From being featured in the South Beach Food & Wine festival, to winning Innovator of the Year from the National Beef Council and United Fresh, to being named Catalyst magazine's Top 20 Under 40 Leaders and 50 Most Influential People in Spokane, WA, Adam Hegsted, restaurant owner and chef, has accomplished much in his relatively short career. He was invited to cook at the James Beard house and Star Chef's in New York - twice - and was also a semi-finalist for the prestigious James Beard Award. Read Hegsted's interview below, to find out what motivates him, where he finds his inspiration for new dishes, and why you need to try the banana pancakes at Yards Bruncheon, one of Hegsted's six restaurants located in Eastern Washington.
Pictured above: Adam Hegsted
I live in the Inland Northwest and grew up in Spokane, Washington. I started as a dishwasher and then moved up the line, eventually learning all positions throughout the restaurant. This was the start of my insatiable appetite - I couldn't get enough. I ended up graduating from Inland Northwest Culinary Academy then went to Seattle. While there, I worked at the Space Needle and earned another degree from the Art Institute of Seattle. I then moved back to Spokane to take what I had learned and put it to use. I worked a couple places in the area (Ankenny’s, Black Rock, Cedars) and learned to be a chef along the way. Now, I wish I had learned more from other chefs before moving on to my own kitchen but I was too eager to test my skills. Hindsight is 20/20....
"I have always been driven to improve on things I am doing and keep pushing forward. I want to make a difference and help be a part of the culture in our area. The Northwest has resources all around us and I would like to let people know we are creating great food here."
- Adam Hegsted
I really started to get noticed while I was at Brix restaurant in downtown Coeur d’ Alene. It was fine dining and a little more of the food I wanted to focus on. It was the first place I got to sharpen my skills and learn my identity. My next move was to the Coeur d’ Alene casino. It is an unusual path, going from working in small restaurants to running several venues. I wanted to make a difference on a larger scale. As a side job, I also created a nomadic dining experience called the Wandering Table. Each month my team traveled around the Northwest creating a unique twelve course dinner. Both have been really great creative outlets for me and have gotten people from the area excited about food. I left the casino to open a brick and mortar Wandering Table as well as Yards Bruncheon. Before I left, I took over Eat Good Café and started Le Catering Co. out of Liberty Lake, WA. Then, in October 2014, I took over as chef/owner of the Cellar Restaurant in Coeur d' Alene.
Describe your vision for each restaurant - Gilded Unicorn, Yards Bruncheon, Wandering Table, Cellar Restaurant, Le Catering Co., and Eat Good Cafe.
- Yards Bruncheon is our version of a modern diner. Classic food made from scratch with high quality ingredients. We source as much as we can locally and work hard to present the food simply, but also with a little bit of our unique spin on it.
- Cellar Restaurant is our classic space. A little more traditional in service as far as appetizers, entrees, and desserts but with our passion for food and hospitality. We feature local producers and products there and showcase the best the Northwest has to offer.
- Le Catering Co. is our catering company. We have the biggest array of menus as far as actual menu and cuisine styles. We can do small private dinners to large corporate events and weddings.
- Eat Good Cafe is our cafeteria in Meadowwood Technology Campus. We feed about 2500 people there and do our style of food in a quick-service style setting. So, food made from seasonal ingredients from scratch. The food there is the most approachable and very high-quality for the style of service.
- Wandering Table is an eclectic mix of foods from all over. It's our mash up of many cultural styles and dishes. It's food we love to eat and it's where we push the creativity envelope a little. Although we want the food to be fun and inspirational, we want our guests to feel comfortable and feel that the food is approachable. It is a combination of things that are authentic to us, but maybe not traditionally authentic.
- Gilded Unicorn in inspired by classic Spokane with a modern twist. We have things there that are very recognizable and in a way, comforting. We want to have fun and make sure the food and drinks reflect that.
Lamb and gnocchi featured at the James Beard Dinner
What is your favorite dish from each restaurant and why?
- Gilded Unicorn is the tater tot casserole. It's a dish I grew up eating and we do it with our magical touch. Braised shortrib, wild mushrooms and cougar cold cheese.
- Wandering Table has to be spaghetti stuffed meatballs. Again, a dish I grew up eating but presented in such a different way. So delicious.
- Yards Bruncheon is probably the banana pancakes or the Cubano. Banana pancakes are bruleed and served with pecan butter and orange syrup. The Cubano is new; slow cooked pork with ham and pickles and a pressed hoagie. Banana pancakes remind me of a trip to Hawaii, and the Cubano, a time in Miami.
- Cellar is definitely the Brussel sprouts. They are only available seasonally but are crispy fried and tossed with maple chile sauce and braised bacon. It's an unusual combination of sweet and savory flavors that meld together so beautifully.
- Eat Good Cafe is the breakfast tacos. I could eat those every day. I love tacos and tacos for breakfast is a great thing!
What types of challenges have you faced along the way and how did you overcome these?
We are lucky to live in the area that we do. The restaurant business is hard. Low margins for error, a possibility for lawsuits are everywhere... Not to mention having to manage the people and all of their personalities. We have overcome these challenges by having great employees, trying to be as transparent as possible, and by addressing problems head on. I couldn't do what I do without my staff. They work so hard and I appreciate every one of them more than they know.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
Where I am at today. I feel very fortunate to be where I am today. I've been through some pretty tough trials in my life and I just keep working...And working at it. Things got better, and now I get to help others grow their careers and passions.
Who or what got you most excited about cooking?
I love learning about very specific ethnic cuisines. For example, Northern Thai or Northern Chinese. Foods that are very traditional and maybe only specific to a very tiny spot in the world.
What is a favorite comfort dish that reminds you of home?
Too many to name. I love classic midwest food. Hamburgers, tater tot casserole, spaghetti and meatballs, fried chicken,etc. I could go on and on.
What is a new ingredient, cooking style or food trend that you are excited about right now?
The same thing - I love to learn to cook very specific ethnic foods from smaller regions.
How do you see the Spokane food-scene growing and/or changing in the next few years? How do you hope to influence this?
This area has changed dramatically in the last 5-7 years. As a community, we are getting recognized on a national level. There are more chef-owned restaurants than before and some really amazing food is being cooked. We want to be at the forefront of the hospitality industry. We want to help train the future and be a part of the scene. We love what we do and hope it's infectious.
Miso Sablefish from Wandering Table
What advice do you have for those looking to start up a new restaurant?
Look long and hard at yourself. You will be tried in every way imaginable and will be very hard. Can you do the hard thing when the time comes? Can you risk everything, lose it, and keep charging on? If not, it's not for you. It's not for everybody. It's more than a passion for food - there has to be more than that. It only gets you so far. What takes you past the moments you are tired and beaten down? If you can find that, and hold on to it, you've got a good chance.
What continues to motivate or inspire you in this industry?
The people. I love the people I work with and for, as well as our employees, vendors and customers. I love being a part of their lives and memories.
Do you have plans to open more restaurants in the future?
I hope to continue to be successful. I am always looking for great opportunities. We like to keep our talented staff busy and happy, and opening restaurants do just that. Plus, I love the adventure.