Wes Long of Hudson Clearwater
(*This is a repost of an interview conducted several months ago. Chef Wes Long and Hudson Clearwater have since received numerous accolades and awards.)
Facebook: Hudson Clearwater
Website: Hudson Clearwater
- Executive Chef at Hudson Clearwater in Manhattan, NYC
- Critics Pick of NY Magazine 2011
- Chef of the Year Savannah Magazine 2007 (Avida)
- Best overall restaurant Savannah Magazine 2007 (Avida)
- Co-Founder of Atac
Transplanted from the Tarheel State to the “city that never sleeps,” Executive Chef Wes Long is poaching, blanching, braising and julienning the Big Apple one knife cut at a time. Just in his twenties, Long is cranking up the heat in the kitchen and proving to be among the best culinary artist of the future. Chef Long’s work encourages guest to eat with their eyes and then with their mouths. Wes hooked us up with this interview and left us wanting seconds. Check out his cuisine in Gotham City or at http://www.hudsonclearwater.com. In the meantime, marinate on this:
1. It is present day: you are an Executive Chef at “West Village’s best kept secret” as described by Marissa Lippert, author of The Cheater’s Diet and owner of nutrition counseling firm, Nourish. Can you briefly describe your experiences up to this point and how you got here?
I love Marissa she is a great writer, nutritionist, and blogger and was also at the opening party for our restaurant, and funny enough, her best friend is from Hickory NC. That is NYC at its best, you meet one person and the next thing you know you are talking about someone you both know or feeding; Martha Stewart, Kevin Spacey, Drew Barrymore, or Chelsea Clinton. It’s crazy and I’m not trying to name drop and shit it’s just how this city is. If I had to sum up my entire New York experience thus far, it would have to come down to a handful of experiences and they all came with my cooking career.
2. Being from the small town of Hickory, NC, what initially drew you to the culinary arts and at what point did you decide it was worth pursuing as a career?
Ahh that question….I get this a lot because we are an open line (kitchen) where I am literally expediting food in the middle of the upstairs dining room, and constantly answering this and that. My answer is always the same, I got lucky! My first job was at the F.A.G. (Hickory stand up, relax everybody not from Hickory) that’s the Fresh Air Galaxy, a very well known grocery store although no longer there thanks to corporate America buying small towns and turning them to gigantic strip malls. I then went on to bigger and better food establishments… Jersey Mike’s was the first hahaha. I learned how to work a slicer and how to roast beef at low temperatures. This was also where I learned urgency because my boss was a dick and a dude way too old to be rockin’ a Jersey Mike’s snap back and untucked khakis yelling at us for not wrapping sandwiches fast enough. But would also yell like a maniac if they weren’t wrapped perfect. Little did I know this was just the beginning….blah blah blah. Went to culinary school out of almost pure laziness and to at least attempt college and to learn more about something. Found out I was good at it. I like the hours, I like the people, I like being very serious about what I do. So I took a job in Savannah GA as chef de grill at Sapphire Grill under Hickory NC native Andrew Donovan. That’s when it got serious.
3. You have a reputation for having a genuine appreciation for food, flavor, sustainable ingredients, and healthy cuisine….What keeps you motivated and how do you avoid complacency?
I love local, delicious, unmodified food and so should everyone else living in this country. So much grows so close to you that there is no reason to get preserved, processed, crap from concentrate with additives and weird preservatives (Read the ingredients and make a decision. Think about everything you read whether it’s where it’s from, to what it’s made from). Yellow no. 5 from some country half across the world? Find something else. It’s really that simple! Searching for these foods is not only inspiring but very rewarding. It’s very flavorful and very life changing when you eat like this on a daily or more concentrated basis.
4. As a chef, what’s the most gratifying thing about your job? Does a simple “compliments to the chef” indulge your palate? (Quench your thirst?)
Yes, anytime a table tells a server to let us know they like someting or even order a second one is nothing short of great. It’s always good to know people like your food. For me, after nearly 15 years of cooking, the word gratifying has had many meanings. I think in the end owning and operating a popular restaurant is the ultimate gratification and I am halfway there.
5. Some people may think that being a chef is only about being in the kitchen and cooking. Take us out of the frying pan and into the fire of an Executive Chef’s daily responsibilities and tell us what separates a good cook from a great chef.
Everyday starts out a little different: Generally I like to push snooze as much as possible but most days it’s an 8 A.M. call from Pierless Fish letting me know something is kinda screwy with my order 😉 (That’s a below the belt on my crew Gabe and Sean). But in seriousness, I get a very early call about 3-4 days a week from some supplier that “something is not being dropped or out of stock, we will take care of it,” blah blah blah. Wake up, do emails, look at resumes, walk dog, hall ass to train because I wasted too much time at the park or at the bodega bullshitting with the dudes. They are the greatest by the way. Go to work, check the prep lists, see where all the stations are at, talk with my sous chef Josh about specials, shortages, extras, menu development, talk about this and that with whatever owners are on site, prep like crazy to have specials completed and family meal done for the entire staff by 5:15. Have a pre-service meeting about the menu changes or substitutions for the day, specials, what concerns me and what happened last night. Go to the bodega in the West Village and get M & M’s for our pre-service/after dinner snack, drink a seltzer water, set up my expediting station and… fast forward 6 hours and about 200 dinners, nightly talk with my sous chef to get orders and special ideas for the next day, call them in. Go to the bar and order a round or 4 depending on the night, catch train or cab home, play a little FIFA, rinse and repeat. These days I’m working 5-6 days a week but sometimes it’s 7.
