9/14/2012 01:00:00 PM

Kerry Heffernan On Top Chef Masters, Restaurant Wish List

It’s strange to watch a chef cooking on television (on mute of course) as you simultaneously chat with him on the phone about the fishing trip he just finished with Tom Colicchio, the cookbook he’s working on and the friendly competition that he feels as a “cheftestant” on the Bravo show Top Chef Masters. But that’s exactly what happened when we caught up with Chef Kerry Heffernan this week. In addition to catching a few bass, the busy New Yorker has a lot on his plate these days — between cooking vegetarian dishes for Sting and working with non-profit City Harvest we’re amazed he has time to breathe.

You worked in the South of France, baking croissants, as one of your first food moves. Where are your favorites these days?

I love what Francois Payard is doing. I am also very excited to see Eric Kayser, I want to see his stuff. I haven’t been but I’m looking forward to trying it.

After, you traveled throughout Europe. What country’s cuisine do you think informs your cooking the most?

There’s no question that France has always been the strongest influence because we grew up with French cooking around the table. Literally, as kids...my parents were very into it. I took a lot from it there and traveling to France when I was 17 on bike had a very big impact on my life. The technique. The way the French always take great care and put importance in the care of the basic ingredients.

Right now, you do a variety of things including consulting for 15 Central Park West, the home of some of the names that make newspaper headlines (Lloyd Blankfein) and front big budget movies (Denzel Washington)...

I designed, consulted and built the restaurant...it is a very unique thing, and a new thing, to have a private restaurant in the building as an amenity. A restaurant that is only for the residents and their guests.
We do offer room service and a lot of the people offer service to their rooms. What’s amazing is how nice and warm and welcoming people are. People like Sandy Weill [the former chairman and chief executive of Citibank] and Jeff Gordon. Jeff Gordon is a huge food and wine guy. You know who he is? He’s a race car driver and I’m really into high performance cars and those types of things.

Are they more comfort food guys or health food fanatics? Is it a challenging environment?

Everyone is just super relaxed and very normal. You wouldn’t know the order of a Denzel Washington from anyone else. Sting is a vegetarian, so there’s that to consider.

We hear that you’re working on a cookbook. Tell us a little about that?

I’m actually doing research today in Sag Harbor. It’s mainly a look at twelve months here. We caught striped bass today. I have growing in my garden some figs, yellow peppers are ripening up...it’s really about what you can harvest and what you can access.

Now, obviously a book like that will write itself in July and August. The interesting thing is to see what’s available November, March...even April. And actually, you see that some of the fish out here is better in the winter.

You are currently on Top Chef Masters. How did you make the decision to join this season’s cast of cheftestants?

When they asked me, I asked some people I know who had done it. Most notable Floyd Cardoz - because he’s a good friend and colleague -  and Jonathan Waxman. Both had great advice about how challenging it would be and how worthwhile it would be and in the end, what a great experience it would be. And all those things were correct.

The competition seems fairly friendly. Do you have a favorite cheftestant?

I knew Patricia [Yeo] and Missy [Robbins] very well from New York and was of course very sad to see Missy not even really get to begin the competition...everyone has really strong restaurant backgrounds and we became pretty good friends right away.

Has being on the show changed your cooking? 

You have this little skill set now. If you have to, you can sort of turn on this Top Chef turbo-charger so you can finish a dish. The problem is that you might do that at home and your loved ones might not be very happy with the way the kitchen looks afterwards because if you finish a dish in eight minutes, you probably didn’t have a lot of time to clean and do things properly. But you can do it!

 Most “foodies” have a restaurant wish list. What restaurants are you hoping to check out soon?

One of the restaurants that I’ve wanted to try out the most I actually tried last night. It’s out here. The Topping Rose House that Tom Colicchio’s doing. That was wonderful. It’s a beautiful vegetable-based menu which is very interesting. I’m curious to try Andy Richter’s food for some reason. Because there’s so much buzz about it?

What’s next for Chef Kerry Heffernan?

I’m talking to some people about doing a food show that would embrace fishing, travel and cooking. I’m hoping to get some traction there. I have two restaurant projects that I’m looking at and there’s another project that involves fish and fishing with a more international bent.


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