Economic downturns have a way of making people reinvent themselves and bringing about exciting new endeavors. Here in South Jersey, Chef David Heydt wants to bring his talents from 30 years in the business to you – not in a restaurant setting, but right to your home. This new venture, called L’Ecole de “No Excuses”, brings the delicious fun of a chef demonstration to your own kitchen. And – you’re not even on the hook to clean up afterwards! We asked Chef David about his new endeavor as well as his many years of culinary experience in the restaurant industry.
J&L: What is the meaning behind calling your business L’Ecole de “?
Chef David: I have been kicking this idea around in my head for a good while. I have taught single classes in a school and in a store and after each one someone would come up to me and say something like “If I got a group of friends together at my house, could you do a class like this there?” I never followed through. But now I am retired, (I have had 8 surgeries on my left ankle and cannot put in the long hard hours anymore) and decided the time is now right, what with all the hype about the movie “Julie and Julia”. So I started working on the website and putting together ideas, but couldn’t think of a name until Dotti, my significant other, and I went to see the movie. During the scene at “L’Ecole Trois Gourmands” when Julia turned over the tarte tatin and had to fix the top she said something like, “there are no excuses in cooking”. Anyway, I poked Dotti and said, “That’s the name”. I have always believed that there are no excuses, you just cook and make it the best you can. My experience has been that I usually get it right and my belief is that with a little help anyone can.
J&L: What differentiates your business from a or a catering service?
Chef David: The differences between my business and either a personal chef or a catering chef are quite simple. My first goal in every event is always to teach. I don’t mean teach in a didactic manner but as a friend to a friend, passing along the tricks and hints that can help anyone to be a better cook. In other words, it’s not just cooking and/or serving the meal it’s learning how to choose the best ingredients, how to combine them into a flavor profile, and how to match food and wine to the best advantage of both.
J&L: Can you tell us about some of the places you worked in over your career in the restaurant industry? Who were some of the people that helped you the most along the way in your career?
Chef David: My career started about 30 years ago when I met a chef named Nick Petruse, who gave me my start in this business, became a great friend and early mentor.
I should preface the rest of this answer with some of my history to that point. I was raised by my mother, and my beautiful Italian Grandmother. She could cook better than anyone I have met since. I would hang in the kitchen with her everyday and just watch and help and learn. I became a decent home cook and all my friends said I should become a chef. So there I was and along came “THE PHILADELPHIA RESTAURANT RENNAISSANCE”. Suddenly, food in the city began to be exciting and I felt an itch to be part of it. Then I met Nick, who taught me 2 very important things, one, that I did not know how to cook and, two how to cook. After a few years with Nick I struck out on my own. I got a job at The William Penn Inn in Gwynedd, PA where I worked for a man who will always be affectionately known to me as “the old German Bastard”, Gearhart Koenecke. The chef who taught me how to work in a kitchen. He was there every morning when the staff arrived. He was there every night when we left and his jacket was just as dirty as ours at the end of the day.
I again moved on and was eventually hired to be the executive chef at The Pear and the Partridge Restaurant in Doylestown, PA. When I arrived to start there was a French chef named Pascal Sauton in the kitchen and the owner explained that after hiring me he had the opportunity to get Pascal and couldn’t pass it up. He told me I would be welcome as sous chef or he would understand if I decided to leave. I made the right choice, I stayed and Pascal taught me the essence of French cooking. He knew it very, very well. The great gift Pascal taught me was how to make my food sexy and beautiful and elegant.
J&L: Describe how a home demonstration would look.
Chef David: The basic recipe for one of my events is as follows:
Before the event:
We meet at your home and discuss the menu, the size of the event, and the degree of formality you would prefer. I also get a chance to look at your kitchen and plan how to give those who wish, a hands on lesson.
During the event:
Everyone gets a copy of the recipes for the evenings meal, along with spec sheets for any wines that will be served. I also give everyone a cooks apron so that, if they wish to participate in the lesson, they can do so without worrying about damaging their clothes. Then I begin the lesson and at the conclusion…
The meal is served. While you and your guests are enjoying dinner, I clean up the kitchen.
J&L: Talk to us about the importance of using local ingredients.
Chef David: The importance of local and sustainable and, ideally, organic ingredients cannot be overstressed!! We share the earth with every species and we all deserve to live a chemical and disease-free existence. I have always believed that the best food is the simplest, the freshest, the least altered, and my proof is the value of the peasant diets of France, Spain, Italy and Greece; simple foods, simply prepared, yet delicious and healthful. For any readers who don’t get this I recommend that they read Michael Pollan’s books.
J&L: What’s the one ingredient you wish that all home cooks would know how to use?
Chef David: I would love to have everyone go out and buy a free-range, organic chicken and cook it any way they like, and then tell me that it isn’t superior in every way to any other chicken they have ever eaten.
J&L: What local restaurant do you really enjoy?
Chef David: Undoubtedly my favorite local restaurant is in Philadelphia. It is called “Southwark Bistro” and is located on the corner of 4th and Bainbridge Streets. Kip and Sheri Wade, whom I have known and loved for years, own it. Sheri is the genius that runs the kitchen and Kip is the genius that runs the bar. The food is local, sustainable, organic, fresh and wonderfully creative, not to mention delicious. I also believe that the bar is the best adult bar in the city no matter how old the clientele is.
J&L: Culinarily-speaking, where do you see right now?
Chef David: I actually think that South Jersey is ready to expand tremendously. The restaurant scene that has developed in Collingswood is just wonderful and will, I think, help other areas to grow in a like manner. Farm stands, such as Testa’s in Marlton, or grocery stores like Wegman’s and Trader Joe’s, that feature fresh, local, sustainable, and organic products make South Jersey the Mecca of great, healthy dining.
J&L: On your website, you talk about and as major influences in becoming a chef. What other chefs have inspired you?
Chef David: Graham Kerr (a.k.a. “The Galloping Gourmet”) was the first person I had ever seen (in person or on TV) who talked about food with such gusto and verve, not to mention with a great and abiding love for the subject. Julia Child, both in her books and on TV, was a joy to discover. I have followed her ever since. Other than the chefs I worked with and learned from, the other great influence on my career was Jacques Pepin, who I actually met while I worked with Pascal at The Pear and the Partridge. His books La Methode, and La Technique were essential to me while I was honing my skills and learning my trade.
I am also grateful for the writings of Michael Pollan and Harold McGee.
J&L: What would be your last meal?
Chef David: My ideal last meal would be something that I didn’t have to cook!! As much as I love what I do, sometimes I just appreciate not having to do it.
Thanks again to Chef David for taking some time to talk with us. Do you think you’d like to have or attend this kind of chef demonstration? What kind of meal would you envision? Feel free to comment and let us know.