Steph Hedrick of Jack's: Chef Chat, part 3

"I call the burger the gateway drug of the restaurant," says Steph Hedrick, executive chef of Jack's, a south Minneapolis restaurant and coffee shop. Read on to find out why Hedrick takes such pride in the burger at Jack's and how she hopes to turn the restaurant's kitchen into a chef co-op. (Find the first two parts of our chat with Hedrick here and here.)

What are the qualities you require in kitchen staff? Hard working. No ego. I'd never ask anybody to do anything that I'm not willing to do. And I want the same. Once somebody thinks they know everything, you can't teach them anything. You can't get through to them. Then you lose creativity and everybody gets bored and everybody hates their job.

What is your favorite dish on the menu? Choosing my favorite dish is like trying to pick my favorite song or color or motorcycle. I'm really super proud of our burger. We grind our own meat; we make our own French fries. It's at a price people can afford. We make our own pickles. We make our own salad mix that we put on the plate. It's completely from scratch. It's just really, really great. I call the burger the gateway drug of Jack's. If you have a really awesome burger, you're going to come back and try the short ribs. You're going to come back and eat the pasta. You judge restaurants by the burger dish or the chicken dish. I wanted south Minneapolis to have a really great burger that's not more than $10. Matt's [Bar] was the only place we'd go for a burger, but can't somebody else do it? I take those feelings and put them into Jack's.

If you could put any dish on your menu right now, what would it be? I started doing this special with sautéed beef tips and putting them over a celery root and butter-braised artichoke puree with a béarnaise sauce on top. Seriously, it's just awesome. We're planning on sometime in January adding that to the menu. It takes a lot of care. It's kind of delicate work. It's really, really good, heart -- the kind of thing you want to eat when there's six feet of snow on the ground. [It's] totally influenced by Alice Waters [the founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California]. I'm reading her café book right now.

What is your favorite knife or kitchen tool? I really like KitchenAid pasta rollers or the meat grinder or the sausage stuffer.

Who are your favorite celebrity chefs? Anthony Bourdain. I love Gordon Ramsay. I can see through his Hollywood persona. He has a huge family. If you ever watch any of his British shows, he'll be cooking for his 600 kids or whatever. I think he's got a good idea of what it takes to be a celebrity chef and stay down to earth.

What is your best culinary tip for a home cook? The biggest thing for any home cook is to clean as you work. It takes all the joy out of cooking if you cook a big huge meal and then you have a million dishes to do. If you can't clean as you cook, then find a friend who can clean.

If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? It'd be my grandpa, my mom's dad. He died when I was 14. He was a phenomenal painter and an architect by trade. And he loved to eat. He was always super complimentary and encouraging us kids to be artists. That would be really fun.

What is your favorite thing to do when are not in the kitchen? Aside from family stuff, playing my guitar. And that usually involves the kids, too. I taught Veda [the five-year-old] to play the harmonica, so she rocks out on harmonica.

What would you do for a living if you could not be a chef? I have no idea, [since] I've been doing this since I was 15. Obvious answer, I'd be a rock star. I'd be poor and making records. I'd be in Doomtree.

What are the future plans for the restaurant? We will be adding things to the menu. We wanted to settle into our space first and figure out what business is dictating. We're going to have a grand opening sometime in January. We want to add on catering. I really want to start teaching classes and getting uber-involved with the neighborhood. We want to get a deli together and start getting some house-made items to put in the deli case.

What are your future plans as a chef? I want to establish the kitchen at Jack's to be a chef co-op. I have a lot of cooks that are working here that are just really talented. We're eaching putting in our own two cents. Maybe one of them has a really great recipe for veggie burgers. We can start working on using this place to put their name on something and get it out there in the world. Eventually I hope to hone enough talent so we can look at opening another place. It will be more of a specialized concept, taking little pieces of Jack's that work. This is my dream -- south Minneapolis, good food, good people, high quality. I love it.

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