Steph Hedrick of Jack's: Chef Chat, part 1
At home in restaurant kitchens since age 15
Chef Steph Hedrick, who runs the kitchen at Jack's in south Minneapolis, started her restaurant career as a dishwasher. She was 15 years old. Four years and a few jobs later, Hedrick went to work at Philip Dorwart's Table of Contents in St. Paul. "I was like a kid on Christmas Day looking at everything," Hedrick says of Table of Contents, where she worked for six years. "I worked with the greatest servers, bartenders, managers, and chefs in the business." Now at Jack's, having overseen its recent transition from coffee shop to coffee shop plus restaurant, Hedrick hopes to foster the sort of camaraderie and confidence she loved at Table of Contents in Jack's staff.
How did you first get interested in cooking? My family was always really into two things: cooking and music. I started playing instruments when I was two. My mom baked liked crazy. My dad was really into cooking breakfast. My dad had his own secret pancake recipe.
When my parents got divorced and remarried, my stepmom was Italian American. Holiday dinners were insane. A big bowl of fennel in the middle of the table, baked artichokes, baked mostaccioli, six different kinds of salads, all the Italian delicate desserts and things. It was amazing.
There were lots of really fun food memories that were attached to that time. All the men would sit at a table, and they were totally into how I would just eat anything. They would make raw oysters or do different Italian gravies with baby octopi in there. I'd just eat it all because I loved it, and I loved the weirdness of it.
When did you start working in restaurants? My first job was when I was 15. I was a dishwasher. I just fell in love with the whole restaurant experience. I was running water out to servers' tables, scooping ice cream. I started cooking for the cooks when it was their break time. Usually a manager would do that, but I was like, "I want to do it." [...] I was one of those kids who everybody hates because I knew what I wanted to do before I hit college age. I wanted to work in a restaurant.
How did you get the job at Jack's? Out of nowhere I just saw this Craigslist ad and sent my resume in, and it turned out to be for here. It took about nine months for us to pull everything together.
Do you have any team members you would like to spotlight? Adam Beal, the sous chef from the Sample Room. I think his resume was one of the first ones I got. I called him right away. Having worked at the Sample Room, I knew where his mind was, and the space that he had just come from and what it was going to take to get him to understand my vision. We met and we hung out, and it was like we were totally related. Total camaraderie, you know? It fit really into my concept for this place, which is take all the romantic ideas that you have about restaurants and food and family and try to cram as much of that into a restaurant as possible. Our food reflects my background of Table of Contents, the Sample Room, all those things that I really love, where I drew my greatest lessons from. Then take memories from childhood and my family and the cooking that they did.
We were lucky enough to get the former assistant pastry chef from La Belle Vie, Joanna Biessener. She's amazing. I told her I wanted people completely convinced that their grandma or mom is back there all day long.
What kind of restaurant is Jack's? We don't want to do the next cool thing; we don't want to blaze a new trail. We just want to get back to basics. We want people to feel taken care of--full and warm and happy. We use local food, but it's people we have relationships with. We don't just do it because it's local. We do everything from scratch, too. We don't even order in ground beef. We grind it up ourselves. We cure our own bacon. We have a charcuterie master, Jonas Bakken. He stuffs all our sausages and smokes all of our fish.
What has been your proudest moment as a chef? Opening this place has been amazing. Not only did we get this place open, but we acquired a staff that's totally invested in what they're doing. They're happy and they love their jobs. That's the ultimate success, to create a place to work where people love their jobs. It's really great to give other people the opportunity to do a job they love doing.
Our chat with Steph Hedrick continues tomorrow.
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