We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Chef Jason Hua to discuss what inspires him, what it was like to work for Jean Georges and how he incorporates new ingredients into the food at The Dutch.
Tell us a little about how you got into cooking professionally?
I grew up in LA. I left when I was 17 to go to Boston University, where I studied Business and Finance, but I started cooking in the middle, working at restaurants. I actually did finish school, but when I left, I came to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America. I had already worked at good restaurants in Boston, like Clio and Uni, but for the sake of experience, I went to work at Jean Georges as an intern on the amuse bouche station. It was a humbling experience. I learned there is never a job or position beneath me and you can always learn what is happening around you without being on that station.
I spent four years cooking there until reaching the sous chef position and then went on to stage at the Fat Duck in Bray, England. I was Chef de Cuisine at Fiamma under Fabio Trabocchi, then I went to Boqueria before coming to The Dutch. Cooking is my bread and butter. It is my craft, and I intend to practice it until I am physically unable to. I am grateful for all the people who have shared their knowledge with me, and I intend to teach the cooks who work with me the right way to do things.
How would you describe the food at The Dutch?
It’s American Food. We cook what we like to eat and do it the best possible way we can. Our menu can have anything from prime steak to shellfish towers, sandwiches, pies, mexican tripe, fried chicken, curries. We enjoy making dishes around ingredients we are excited about each season and that is also what inspires us.
What inspires you?
Travelling, reading, farmers, the people who work hard in our restaurant daily to achieve a common goal. Museum visits are a great source of relaxation and intellectual exercise. It is always refreshing to see talented craftsmen in other industries committed to being the best at what they do and they inspire me. Getting outside to run or bike is a great way for me to recap my week and look forward to goals I would like to focus on for the restaurant each week. I am always excited to try something new and achieve more at our restaurant. Even though we spend many hours in our restaurant, I always feel like there is not enough time in one lifetime to learn everything I would like to learn. The pursuit of further knowledge and skill in my craft keeps me excited to constantly move forward.
What ingredients are you excited about right now?
My buddy, Evan Strusinski is a is a forager and right now he’s getting lots of matsutake mushrooms from Maine that we’re using in many different dishes. We are also aggressively changing our bread program and working closely with the Baker James Belisle of Lafayette. Emily, our executive sous chef and Patrick, our sous chef found roasted buckwheat that is amazing. I want to put it on everything from grilled fish to yogurt and berries. It is part of our job as chefs to consistently see what new ingredients are available and use it responsibly.
What are your essential tools?
Obviously a sharp knife. I like a Nenox 9.4″ chef’s knife, Michel Bras utility knife, and an 8.2″ Masamoto knife. For equipment, we have a Southern Pride Smoker that we use everyday. We smoke our own bacon, turkey, pastrami salmon. I also love having a plancha and the one we have is the best one I have used in any restaurant. And a cake tester; I’ve been using it to test the doneness of fish for so long i can’t remember how I checked fish before.
In New York, you are known for having quite a knife collection. How did you first get into Japanese Knives?
I was working at Clio, which was my first serious kitchen. Ken Oringer looked at some stuff I cut and he just threw it away. So I got my first Japanese knife, which was an 9.4″ Masamoto chef’s knife. I realized how thin the blade was and the more experienced chefs there showed me how to sharpen it, clean it and how to take care of it. I realized how important that is to doing your job properly.
How has dining changed in New York in the 10 years since you started cooking here?
I think the public is much more knowledgeable now. You can bring in more unusual ingredients and they are more receptive. Dining out is more spontaneous and the dining public know where to find good food because of social media. I am amazed how in tune my non-restaurant friends are with the dining scene here. I worked in and loved 3 Michelin Star restaurants, but it’s not the kind of food most people eat all the time. I am very happy cooking at The Dutch, and it is where I want to continue to grow and evolve as a cook in NYC.
One of the main reasons i love living here is because the food keeps getting better. The ingredients available are better. The available options of what to eat on any given day are endless in NYC.
Do you have any advice for young cooks starting out?
You need to have dreams, even if they constantly change. It is what keeps you motivated in a very unforgiving yet fulfilling profession. If you do the work right, you cannot fail. There is no substitution for first hand experience. You cannot be proficient at trussing a chicken, making pasta, making omelettes or shaping bread just by reading about it on the internet and making it a few times. It requires doing one task hundreds if not thousands of times to really master it. After that, you still need to keep practicing. Treat yourself like a professional athlete. You need to build your hand skills for your craft and keep yourself physically and mentally healthy at all times. Respect your coworkers; you will spend most of your life with them. Read as much as possible. Be humble. Be patient. Have FUN!
Favorite places to eat and drink in New York?
I love Kyo-Ya in the East Village. Especially their pressed sushi. Speedy Romeo in Brooklyn – I always get the St. Louie pizza and they have the best ceasar salad. I always have a craving for Shake Shack for the shack burger and concrete. I like Dominque Ansel bakery for canele and DKA [Kouign Amann]. In Jersey City, where I live, I like to go to Taqueria Downtown and Mitsuwa market. The best cookie ever is chocolate chip walnut from Levain Bakery and the best gelato is Il Laboratorio Gelato. Brooklyn Fare and Blue Hill Stone Barns if it’s fine dining. Pok Pok NY for Thai. Locanda Verde for Italian – Chef Ron Rosselli is great. Pouring Ribbons for amazing cocktails. Dead Rabbit in the Financial District for drinks and The Room – for a huge selection of beer.