Although perhaps best known to TV fans as the runner-up on the fourth season of "Top Chef Masters," Executive Chef Kerry Heffernan is also an avid fisherman, restauranteur, budding cookbook author, and dedicated pet-dad to his red miniature Labradoodle Benny. Examiner caught up with Heffernan on April 24 for an exclusive interview, with conversation that touched on his time as a reality star, Benny's favorite brand of pet food and the increasingly popular farm to table movement.
What exactly is the farm to table movement?
Heffernan: The farm to table movement is basically people going back to the way we used to eat. So you're getting closer to your food source, learning more about the farmer or rancher who raised your cattle or your vegetables. I think it's a great movement, it's something that we used to do and sort of got away from with [the rise of] industrial agriculture.
What is a simple farm to table meal you can feed your pet?
Heffernan: The easiest farm to table meal you can feed is to go to Innovapet.com and get some of their pet food, and that's what I do. I've made some dishes that are inspired by those ingredients. I've done a dish of smoked salmon... with a little bit of dill and Meyer lemon. You can certainly cook these things yourself, but I'm sure we're all busy. I personally find it easier to use a variety of [Innova] dog foods. [Benny] loves them, and there are so many different choices that you're not going to run out of options.
What is Benny's favorite meal?
Heffernan: Benny's favorite meal is chicken. Sure, on a Sunday, I'll cook some chicken for him, pour some broth over the top, and that's a wonderful little treat. But he likes it any way he can get it.
What ingredients should we look for --and conversely, avoid-- in pet food?
Heffernan: You want to look at the ingredients list, the same way that you look at them when you're buying food for yourself. The fact that there's protein first, a variety of flax seeds, legumes, carrots, apples, beans, all in different proportions in the various foods [is important].
Switching gears, what's the biggest must-have tool for any budding chef in the kitchen?
Heffernan: [Laughs] The biggest must have tool is a sharp knife. You could hurt yourself with a knife that's not sharp --if you're not careful you can hurt yourself with a sharp knife as well-- but what it does is it slices and cuts through food rather than bruising and battering it.
So, "Top Chef Masters" -- What are the best two or three words to describe the experience of taking part in the competition?
Heffernan: Insane, intense, and just hard. It was insane.
Well, you almost won!
Heffernan: Thank you for watching. Some say watching that last episode that I did win... but unfortunately you weren't there on the judging panel to help. But you can always go on the internet and "vote" that way.
What is the best thing about being a judge on "Top Chef All-Stars"?
Heffernan: Well, judge versus contestant is really uh... you get a trailer, make-up, it's a lot more fun [laughs]. A contestant they just want to watch sweat under the highest degree of pressure they can possibly put on you. You grow a lot, you learn a lot about yourself, but given the choice of the two, I'll take judge again.
Would you compete again if given the opportunity?
Heffernan: Yeah, I would. As challenging as it was, it was a great growth experience, you learn a lot about yourself, you put yourself in those situations where you're going to the limit and being in that slightly uncomfortable cuisine potentially forces you to grow a lot.
Last question. You said something about uncomfortable cuisine. What is one dish that you haven't prepared that would be a challenge for you that you'd like to try?
Heffernan: That's a good question. I guess probably some African food that I've eaten and liked but wouldn't know how to begin making. I'd have to sort of make it up on my own.