David Hands, chef de cuisine, Bouchon Beverly Hills, Thomas Keller Restaurant Group

The  Staff Canteen
From a pot washer at 15 to working with one of the most influential chefs in the world we speak to David Hands about his journey since starting with the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group in 2007. Helping chef Keller open Bouchon in Beverly Hills in 2009, where within six months he was promoted to executive sous chef, David describes how working within the group is a “very ambitious and competitive environment” but he is truly blessed to be a part of it.GranPlateau_29229 So what’s your background…did you always want to be a chef and what got you into cooking? For as long as I can remember I have wanted to cook. It is a passion and something I take great pleasure in doing. I was always excited to have my mother’s food and growing up I saw people smile when they ate her food. I learned that you could get instant gratification and feel good when you made something and someone enjoyed it. This became my obsession. What was your first position? My first position and introduction into the professional world of cooking was at the age of 15, I started as a pot washer in a local gastro pub. It was the most excited environment I had ever been in. I loved the intense atmosphere, the heat, the noise and the comradery among the team. Who or where would you say taught you the most when you were starting out in your career? My first mentor, Harshad Chavda, helped me understand that food is all about flavour. Chef Michael Caines really drove this home for me while I worked at Gidleigh Park. He taught me the importance of never taking a short cut and always, above anything, making sure the food tasted how it should. Croque Madame - Grilled ham and cheese sandwich with fried egg and sauce MornayHaving joined the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group at Per Se in 2007 did you relocate for this role or where you already in America? I managed to get a stage at Per Se while Gidleigh Park was closed for renovation. So I saved as much money as possible in England, flew out to New York and worked for free until my money ran out. I was very fortunate and excited to have Chef Benno offer me a job after a month of staging. I returned to England got my visa and moved my life to America. What made you want to leave the UK? I wanted to further my career, and in my mind there was no better place than one of Chef Keller’s Restaurants With Thomas Keller being so iconic do you think this meant there was extra pressure at Per Se, working in somewhere so well-known? We put the pressure on ourselves; it is a very ambitious and competitive environment in one of Chef Keller’s kitchens. The best cook’s always apply for a position in any well renowned restaurant, so for me it was exciting to work alongside some of the best cooks in the profession.
Dream restaurant This is under wraps. Dream Brigade:
  • Chef Thomas would run the service
  • Chef Benno, would work fish station
  • Chef Michael Caines would work meat station
  • Chef Grant Achatz would work canapé
  • Chef Marco Pierre White would work Entremetier
  • Chef Corey Lee would work Garde Manger
How was the opening of Bouchon Bistro – how do you look back upon that time? It was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to be part of an opening team for Chef Keller. It opened my eyes to the attention to detail that goes into designing chef’s kitchen. Everything is thought about. I am truly blessed to be able to have experienced this. Would you say it was tough going from the already established Per Se to somewhere new – was there high expectations or were you up for the challenge? There were very high expectations, from both the guests and ourselves. We are representing Chef Keller’s name. There was defiantly a lot of pressure, but as a team we thrive in pressure. Our job was and will always be to give a guest a memorable experience. What is your current position? I am chef de cuisine of Bouchon Beverly Hills. Must have also been nice knowing you were being appreciated as it seems you have been promoted yearly since 2009? I am thankful to have an amazing team, without them I cannot do anything. Chef is always very supportive and a huge mentor to have. Roast Chicken_29087What are your daily responsibilities in your role? I oversee all aspects of Bouchon Beverly Hills. How closely do you work with Thomas on creating dishes? I work very closely with Chef, he is always available to talk to. We see each other very regularly and all the chef de cuisine’s, with Chef Thomas, come together every three months to develop new techniques and dishes. Would you say that you fully understand Thomas’ way of working and his ethos? Absolutely, to fully appreciate and understand what it takes to work for Chef Keller you have to fully believe in his ethos. It is a culture, way of life. How many are there on your team and how important do you think a good team around you is? Currently I have a kitchen staff of 67 at Bouchon. There is nothing more important than a good team,BBH Dining Room Wide I am always looking to surround myself with people that are better than me. This is one of the most important lessons chef has taught me; collaboration is the key to success. Would you say you’ve developed as a chef under Thomas Keller? Chef has taught me how to run a restaurant. Before I joined his team I knew how to cook, but nothing about the pressure of running a whole restaurant. He has entrusted Bouchon Beverly Hills to me and I hope I do a good job for him. How about Michael Caines when you were at Gidleigh – how do you view your time there with him? Chef Michael taught me everything about flavour of food. I was fortunate enough to work on every station at Gidleigh Park in the five years I was there. This gave me a huge understanding of how food should be cooked. Steak Frites - 9oz flat iron with shallots and french friesWhat would you say has been your biggest professional challenge or something you are most proud of? For me the step up to becoming a chef. It has been a goal of mine ever since I started in a professional kitchen So talking about the food at Bouchon Bistro…With a focus on French cuisine what is the aim? Is it classic French cooking or is there a modern twist to it? Bouchon has a clean simple menu, what hides beneath the apparently simple dishes is a team dedicated to sourcing the best ingredients, cooking it to the best of our abilities and always striving to better ourselves. We look at every dish to find the best way to cook it: take the roasted chicken, a Bouchon staple and a dish that so many people across the world are familiar with in one way or another. We look at every aspect of that chicken to create the best roasted chicken we can. Our process takes four to five days in order to brine, dry, and roast the chicken, to create the crisp skin and moist meat. Our goal is for our guests to order the chicken, taste it and be flooded with a childhood memory of their favourite chicken. If we do this, then we have succeeded in our job. The website states that you are “challenged with guiding Bouchon Bistro through its continuing evolution” – how would you say it’s changed since opening in 2009? We are always evolving but the core of what we do remains the same, to make people happy. We Macarons_29432 (1)put a lot of emphasis on our products; I remind the team that they are the last stop for the product before our guests enjoy a lot of people’s hard work and dedication. It is up to us not to mess it up, we have a responsibility to every farmer, packer, purveyor, driver, and store manager not to ruin the beautiful product that each and every one of them has cared for and given time towards. All we have to do is cook the food to the best of our abilities and let the natural flavour speak for itself. I feel that the menu and the team are always pushing for that goal. What do you personally like to cook – if you had to choose one ingredient? I have a passion for all food, but the one ingredient I would choose is eggs. They are so simple yet so versatile. Is there a signature dish at Bouchon Bistro? Fines Herb Omelette with forest mushroom, gruyère cheese with mixed greensThe roasted chicken. Do you try and eat out when you can and see what else is around you? I love to eat out, I will never get tired of a dining experience, and after all, that is why I am a cook. What’s the future plan? Do you one day want to open you own place? I will have my own place, but chef has taught me to be patient and wait for the right opportunity.
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th July 2015

David Hands, chef de cuisine, Bouchon Beverly Hills, Thomas Keller Restaurant Group