil. The other spice or herb, Salt.
Q: Could you recall the moment(s) that led up to you becoming a Chef?
Yes, I was 7 years old, and watching Julia Child on TV after school and she went to flip an omlette and it fell on the floor, and she said “oh just cover it up, it’s ok,” and I thought I can do that, maybe I can keep it in the pan. Julia Child, optimist, she’s great.
Q: Recall back to your early culinary career- what was the hardest dish you had to keep making over and over again until you perfected it?
Braised veal cheeks. Just the temperature of the oven and length of time, you want to put everything up to full heat, cook it fast, and you cannot braise that thing. Veal cheeks would be really tough if they’re not trimmed right, cut right, and braised right.
Q: What is your message to other Chefs that will be present for our MOW Gala in June?
Ceviche isn’t cooking, oh no- uhhh… My message to them is- if it’s not from the (19)20’s- it doesn’t count. That’s my message to them. (So you really wanna inspire them to get into the…) the theme- its all about the theme. (Cool) Cookings not fun unless you got something fun to do with it. And my appetizer is from the 20’s…
Q: Have you ever wanted to do something else with your life professionally? If so, what?
I already have- I was the 2nd Director of a school that taught languages and culture to corporate clients- I started as an ESL teacher.
Q: What is your nickname from childhood? How did you get that nickname?
Oh, ya know, this is really boring- my nickname is Wintergreen & it’s just a really long and complicated story. I went to military school and ya had to wear those high-collar west point kinda- wore uniforms all the time & so I kept having a reason not to have my uniform and the dress down uniform one was wintergreen that had pockets in ‘em so I could put my hands in my pockets ‘cause the others couldn’t ‘cause ya can’t put your hands in your pockets but you wore those wintergreen pants and sweatshirt and that was like the uniform for when you didn’t have your uniform and somehow- I don’t know- like 6 months- I didn’t quite- like “oh its being tailored” or ”Its in the shop”- I’m on the sick list- people started calling me- Wintergreen.
Q: Do you have any tips for those who aspire to be a successful chef like yourself?
Yeah- get ready to realize that there’s a lot less you know about it than you think and really, really hard physical work for long hours and you gotta love it otherwise don’t bother- ya gotta have such a passion for it- it’s ridiculous. I mean, I became a Chef when I was 42- after working as an executive with a secretary in an office and all that. I tell ya- the first 6 months I wanted to kill myself- it was horrible, it really takes getting used to. If ya like lots of breaks- its not a good job, not a good job for coffee breaks.
Q: If you could vacation anywhere in the world- where would that be?
I’d probably go to Sicily and the Mediterranean. I would go there because there is nothing they won’t cook. There’s nothing that they won’t make. There’s all kinds of weird animals on your plate- like “What is that?!” They’d make pasta sauce out of squid ink- just fantastic stuff. They also have my favorite fruit in the world- which will only grow there and is very fragile & you can’t transport ‘em- there called Mastela, and it’s like a cross between an apricot and a plum somehow, it’s just an awesome fruit. Eating out of hand, cooking, they are just fantastic.
Q: If you could meet anyone -deceased or not- who would it be and why?
That’s a toss-up, um… ya know I’d like to say Escoffier, but I understand he was a real jerk, so probably not. I would say Jacques Pepin, he’s probably the greatest living chef right now.
Q: If you could get rid of one form of modern technology- what would it be and why?
My feeling is there were no good old days, just bad old days. It just keeps getting better, I mean ya know we used to have to go to the bathroom outside. My kids live on the East Coast, I text them, they text me, we’re in contact all the time, it used to be like “ahh I’ll call my parents now,” so yea I don’t have a problem with technology at all. (what about in the kitchen?) That’s a tough one, as long as you got fire your good, that’s the one type of technology I couldn’t do without. It dates back, but it was an advance in technology, so I can look at it that way.
Q: Did you ever learn how to play a musical instrument? If so, which one?
Good question, I’m a musician, I play keyboards, piano, accordion, guitar, harmonica, penny whistle. I moved out here in May from New York, I was in three different bands in New York, I was in a rock band, an R&B band, and an Irish band. I’ve been playing semi-professionally since I was twenty.
