With Krystian von Speidel
11:59 AM EDT, October 26, 2011
occupation: executive chef
found at: Barcelona Restaurant & Wine Bar (West Hartford)
What was your earliest ambition?
I wanted to be a “Sportscenter” anchor when I was younger and going off to college, but that fizzled out once I found my calling to be a chef
College or straight into work?
Went to Syracuse for a year before deciding to leave and come home to work at Max-a-Mia at 18, then at Bricco before inevitably deciding to go to Johnson & Wales University when I was 20.
What got you interested in cooking?
My stepfather David used to cook every Sunday at home. I would sit at our bartop watching him cook and we would bond, watch football and cook together. He made it look like fun. We would watch Julia and Jaque Pepin together as well, and eventually Emeril when he started out.
After starting at Bricco's, then working in New York, then Providence, what is it like to be back in West Hartford?
It's an amazing feeling to be home. I always knew coming home was the end goal, but I didn’t know in what context. Barcelona found me and offered the Greenwich location to me at the time when I was in NYC, I declined and said, “If West Hartford ever opens up, let me know.” Two weeks later I received a phone call and the rest is history. It's very surreal to be living a dream and reaching all my goals I set out 12 years ago when I started this journey. Although I said I wanted to have my own place, I'm very excited to be a chef-partner in Barcelona as well as our newest project, Bartaco, opening in Spring of 2012 on Farmington Avenue, as well as big renovations to Barcelona.
Who is your mentor?
I have many, all the chefs who kicked my ass, made me cry, made me laugh, made me know what real hard work was all about. Billy Grant was my first chef who inspired me, and although I only worked for him for eight months before going to culinary school, he epitomized to me what a chef should look like, talk like, and work like. He is one of the hardest working chefs I’ve ever known and deserves all his success. He continues to help me grow by assisting me in getting involved with local charities and events, which further proves why he has been so instrumental in my life.
What's your food philosophy and how has it evolved?
I believe in buying the best ingredients, treating them with respect and care, and appreciating the true craft of how to prepare those items. Overall I care more about hospitality and the guest experience than I do about food philosophy. I'm what I call a comfort-food chef. I create dishes that are meant to evoke emotion or remembrance, I get off on seeing a guest truly happy and inspired by something they just ate. It's all about creating relationships with people and letting them know that when they come to my restaurant it's an extension of my home, and they are a guest in my home and should relax and enjoy the experience. My ego has deteriorated over the years and I’ve been able to see the big picture and try my hardest to deliver consistency. Although the menu is printed daily, I look to create more consistent dishes rather than being creative just for the sake of being creative, but that came with age and maturity as a chef. Bricco is the best example of that for me, sustaining excellence all these years with minimal changes to the menu
How does the Hartford customer differ from other cities?
I don’t think it differs at all, most people in the Hartford area have been to New York City for dinner or Boston, so they know what's up. I would say that Hartford is looking for something fresh and exciting, and we have reinvented Barcelona over the years to accommodate that. The days of fine dining to me are over and more for the occasion. I love cooking approachable comfort food. What I do find is maybe less adventurous eaters from an ingredient stand point, but it's my job to make food less intimidating and educate my staff and the guests. I have a rule: if you try something and you don’t like it, we take it off the bill. So, there is no risk for a guest to try frogs legs, foie gras, pork belly, sepia, sweetbreads, quail, rabbit, octopus, and the list goes on and on. In fact, I prefer someone try something for shock value and go tell all their friends, “I tried frogs legs last night at Barcelona, and holy shit they were amazing.” I've definitely changed a lot of people's minds about food over the last three years.
Oddest request made of a kitchen in which you've worked?
Not really that many odd requests, but sometimes people say they’ve had a dish at my restaurant that I know I’ve never made, so it's hard to recreate something I’ve never made. I end up usually going to talk to the guest and I’ll try and do whatever I can for them.
What's your food weakness?
Ice cream, I love it!
What's your recipe for curing the blues?
A chill day at home with my girlfriend and dog, Snoop. They are everything to me, so I really just love spending time with them. We have Tuesdays off together and always plan a fun day of picking apples at Lyman Orchards, beach in the summer, or day trips to Boston, or out to dinner. Otherwise, why be down, life is good!
My new 3-D 55-inch TV, which I had to get for football this year. It's worth every penny.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he say?
I'd probably fire my 20-year-old self. Funny thing is, most people probably at one time in my life gave me advice on how to handle life, but do we listen? It's fun to look back and wish you knew the answers then, but then what fun would that be? I’ve made mistakes, worked a lot of different jobs, but the journey to get here, where I am today, is 100 percent worth it and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. One thing I would have said is, “You don’t know everything, so shut up, listen, and be more patient.” Patience is key to a young aspiring chef and I didn’t have it at times when I should have.
My girlfriend Anna and I take a private jet to Barcelona, Spain and eat tapas overlooking the ocean, enjoying some cava and sherry to finish it off. Followed by a couple's massage at the hotel spa and dessert.
Personal mottos to live by?
“What gets measured, gets done” and “Perception is reality.” They have both helped me grow considerably as a person and as a chef.
When you're not working, what are you up to?
Playing with my dog and spending time with [my girlfriend] Anna, day trips to Mohegan for some poker, making playlists with my library of 15,000 songs on iTunes, at the JCC working out five days a week, reading cookbooks or my new favorite book, Decoded by Jay-Z. He's my favorite artist.
What will you be wearing for Halloween?
I’ll be working, so chef pants and a chef coat, but I might have to rock a wig or something to help boost the attire.
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