We know we’re not the only ones who eagerly tune into Chef Anne Burrell’s Chef Wanted every Thursday night. A few weeks ago, one chef was particularly memorable. Chef Ben Kacmarcik demonstrated clear talent in the kitchen but had a few run-ins with others on the show. We reached out to him to learn more about how he got started in the kitchen and to get his take on the Chef Wanted Experience.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking? When did you decide you wanted to be a chef? What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
BK: I started cooking when I was young with my Grandma on the weekends. We would make brunch and she would always make this amazing pesto. My mom connected the dots and I made the decision to go to the CIA. I enjoy being a chef as most do in their careers with a strong drive and the possibilities are limitless.
FP: We read that you’re originally from Seattle, WA. How would you compare the culinary style between Seattle and NY? Are their similarities? Any differences?
BK: They are two completely different directions. There is a very homestyle, comfort aspect to the Northwest cooking, not to say it is not elegant but they misinterpret elegant with expensive, whereas, even what is considered cheap food in NY is very elegant because we demand so much in the City. There’s so much competition if you can’t meet the demand what’s stopping the customer from going next door?
FP: We definitely appreciate the variety and quality at various price points in NYC. Name some of your favorite chefs and why.
BK: I have two favorite chefs for different reasons.
Thomas Keller, mainly for his drive for perfection even though it will never be obtained. I’m constantly driving to be better in that respect.
Ralph Scamardella, I was fortunate to work with him and he is an amazing Chef and Businessman. Operationally, he is someone I’d really aspire to be. He makes it look easy (even if it’s not) to control huge venues doing high volume while keeping great quality. He is systematically sound and his food, for lack of better terms, can be enjoyed by just about anyone.
FP: Tell us about your experience on Chef Wanted from casting to filming. What was it like to compete with the other chefs? Were you surprised with their decision?
BK: It was a good experience as it has given me a lot of good exposure, which I’m thankful for. But from the get-go, as far as entertainment is concerned, I was the “bad guy” or the guy who you don’t want to win. The first two challenges weren’t difficult at all for me, and the other chefs that left before me did good but I think if you had a few minutes to gauge, you could see they were leaving first anyways.
The scene of my dinner service was over-dramatized as there was a lot of editing done that people don’t know about. Ask your typical NYC diner if they’d eat the winner’s food at that restaurant they’d probably say no. As far as their decision, like I said I was the young “up and comer.” No one wants to see that person win. I’m okay being the bad guy I guess, haha.
FP: Well, it was definitely clear that you are a talented chef! We suppose that shows need some of that entertainment to get an audience—and you certainly made the episode memorable!
When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself (If any)? If you go out to eat, name some favorite places. What are some of your guilty pleasures (if any)? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
BK: I rarely cook at home since I’m always working and that’s how I prefer it. When I eat out I love going to K-town or Chinatown. In Chinatown, I love XO kitchen and Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle. In K-town I love Cho Dang Gol. They’re all amazing restaurants. My guilty pleasures hmm….. I love a great Ramen place and it doesn’t have to be Ippudo. I love ramen and ginger ice cream from Chinatown’s Ice Cream Factory.
FP: We’re going to check some of those spots out!
Share with us your experience working with Hung Huynh and former White House Chef Walter Shibe.
BK: Well, Hung actually is a good friend of mine that I’ve known for years. He’s very talented and he’s been doing a great job with the NYC market and is a person to keep your eyes on. As far as working with Walter Shibe, the previous White house Chef, there was an event going on in the Columbia Tower Club in Seattle and I was invited by a Chef I used to work for to be the “Sous Chef’ for Chef Walter. He was a great guy, very humble.
FP: Name three individuals you would want to invite over for dinner and what you would prepare for them?
BK: Actually, I would invite people I haven’t really had a chance to cook for, my two grandmothers and my mother. They always say “Ben, you’re so busy” and when I come home and visit, we’re catching up on a year so we usually go out and eat since they want me to relax.
So for the three most important women in my life, my two grandmothers and my mother, I would prepare a family style feast! Pasta with pesto, meatballs, just a tomato sauce, roast chicken, chateaubriand, lots of veggies and salad. They all love creme brulee and flan so that would be for dessert with some espresso and coffee. Just really a meal for them.
FP: That’s really sweet! If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing? What are some of your non-cooking hobbies?
BK: Strangely, I could see myself in business. Like I said earlier, I enjoy operations, efficiency and obtaining results. After all is said and done the outcomes is usually some income. As far as hobbies, I really don’t have many. I like arts when I get a chance, just milling about the city. I usually just catch up with my best friend Chris when I can grab a drink and a bite to eat with him. We share many of the same common goals and aspire to go in the same direction. In certain ways we’re opposites but our opposite personalities complement each other pretty well. We met years ago at the CIA and the now the rest is history.
FP: Where will we see Chef Ben Kacmarcik in ten years?
BK: You may not see Chef Ben Kacmarcik in the kitchen in 10 years, haha. If I am in the kitchen, it will be more as a partner or a operational “Corporate Chef.” I really take pride in knowing what makes anything function at their highest level without exuding tremendous amounts of energy and getting great results. I’ve always felt like I’ve done all of those things well and really that’s the direction that I see things heading.
If for some reason I just partner and leave the kitchen altogether than that’s just how it is. I’m grateful for all the things that food has brought me and I love food in so many ways. I’ve always said “I’m sure working at Per Se is a great experience, but I know affording to eat there is better.” I’ve worked at intense restaurants but now I’m looking for a quality in life and maybe settling down.
FP: Ben, thanks for your time. It’s clear that there’s a lot more to you than viewers saw on Chef Wanted and we certainly look forward to following your career. Be sure to keep us posted so that we can come give your food a try someday soon!