Which chefs inspired you at the start of your career and who has your respect now?
With where I am now in my career, I have tremendous respect and admiration for the local farmers, ranchers and fishermen. Those that are doing the work and walking the culinary path of research and education. I admire Jamie Oliver, Dan Barber of the 3rd plate and much much more.
I admire the people committed to sustainability and responsible, ethical methods of harvesting their produce and product. It’s important for me to really know where my product is coming from. I am inspired by these people. When I see their faces and they share with me what they’ve grown with so much care, it makes me happy to get to have the fruits of their labor in my kitchen and at my door. I hope to pass on that commitment with healthful, nourishing food to my guests.
What are the best and most difficult parts of your day as a chef?
I most enjoy teaching; whether it’s to my staff in the kitchen, a new guest or a vendor. If I can educate the people I love, it makes me feel really good to share and pass on my knowledge, skill sets or trade with them. From helping them with their everyday cooking, to other skills like bread making and/or educating them on where this food is coming from, how to be a responsible consumer – I enjoy imparting knowledge and teaching something new.
I think it’s disappointing when I find something in my kitchen that was not treated with respect , or handled properly because of lack of care or laziness; it devastates me. Corrective action is my least favorite. Also, when I don’t meet a guest’s expectations, those are difficult days.
What is your most unusual source of inspiration for cooking?
Dare I say…humor? I think it’s fun to be predictably unpredictable. Some people live and die by the “rules” of cooking. I like to be creative, spontaneous even. People might say “you can’t do this, or shouldn’t do that”, but I laugh at that and accept the challenge to push the envelope. It inspires me to do things that have never been done before; that people think can’t be done.
What do you think this year’s food trends are?
Farm to table is, of course, a trendy word; one might even say that it’s over-used. But I believe that people are pushing for it to be true and asking more from our restaurants in this way. I truly hope it isn’t just a “trend”, but instead, a step, an evolution of growth for our restaurants; We need them to set a better standard for sourcing and serving quality product, with ethical, sustainable consumption in mind.
What does it actually mean for a restaurant to be farm-to-table? It’s an important question to ask when you visit your favorite eatery.
Other trends might include pickling and preserving; did you know good probiotics come from that? I think it’s coming back around. You’re seeing it more and more with our local chefs. The Fermentation Festival was a sold-out event. Fast casual but with healthy food is another trend I see here in San Diego.
Not only are you the executive chef at one successful restaurant, you head the kitchen right next door as well! Tell us how that came to be and what it’s like manning two kitchens.
I came in after the restaurants were pretty much established and marketed, but I helped clarify the vision that was set. I’m not native to San Diego. Trish, our owner and resident farmer, educated me a lot on the community and the agriculture here. The credit for the success of our restaurant is due to our team’s great collaboration.
Together we have raised the bar on sustainability and really taken our approach on ethical farming to another level. As you can probably tell, we are very involved in the slow food movement; I help the owner with her farming and gardening- most of the produce we use in the restaurants. I’m proud to be part of this team; we take a stand for what we do and believe in.
What is your claim to fame?
I think I am known in the chef community as the “sassy/sweet-rocker-chick-chef” with lots of different talents; cheese making, bread making, baking, pastries/desserts – you name it, I love to do it all. If you haven’t had my bacon jam yet, that might just be my claim to fame.
What is your leadership philosophy?
I would never give you a task, if it wasn’t something I couldn’t do myself. I tell my staff, if you aren’t happy – you shouldn’t be doing it; If you don’t love it, don’t touch it. Love and acceptance is the only thing this planet wants and needs to flourish and grow.
Is there anything you refuse to eat or anything you only eat if you cook it yourself?
Well, I happen to be a vegetarian – though I do taste everything I cook. I refuse to eat fast food and processed food. F**k no.
If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Peanut butter and donuts. Maple donuts. Od fashioned donuts. Wait- my vegan nachos are insanely good. Breakfast/pancakes. I love eggs, toast and coffee with a big slab of butter. Chocolate. I can’t choose just one?! I could go on forever…
If you could change one thing about the food industry, what would it be?
I would change the education and teaching of ethical consumerism and sustainability in schools. People’s buying habits and consumerism won’t change until they are educated.
What is on your kitchen tool / machinery wish list?
No, need for fancy tools, I have everything I need. I make resourceful use of what I have.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself at the beginning of your career?
Have patience and be willing to make mistakes.Travel more. Never say ‘no’ to an opportunity, just say ‘yes’ and try everything. When you get older, your flexibility kind of goes away.
What is your culinary career “best case scenario”?
Everyone buys local and supports local farmers, fishermen and ranchers.
Name one chef we should be on the lookout for in the future.
There are so many I admire. This one is tough. Chris Kobayashi – chef/ owner of Artisan in Paso Robles and Alex Martin of Crush Catering in Paso Robles.
How did you find Chef’s Roll and what urged you to join? Frans van der Lee (President and co-founder of Chef’s Roll) lives in Mission Hills near our restaurants and he often comes in to support us.
What’s next for you?
To keep my sanity! So much is ahead of us as far as education. I hope to keep learning from my colleagues, vendors, guests and friends. The sky is the limit; the future is open and there is a lot to be done.
Learn more about Executive Chef Karrie Hills on her Chef’s Roll profile HERE.
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