Q: What is it about Meals-on-Wheels Greater San Diego, Inc. that has you volunteering with us?
It’s all about Meals-On-Wheels in general, I’ve always been a huge fan, I used to do volunteer delivery in New York City when I was in my twenties, I’ve always thought about my grandma, what if she couldn’t have her food. She was strong till she died, she was 97 and made her own food and that, but I imagined her sitting alone in her apartment in Queens going ya know, “I can’t go out, I can’t get food.” I imagined what would that be like, it’s horrible.
Q: Name a quality that many folks do not know you have. For example- you are a natural comedian…
Ya know I’m such a loud mouth, I think everybody knows everything about me, I’d like to pick something, I’m not shy.
Q: Name something you’ve always wanted to do but never got around to doing it.
Buying a motorcycle, always wanted to have a motorcycle, But I lived in New York, maybe I will get one now. They drive em a heck of a lot more here, but in New York, what am I gonna ride it in June, July? It’s cold from the end of October to the end of March, and it rains throughout the entire month of April, can’t even ride a motorcycle.
Q: Name a job you would never want to have.
Oh, there’s a list, I would never want to be a police officer. I’m not cut out for it, those guys are so amazing and they’re brave, and they’re upstanding guys, they work so hard and are constantly in danger. And the only danger I have is a little bit of grease splatter, ya know I can get over that. Most people don’t shoot at me, the food’s good enough, so yea I could never do that job.
Q: What is your favorite dish and who cooked it for you?
A sweet breads appetizer, sweet breads are the thalamus gland, and they were poached and seared with a vodka sauce, and I had that at a restaurant called “Po” and it was right before Mario Batali got famous, and it was his restaurant in the West Village. But I lived in New York so I went to Bobby Flay’s restaurants, ya know I went to all the great restaurants, I went to Colicchio’s restaurants, I mean they were all great, but that was the single best dish.
Q: What musician are you listening to right now?
Wow, can I give you more than one? I listen to so many. Gillian Welch, Miles Davis, and right now probably Paul McCartney. He’s got an album of standards he just put out like old 1930’s and 40’s songs, and it’s really kinda cool and he wrote a couple of songs, but they’re right in that genre, and he amazes me, he’s almost 70 years old and he sounds great. Yea, he’s a 70 year old guy, but he still looks like Beatle Paul, its weird.
Q: What is the craziest thing a client has asked you to make them?
Deep fried filet mignon, they wanted it breaded and it just freaked me out, because filet mignon doesn’t have much fat, so In the fryer I can understand that cause it seals in the heat, but you gotta handle it right or it’s a bore, but they wanted it well done. But that COMPLETELY kills it, you should NEVER have a filet mignon well done. It’s like duck, “[customer says] oh this duck is underdone,” it’s gotta be medium-rare, or it’s terrible.
Q: What Hollywood actor would you pick to play you in a movie about your life?
Stanley Tucci (because you look similar?) well yea, he can do anything really. He is great, and my favorite movie is “Big Night,” which is a little independent movie about two Italian brothers. One is the chef, one is the brother that wants to become very Americanized, and it’s a constant struggle between the two, one is a purist, the other is like “well no, ya gotta do spaghetti and meatballs.”
Q: Name something about the 1920’s that you love.
The appetizer that I’m making (laughs). I like the fact that the Classical French Cuisine was king in those days, like if you went to someplace like a high-end speakeasy or a club, you would get amazing things made with Foie Gras and puff pastry and it’s a decadent way of eating that’s impossible to understand right now for us, because there were just certain classic things that got done, and people would invent within those confines. Now I think chefs take a lot of pride in breaking those rules, and don’t get me wrong it’s a great thing to do, I think a lot of young chefs make a mistake of not learning those things first, what has to be done, because if you start just going “oh this flavor and that flavor” and you don’t know what you are doing, you could have the most bizarre and off-putting meal. A meal should be a convivial meeting. It should be with family friends, not just scarfing down food that is unusual. It should be about sharing, and I think that was the thing with all the decadence of the 1920’s. Dining was a big social occasion. That sharing of the joy was at its peak, where everybody did that.