Yesterday, Westin Crown Center's Executive Chef Martin Heuser shared his love of hunting and his experiences growing up in the kitchen of his family's restaurant in Bonn, Germany. Tomorrow, he'll talk about the joys of ordering room service. Today, he dives into the ingredients and restaurants he loves around Kansas City.
What are your culinary inspirations? A lot of it is seasonality.
I'm not a big fan of having products available all year long because I
know they travel far. I'm always looking for seasonal ingredients, like
fiddleheads, ramps, asparagus, and spring lamb. Seafood is the same
way. Right now, we're switching from mahi mahi to halibut.
What's your favorite ingredient? There's an artisan sea salt, Maldon Sea Salt. It's from England. It's fluffy and flaky, like a snow flake. I just sprinkle it over the top. We use it in our chocolate mousse. I do a lot with quinoa. It's great for people who are vegetarians or don't eat a lot of meat because it has such a high amount of protein.
What's your best recent food find? Prime steak at Benton's. It's dry-aged for three weeks and it's an eye-opener. It's an over-the-top quality of steak. It's a very expensive, different way of aging because you lose 15 to 20 percent just by drying the meat. But it gives you the best beef flavors. When I moved to North America, I didn't know much about grading, that's what I've learned since coming here.
What's your favorite local ingredient? Amish heirloom tomatoes from north Suffolk County. They're organic but not certified organic. They're harvested at the right time and don't have to travel very far. And then they're just right there on the plate.
Monday [was] the start of turkey season. I love wild turkey. I work all day Saturday, so I can take Monday and try to chase the turkeys. Last season, I shot four deer. The first season, I got nothing. I didn't understand Missouri whitetail. With Canadian whitetail, you look at them, and they look at you. You say, 'OK, I want you,' and that's it. In Missouri, the deer look at you and they run away as fast as they can.
This year, I made salami and for the first time ever I added some pork fat to my bratwurst. It made it nice and juicy without losing the venison flavor. I do burgers and jerky. Every year, I try to make something different.
What's one food you hate? Bugs. I know they eat them in India, but I don't get it. I eat pretty much everything.
What's one food you love? The top sirloin cut. It has the right mixture between tenderness and flavor. It's not overly tender, and the flavor is always there. The price is right, too. If I had 10 tenderloins and 10 sirloins, I would stop after five tenderloins, but I'd eat all 10 sirloins. It's always different and always good. I just sear it hot, put some salt on for flavor and eat it medium rare.
What's never in your kitchen? The fryer. I hate fryers. At Benton's, I got rid of the huge fryers. Now we just have one tiny portable fryer to do chicken fingers for kids. I don't think fried food is good for you. I don't like french fries or fried chicken. It destroys everything for me. Although I see why people like to fry duck or turkey because it adds juiciness to dry meat, but it's not healthy.
What's always in your kitchen? My ceramic knife and my Kitchen-Aid. My first chef's knife lasted 25 years, then somebody from home broke the tip off. It was in the sink, and there was something resting on top of it. But after 25 years, I'm OK with that.
Have you found a place that does proper German cuisine in Kansas City? I do it myself at home. I'd rather go out and try Indian food or someone else's cuisine. I love my Saurbraten. I make it in the wintertime. I do spaetzel and cabbage, as well.
Where do you like to eat out at in Kansas City? I went to Julian and had a great experience there. I had the lobster salad and braised short ribs. It was very, very good and very good value. With my family, I liked to go to Ted's Montana Grill, but they closed them. It was an awesome concept. It had a uniqueness, and it takes guts to serve bison.
If you could steal one recipe in town off any menu, which recipe would it be? I think it would be barbecue something. A champion's rib recipe or secret that goes back many years because I'm the new guy. I'm trying to understand barbecue, but I'm not there yet.
The Westin just teamed up with Oklahoma Joe's, and we're doing meeting planner events. We organize barbecue competitions and have three secret ingredients in a market basket. The teams have to compete.
Honestly, I don't digest barbecue very well. It stays in my stomach
forever. But I still go to the American Royal and try world-champion
ribs. I'm amazed at how many flavors there are and how they can make a
dish for so many thousands of people. Barbecue is tough. My favorite are ribs and burnt ends. When I eat it, I enjoy it. Afterward, I'll always regret it.
One book that every chef should read? I have 200 books, so this is tough. I love Thomas Keller's book, The French Laundry Cookbook. I like that it brings out the point that you should really take care of the ingredients. It's about the steps you have to take and how much effort is required.
I had a very good apprentice here. And I told him that he should stay two years with me to learn what I know, but then he should try and learn under the best chefs in the country. I told him it wasn't easy, that it would take a year of sending his resume before someone answers it. Bouchon in California hired him, and he's been there for nearly a year. Now, he has his first stint at the French Laundry coming up.
A chef is only as good as ... that is very complex. Only as good as his ingredients. It's hard to screw up a good ingredient. And it's even harder to make something nice out of a poor ingredient. It's about picking the right ingredients for a dish, saucing it and using your creativity. At the same time, you have to control for costs. Chefing is very complex. One chef that is super-creative might have food costs that are out of whack. Another chef only cares about his food costs, but his dishes are less creative. You need a mix of creativity and cost control.