6. In your experience, what are the must have tools for a rookie cook’s starter kit?
Dope question: good knife (I prefer a 6 inch Santuko style blade for beginners). By good I mean Japanese steel Misono; a good easy to maintain blade as well as Shun and Suisin. A honing steel with a proper demo on how to use it, mixing bowls, non stick sauté pans (a 6 inch and a 12) , some sort of strainer, cutting board, medium stiff whisk, cookie sheet tray, a small paring knife (3-4 inch straight blade), vegetable peeler, small pair of tongs( 5-6 inches), good linen (good kitchen towels, no oven gloves or ovgloves or something your grandmother made you which I’m sure is very nice but its only going to leave you injured), and a couple basic dish books.
7. We here at YCS love cookouts. Nothing beats a beautiful day, a grill, drinks, and friends all in one spot. Though it might not be your specialty, got any recipes for a well executed cookout?
Being a chef and being known as one means you are never safe from your next “Can you cook for us tonight” challenge. So often I find myself cooking on my day off. It happens so fast now I’m right back at work!! So I have ideas for all sorts of cooking occasions. One of my favorite things in the world on a grill is pork shoulder. First soak pork shoulder in lightly watered down apple juice (not from concentrate!!) for about 4 hours (optional but worth it). Mix in a bowl 1 cup kosher or rough sea salt, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 table spoon cumin, 2 table spoon chili powder, 1 table spoon cayenne, 1 table spoon fine diced fresh thyme, 1 table spoon fresh sage. Remove shoulder from soak and pat extra dry with paper towel, rub shoulder aggressively with mixture, no need to use all the rub because you can save it for later. You just want the shoulder very well coated and almost rubbed rough with the coarseness of the salt. Wrap very well with aluminum foil making sure the seam of the foil is up. Place on low side of your grill with the top closed for no less than 4 hours. Serve on brioche buns with bread and butter pickle. That’s it cuz… maybe buy some homers slaw or somethin’.
9. Finish this sentence: I’ve learned the most from…
On a professional level, EVERYONE! I’ve learned from a lot of people and way too many to answer. It’s important to learn from everyone from everywhere you go. Listen, watch, learn is the only way to continue your knowledge in the cooking industry.
On a personal level my friends and family, they play such a part in my day to day life. I rarely make a move or say a thing without it having some sort of reference on my youth with this crew.
10. Best decision ever made and why?
Just keeping on the grind and not letting up. So many times I have talked to my friends, family and girlfriend about changing careers, but listening to them and pursuing what has gotten me to the this state is by far the best decision I have made.
11. Biggest fear?
I have two of them: On a professional leve,l it’s doing something that could possibly hurt or kill a guest. In NYC you have such a melting pot that there is so much room for error from feeding someone pork or beef whose religion it offends and is a sin and in their belief they are now going to hell, to feeding someone a peanut and them dropping dead in front of all us. On a personal level, it’s never getting my own place and just cooking for the rest of my life like some sort of machine.
12. Best/Worst current trend?
Worst In the food world for me is sous vide (take the time to look it up it’s not worth explaining). Besides, cooking things in luke warm water in a zip loc bag… kinda gross and everyone loves it….
Worst trend in fashion… Man I could go forever but if I have to choose one it’s the Brooklyn mustaches…the worst!
Best trend in foods… tipping the chefs and not the waitress!!
Best trends in fashion…would have to go with snap backs only because I see a bunch of Charlotte Hornet’s hats in the subway, even saw a Bogues jersey on the L train the other day, QC STAND UP!!
13. Daily must read?
Daily I am on the food blogs just to see what’s up… mainly eater and grubstreet, I follow eater.com national and NYC but only generalize on NYC. Once a week obviously the New York Times food review with current critic Sam Sifton.
14. Industry icon?
Right now for me it’s a toss up because I am in a state of finding my real self within this vast industry. There are people like Chef David Schea, Applewood Brooklyn, who I have tremendous respect for because his one restaurant supports his family (two daughters and wife) within a good happy neighborhood in Park Slope Brooklyn and then you have people who own the block and yea, a couple restaurants are on that block. I want to be both and I know that’s possible. If I had to pick one person I would like to strive towards the most in my industry it would have to be Daniel Boulud.
15. When you’re not cooking for others, what do you make for yourself?
My favorite thing to make myself is late night “what’s in the fridge” quesadillas. There is always some sort of cheese and tortilla shell in my refrigerator and usually some random Spanish market vegetables. I eat a lot of raw vegetables at home as well. I love to satisfy my appetite at home by not heating or preparing things in any way. Something raw and something to dip it in, pour a shot of hornitos and chill for an hour before rebooting.
16. If you are what you eat….what are you?
Wow…funny you ask, right now… I’m a fruit. I literally walk into the door at the restaurant, say what’s up to my early prep crew and disappear into the walk in and destroy a couple peaches, apricots, blue berries, strawberries, tomatoes whatever is in there. Right now is such a beautiful time of year, everything is peeking and there is just no better way to start a day than fruit. In the fall I turn into a squash or a potato.
17. What’s your last meal and who’s coming (past or present)?
Last meal is definitely braised short ribs with crispy potato gnocchi, and braised kale. My uncle Del, my mom, dad, brother, grandmother and Aunt Teressa will be there because that’s who is always there. Of course I would like more people there but that’s the short list.
18. And finally…..A famous Chinese proverb states: “Never eat at a restaurant where the chef is thin.” Your thoughts?
I think this makes no sense. Chefs work too hard to be too big. I know this is often genetics so I don’t want to step on toes but a kitchen is made for running backs not offensive linemen. I will leave it at that.