Dan Smith is the executive chef and co-owner of comfort-food restaurants Hearty and HB as well as The Hearty Boys catering company in Chicago with partner Steve McDonagh. “The Hearty Boys” are also the authors of Talk with Your Mouth Full, and as original winners of the “Search for the Next Food Network Star” in 2005, they are the hosts of “Party Line with the Hearty Boys” on the popular TV station. Their recipes and entertaining advice has been featured in such national food publications as Life magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Chicago Magazine, Glamour, Real Simple, Crain’s and others.
FE&S: What are the most important fundamentals of cooking in your opinion?
Dan Smith: Paramount is taste, quality and presentation.
FE&S: How do you come up with new dishes?
Dan Smith: I usually think through them first and then I hit the kitchen with a pad and pen. I make sure to write it down as I go, tweaking as I work through the dish and until the recipe suits me.
FE&S: How often do you change the menus?
Dan Smith: Aside from our standard dishes we completely change the menu seasonally. We also have a rooftop kitchen garden where we grow our own food. We also do some foraging for our ingredients. Every year ramps pop out of the ground behind our house in Michigan and I take our son out into the woods with shovel in hand to dig them up.
FE&S: What’s one piece of cooking equipment you could not live without?
Dan Smith: The food processor — it makes life so much easier. And as far as utensils, a tasting spoon. I also love my stand mixer. I also couldn’t live without a box grater and microplane.
FE&S: What type of research do you do for your restaurant?
Dan Smith: We visit a lot of other restaurants, but also wineries, both local and nationwide. I think it’s a very important part of owning a restaurant. Any time we travel, we network. I’ve learned to never go anywhere without business cards and to always be on the lookout for new and unexpected opportunities.
FE&S: Do you engage in any charity work?
Dan Smith: I’ve worked with troubled gay youth, worked on a rape crisis hotline and most recently taught cooking classes for Common Threads. I’d always like to do more but time is the issue.
FE&S: What are your top three career accomplishments?
Dan Smith: Winning the “Search for the Next Food Network Star,” publishing Talk with Your Mouth Full and earning three stars from the Chicago Tribune for Hearty.
FE&S: What are your future plans? Any expansion in the works?
Dan Smith: I’ve been lucky to have a show on Food Network and to have a published cookbook. We have a couple of television projects in the works and plans for another cookbook. I always have ideas of opening new places, possibly another Hearty location in another city and maybe a new operation in Chicago. We also have our own Bloody Mary mix we continue to sell.
Click here to read part one of the interview with Dan Smith.