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Interview with Best New Chef Stewart Woodman

Career turning point. Seeing an article about himself as new kid on the scene in a Vancouver newspaper when he was working at a local restaurant. "I realized I had so much to learn before I should really be seeing my name in the newspaper. By the way, they misspelled my name."

Best gesture by a star chef. "When I told chef Gray Kunz that I wanted to learn how to cook fish, he called Eric Ripert and got me into Le Bernardin. Aside from my parents, that's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me."

How he got into the restaurant business. "Watching Sesame Street—seeing Grover as a waiter got me interested in cooking. That inspired me to set up a little restaurant in my house. My brothers found that to be hilarious. So I went into the kitchen, so I couldn't see when people ridiculed me. I would play restaurant as a kid. My brothers just couldn't understand it."

Most memorable cooking experience. Cooking at Union Square Cafe during NYC's historic January 1996 winter blizzard. "Most of the staff couldn't even make it in. We thought, this will be a fun day, maybe we'll do 20 covers tonight. Then [owner] Danny Meyer went on the radio and said 'we're open, come on in.' We did 300 covers that night."

Biggest influences. Gray Kunz and Eric Ripert.

Favorite childhood dish. Steak and kidney pie. "My mom had some of those dishes so nailed. Every year she'd make me steak and kidney pie for my birthday. Years later it morphed into crab-stuffed cucumber with butter and soy sauce. Not your standard birthday stuff."

Childhood specialty. "I went through a phase where I'd work on one cookie recipe per month. I'd perfect oatmeal cookies, then move on to peanut butter."

Favorite kitchen tool. "Sous vide—but I don't want to get in trouble with the sous vide police."

Fantasy splurge. "When I was a kid we took a family trip to Nova Scotia and ate fish right out of the sea cooked on a barbecue. I'd like to do that somewhere else in the world."

Most memorable meal. "When I was working for Eric Ripert, we had lunch at Campton Place in San Francisco with Jean-Georges. Laurent Manrique cooked for us and it was outstanding. But mostly it was amazing to sit there and listen to Jean-Georges and Eric gossip about the industry."

Chef hero. Frédy Girardet. "When I was growing up, thinking about cooking as a career, he was my idol."

Piece of equipment that he's in love with. "At Lespinasse, we had high-pressure hoses to clean things down. They're the best thing in the world—they clean instantaneously. But I'm on the second story of an old building, so maybe that's not such a hot idea."

Advice to future cooks. "Stay places. Commit. I see so many résumés of people who jump around. I wish I could hire them, but I can't."

Published June 2006
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