Chef Kevin Maxey on
Patrick Langlinais

Kevin Maxey
W Hotel 2440 Victory Park Lane,
Dallas, TX 75219
(214) 397-4111

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Antoinette Bruno: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Kevin Maxey: I grew up in Arlington, TX with a family who always appreciated good food and ate together a lot. Restaurants fascinated me and I was always watching cooking shows on PBS. I guess I was always interested in food. Two months after I graduated Texas Christian University in 1994, I moved to California and became a butcher’s apprentice.

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Chef Kevin Maxey
Craft | Dallas

Kevin Maxey, a native east Texan, grew up in a family in which good food was the focal point of every gathering, sparking an interest in the culinary arts at an early age. Further inspired by cooking shows on PBS or family outings to Peking Garden down the road, Maxey was drawn to the notion of working behind the swinging doors of a professional kitchen.

In 1994, Maxey graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in marketing knowing that, actually, the only thing he wanted to do was cook. Two months after graduating, he moved to California in hopes of learning the culinary ropes first-hand. He took his first cooking job as a butcher’s apprentice, and though this less-than-glamorous position was not what the neophyte had in mind, Maxey committed himself to working up the ranks to becoming a chef. A year later he was back in Texas working at The Riviera under Chef David Holben where he learned the foundations of French culinary technique. Two years later he embarked on a self-directed apprenticeship that took him to Seattle, Aspen, and then New York.

It was Chef Thierry Reautureau at Rover’s in Seattle who suggested he go work for Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern in New York. By then Maxey had been cooking for four years and felt ready for the challenge of cooking in Manhattan. Over the next four and a half years he developed his skills among the best aspiring chefs in the country and learned that a cook must look, listen, smell and be aware of everything going on in the kitchen. Maxey adopted a simple culinary philosophy of letting ingredients speak for themselves with proper technique and seasoning.

Maxey took a break from New York in 2003 ending up in Louisville where he worked for local chefs, including a stint at an artisanal bakery where a passion for the best ingredients and a strict adherence to precision reflected his own approach to cooking. In 2005, Colicchio called and asked if he was ready to rejoin the Craft family and head up the Craft Dallas project. Maxey jumped at the chance to not only work for Colicchio again but also to be back in Texas with his family.

At Craft, Maxey's menu reflects his philosophy as a chef: perfect ingredients perfectly cooked. Never has a sparse plate of barely-dressed pasta felt as sensual as Maxey's Kabocha squash-filled tortellini with chestnut honey, sage and parmesan. His understated presentations and flavors find their way into simple, unpretentious roulades, risottos, and galantines that never crowd the palate, or the plate, with too many fussy flavors. His crab risotto, rich with layers of lemony sorrel and lemon confit, creates the illusion of being absolutely effortless while exploring how a minimum of flavors can play off each other and stand alone all in the same dish (and sometimes even the same mouthful). With mentors like John Schaefer, Damon Wise, and Akhtar Nawab, it’s no wonder.

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Interview Cont'd
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
KM: I moved back to Texas and got a job at The Riviera under Chef David Holben where I learned the foundations of French culinary technique. Thierry Reautureau suggested I go work for Tom Colicchio. After almost five years, I left New York for Louisville, KY and worked at an artisanal bakery for a year. In 2005 Tom called about setting up Craft in Dallas, and I got in on the ground floor.

AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
KM: I don’t think it’s necessary, but I don’t prefer a degree or discriminate against those who don’t have one. I went to TCU for marketing so I can’t say it’s necessary. I think it helps tp be able to develop kitchen vocabulary and good knife technique. You just need to be able to keep up in a kitchen. I suggest a self-directed apprenticeship.

AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
KM: Tom Collichio is really my biggest mentor, and I met him through Thierry Reautureau so he is one as well. John Schafer, the chef de cuisine at Gramercy Tavern influenced me a lot, as did Damon Wise, the chef de cuisine at Craft in New York.

AB: In which kitchens have you staged? Which experiences were the most influential?
KM: I staged at Le Bernardin for three weeks and with Jan Louis at Palladin for three weeks.

AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
KM: I ask them to define the word “sauté.” I’m looking for them to tell me the French definition. I also ask how they braise short ribs. There is no wrong answer to that one. I want to know if they have been trained in a professional kictchen, and I like to know about their vocabulary and process. 95% of it is gut feeling. I watch them doing service one night, ask questions, and figure out if we can get along.

AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
KM: You have to be realistic and realize that it takes a number of years to become a chef. Culinary students often take on too much too soon. You need four to six years of good hard work before you become a sous chef, and each position you take on prior to that should pose a different challenge. You have to have at least ten years of experience before you can start teaching others.

AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
KM: Chris Ward at Mercury Grill and Stephan Pyles.

AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
KM: Parsnips because they add an unexpected sweetness and richness to dishes, and they have a good starch content. I roast or puree them. Pureed, their texture is like velvet.

AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
KM: I like citrus and poultry or citrus and game together, like blood orange and guinea hen or tangerine and rabbit.

AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
KM: The Gray Kunz sauce spoon is perfect for saucing plates. Meat forks are pretty important as well.

AB: What's your advice for aspiring chefs?
KM: I teach line cooks about food cost, controlling cost, and the scope of job changes. I also go over protein invoices with all meat cooks with a calculator because I think it’s important for everyone in the kitchen to be part of the entire process.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
KM: Molto Mario by Mario Batali because he has an uncanny knack for giving people what they want. He knows how to create the whole package while still keeping it simple and not going over the top. Julia Child’s book are great for classic dishes.

AB: Where would you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
KM: I like to go to Vietnam because everything here is so Americanized that its hard to figure out what is authentic. Also, they've hardly toned down their French influences.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants-off the beaten path-in your city? What is your favorite dish there? What are your favorite after hour places and bars?
KM: Cuchitos for Mexican; I love their chicken mole enchiladas. I like Kuby’s for sausage and beer - they start serving beer at noon on Sundays.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
KM: Steak houses are huge. Tom Collichio’s Craft concept of everything being a la carte is really popping up all over the place. And chefs seem more concerned than ever with using local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible.

AB: Which person in history would you most like to have dinner with?
KM: I’d like to eat with my ancestors, or my grandparents on my mom’s side in East Texas.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
KM: I think it’s important to source the best, most unadulterated ingredients based on freshness and pureness. We use locally grown ingredients as much as possible while still combing the globe to find the best of everything.

AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
KM: I think I would like to be a finish carpenter. Sometimes I think I missed my calling as a brain surgeon because of my ability to function under pressure.

AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
KM: In five years I hope to have struck a good balance between professional and family life because right now I'm working 50 to 60 hour weeks with a 12 week old kid at home and it's pretty tough. I would like to be the chef of two or three restaurants in Austin.

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   Published: April 2007