Renowned New York-based Chef Jesse Schenker talks to Haute Living about his love for cooking, his new Manhattan restaurant, The Gander and his rise to success as one of the most influential food gurus of our time.
How did you find your love for cooking?
It’s in my blood. I knew I wanted to be a chef since I was about 4 or 5 years old. My earliest memories of cooking with my Nana Mae are some of my best memories. By 9 year old, I was asking for food processors and nice pots, and collecting menus that my parents would bring home from their meals out. From an early age, I just knew I loved to cook and that it was something I would be great at. I don’t know if I found it or if it found me.
What was the first dish you made that made you proud?
I felt proud of many dishes in my early life that I have made but the salt cod fritters with Lamb Ragu and curry aioli make me feel the proudest. This dish pretty much wraps up how I like to cook and eat in one pot.
Favorite dish/ingredient of the moment?
I love cilantro right now.
What are the most fun and challenging aspects of your career?
The cooking is actually the least challenging part. I’d say human resources is always a challenge. Keeping people motivated and excited, sourcing and retaining great talent. Making sure both the front and back of the house are inspired about the cuisine and the restaurants. The fun parts are always being able to feed my creative side, coming up with new ideas and new dishes; for example, I’m doing a re-launch of the Bar Room at The Gander. It’s cool to be able to reinvent and come up with new ideas.
What is your pet peeve in the kitchen?
Cleanliness. There’s just no excuse to be messy in the kitchen.
How does it feel to be one of the most influential “30 Under 30” Chefs of our time?
It was a pretty big honor. I try not to focus on age very much. The goal, really, is to have a long career that endures time. Those are the careers of chefs that I admire.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from working with Chef Gordon Ramsay?
Honoring all ingredients. He really is the quintessential example of that.
Tell us about how you came to open The Gander and why it is a must?
The idea behind The Gander (named after my son Eddie whose nickname is Goose) was born long before it actually opened. After opening a 35-seat spot in the West Village and dealing with a lot of space constraints (ie, can’t take large parties, no private dining room, no prep space to serve lunch as well as dinner), I really wanted to open a business that catered to all the things I couldn’t capture at Recette. Private Dining & catering, a large bar room, a cushier dining room, a large wine cellar, and still serving delicious can’t-forget-about-it food. I think it’s a must because it’s got a great vibe, you can really have whatever type of experience you’d like there: a full on chefs tasting menu with a wine pairing, or snacks and cocktails in the Bar Room at The Gander. There’s something for everyone.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Bacon cheeseburgers late at night.
What is it like being a chef in NYC? Do you like the food culture here?
Being a chef in NYC is really it… where else would I want to be? It’s the pulse of the culinary world. It’s fast-paced, and restaurants open and close constantly, and there’s a lot of pressure to always be doing something new and exciting, you know, pressure to stay relevant. If you think about that, it can really be distracting. So, I try to keep my nose to the grindstone and keep working.
Visit The Gander and try Chef Schenker’s haute creations.