It’s interesting how lineage goes so much further than skin and bone. If someone asked us about our lineage, any one of us would think of our parents, grandparents, mother-lands. But, that isn’t the only lineage that makes us who we are. Even in our professions, we are the product of a lineage. Those who came before us. A boss. A mentor. Someone who took the time to help ensure our feet were on the right path.
This lineage is particularly strong in the food industry. Chefs consistently bring fresh, young talent in to their kitchens, and begin the molding process. Those cooks go on to run kitchens of their own, and the process begins anew. It is an aspect of the culinary world that I was fascinated by, and wanted to learn more about. So, I reached out to Chef Jody Adams, chef and co-owner of Rialto in Cambridge, and Boston Magazine’s Best New Restaurant of 2012, Trade.
For the first part of this three-part interview series, I had the opportunity to speak with the Executive Chef of Trade Restaurant, Andrew Hebert. We touch on how he got his start in the industry, the impact that the chefs he has worked for have had on him, and how he approaches teaching his staff.
Foodie Journal: When was it that you realized you wanted to get involved with the food industry?
Andrew Hebert: Well, I guess it all stemmed from my family. A meal with the family at the dinning room table was a big deal to us. Everybody in the family would contribute to the meal. I always had fun with that. Then when I was in the 11th grade, in high school, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go to school, I started thinking of the restaurant industry. I hadn’t worked in a restaurant, and my dad said, “If you’re really going to do this, you need to try working in a restaurant.” So, I did that for a summer, and I immediately fell in love with it. It really came natural to me. Not just the food part, but also the whole environment. Being in the kitchen, not sitting around. The idea of sitting behind a desk never really appealed to me. The fact that I was on my feet all day, walking around, being active really did appeal to me as well.
FJ: If you could, tell me a little bit about your first experience in a restaurant kitchen.
AH: Sure. I ended up working at a place called The Trellis, in Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia. The clientele there is a little bit higher end than some of the other restaurants in the area. The chef who owned the restaurant [at the time], his name is Marcel Desaulniers. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, had a bunch of cookbooks out. He was really well known; the restaurant was really well known in the area. It was a great place for a first job! I started working there as a busboy, from there I went to working in the kitchen plating salads and desserts. So, that’s what I did that first summer.
FJ: What came after that summer?
AH: I went to culinary school. Actually, after I graduated, I ended up going back to The Trellis and worked there for about a year and half, two years. I worked every station in the place. When I left, I was basically like a kitchen supervisor where I was closing the restaurant, which gave me the opportunity to get some management experience as well. It’s really where I learned the most about cooking, and technique. It was a great foundation for me when I decided that I wanted to move up to New England.
FJ: Now obviously culinary school is really a great place to get those fundamentals, like knife skills, technique. Do you feel like you ended up getting more from that, or was it the restaurant experience that really kind of solidified for you what you needed to do to be successful?
AH: That’s a great question, and really its one that every chef and cook hears a lot. “Is it worth going to culinary school?” They are two different things, and it also really depends on your personality. When you’re working in a restaurant kitchen, you learn a lot. I feel like I absorbed a lot more. I’m a very visual learner, so doing it over and over, day in and day out really helped. With culinary school, each class is limited to a specific number of hours, so they try to pack as much information in as they can, and before you know it you’re on to the next class, you know? You go from a class about baking and pastries, then to a garde manger class, then to sauces. It’s overwhelming, and you end up thinking, “Whoa, that was way too much, way too fast.” But, my experience at Johnson & Wales was great. I learned a lot. I learned more about the why behind doing things, as opposed to how to do it.
FJ: Like theory, almost?
AH: Right. Then when you’re in a restaurant you end up learning how to do things, and don’t end up hearing why you’re doing it that way.
FJ: Now after you came to Boston, you ended up working for Chef Jody Adams. Can you speak a little about how working under such a reputable chef has impacted your career and how it impacted the type of chef you’ve become?
AH: I’ve worked with Jody in some way pretty much since I moved to the area, so it’s been about 8 years. Maybe 9 years. I went to Blu, and at the time Jody was a part of the restaurant group that owned the restaurant, and she was the chef. So, everything was pretty much overseen by her, though she did have an executive chef on site running the kitchen, so most of my interaction was with him. But, I really feel like I did experience her initially through him. Jody rubs off on her chefs. She really makes sure that the way she goes about dealing with her staff is replicated by her executive chefs in every restaurant she’s involved with, whether it’s Rialto or here at Trade. She’s very nurturing. She’s not one of those chefs that will yell at you about things. If there is an issue, she helps to figure out what the solution to the problem would be rather than just pointing it out and moving along. So I’ve learned that from her, and from the other chefs I’ve worked with. It’s something I’ve tried hard to replicate here at Trade. I try to be that kind of chef as well. I want to make sure it’s a positive work environment. People learn a lot more instead of being made to feel stupid, or small. It makes them realize how to do things better, and how to figure out what they might be doing wrong and be able to fix it.
FJ: For you as an executive chef, how important do you think it is to be a teacher in the kitchen when dealing with your staff?
AH: I think it’s very important. Some chefs may not have the patience for it. They just tell their staff to do something without really telling them why. For me, I think that when you are in a high-end kitchen, and you expect to get high-end results you need to explain why things need to be done a certain way. It just makes sense to me that if one of my cooks is going to be able to do something well, they’ll need to understand why they’re doing it. And, if they know why they’re doing it, they might be able to think of ways that they can do it better. So, that’s very important to me.
FJ: My final question is a pretty straightforward one, or at least I think it is. It may not be an easy one for someone in the industry. What’s your favorite food memory?
AH: I actually have two. I remember when I was 9 years old. We were in Germany at the time. My parents would take my sister and me on little weekend adventures to different countries, like to Italy or to England. Sometimes we’d just get in the car and drive. One time I remember us going to an Italian city on the Adriatic Sea, and my parents gave me fried calamari to try. I had no clue what it was, and they wouldn’t tell me, but I thought it was amazing. Once they told me what it was, I kind of freaked out a little bit at first, but it really sparked in me that interest to try different things. The other memory for me has to do with my mom. She comes from a big Italian family. So, I remember when I was very little visiting my grandmother and eating all the dishes she would make, like lasagnas and what not. My mom, though, had a dish she used to make all the time, which was cioppino. She makes it every Christmas, so to this day that’s something we always do at Christmas time. It’s one of my favorite dishes, one that I will always love. It reminds me of home.
Andrew Hebert is the Executive Chef of Trade Restaurant. Trade is located at 540 Atlantic Avenue in Boston.