The hot seat
The chef at HotChocolate has been the savory ying to owner Mindy Segal’s pastry yang for about five years. He spoke to David Tamarkin.
You were completely unknown before HotChocolate.
Yeah, I moved to Chicago to actually go to culinary school. But instead started working on the line and worked my way up.
So you never finished culinary school?
I never even went.
Do you remember your first day as sous chef?
I was freaking out...I always have a lot of good ideas, but being able to put them into fruition is not easy. I remember the first time I tried to change the menu—I had the brilliant idea to do it all at once. So I went in at 8 in the morning and did all the work, and when it came time to put it on the plate, everything looked terrible. I couldn’t put my idea on the plate.
Any chefs in particular help you grow?
In a lot of ways Mindy has taught me how to think about food...on a day-to-day basis we would just talk about food...the philosophy of getting good ingredients and getting them from the source and treating them really simply and well. You see that in the way I cook now. Beyond that, Bill Kim. I mean, we cook totally different kinds of food, but he’s been a really, really good influence for me. He was always available to me to talk about technique or running a kitchen or anything I had questions about.
These past couple years you’ve gotten a significant amount of media attention. What’s that been like?
Anybody who says that they don’t like it is a liar. Ultimately my goal is to have my own place, and the way to do that is garner more attention for myself so I can get somebody to lend me money one day.
So what’s your next step?
HotChocolate has become such a different restaurant in the last couple years. I feel really good about what we’ve done there. [But] I need to keep challenging myself and learning new things. And the place to do that is somewhere new...I gave [Mindy] until the end of the year. One of my guys, Arik Meich, is going to take over, so I’ve been training him... Arik’s great—he was a sous chef in Minneapolis, he just moved here, and I was really actually very lucky to get him. He’s been working on the line, where he was way overqualified.
You think you’re going to go through a withdrawal when you leave?
I think so. It’s already been kind of hard watching Arik start to take over...it’s a little weird for me, but that’s all right. [Before I go] I just want to learn some basic [pastry] techniques—I want to learn how to make some cakes and some ice creams. I think it’d be a waste if I spent five years with Mindy and didn’t learn anything about pastry, you know?