In the fourteen years since Graham Heldreth graduated from culinary school, his career’s taken him everywhere from Thomas Keller’s famous Bouchon of Beverly Hills to Northern Thailand for a two year stint as a restaurant consultant. Now settled in Los Angeles, his latest venture as a personal chef and caterer allows him to hone his skills as an entrepreneur. For Heldreth, it’s the constantly evolving nature of the industry that initially drew him to the culinary arts and continues to feed his love for hospitality.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts caught up with Heldreth to chat about what he loved most about culinary school in Boulder, how his time in Thailand helped expand his flavor profile and what it was like working with Thomas Keller.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: How do you feel your culinary school education helped start your career off on the right foot?
Graham Heldreth: I feel like my time at Colorado School of the Rockies (now Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts) was invaluable. I really got a good understanding of what the industry was like and what to expect. The in-class training was based in the fundamentals of cooking and that’s where it all begins. I feel like you master the fundamentals and then you begin to add on to those things in your culinary repertoire. One of the reasons I love being a chef is that you can never learn everything. There’s always something new to learn around the next corner.
AESCA: What were some highlights from your time in school?
GH: Working with local chefs in the Boulder/Denver area. I thought it was pretty cool that we had guest instructors coming in to give us a real world perspective and teach us new techniques.
AESCA: You worked in Thomas Keller’s famous Bouchon of Beverly Hills. Talk a little bit about that experience. What did you learn? Have any good stories?
GH: It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. It really pushed me mentally / physically to be a better chef. I think attention to detail was one of the most valuable lessons that I learned working for Chef Keller. The team was amazing as well, and we all pushed each other to be better and held each other to a high standard of excellence.
Well, not my best moment…. but it was my first week of working there, and I was a nervous wreck. I’m in the walk-in gathering all our mise en place for the days service, and I dropped an 18QT of tomato soup all over the walk-in floor. The floor and everything was coated in thick tomato soup, and I’m freaking out as the sous- chef comes in and looks at me in disgust hahaha!! Needless to say I didn’t live that one down for awhile..
AESCA: Where are you currently working?
GH: I’m currently running my own catering / personal chef business and working on an artisan snack line called Passport Provisions. I also help execute events at a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles called Red Bird.
AESCA: What are some of the challenges you face running your own business and how do you overcome them?
GH: I would say one of the biggest challenge in the beginning was my lack of knowledge in running a business. I had never run my own company before. It can be challenging as it brings stress and anxiety to the table. I think relying on your mentors, friends and family for advice and knowledge is crucial.
AESCA: You have a strong philosophy based in local and sustainable cuisine. Why do you feel it’s important to move the industry in that direction?
GH: I think it’s important for our planet to reduce our carbon footprint in any and all ways possible. Naturally, food tastes better when it’s in season and locally grown as well. This is how people used to eat before this food revolution of having everything always available at supermarkets all the time. It’s not healthy, in my opinion.
AESCA: You spent two years living in Thailand. How has that impacted your personal style of cuisine?
GH: Thai food has such a balance of all the different points on your tongue, and I really learned to appreciate that and incorporated that into my own personal style. It also gave me great insight to Asian flavor profiles. I have a strong background in Mediterranean flavors and Thailand broadened my palate.
AESCA: Did you learn any great cooking tricks while there?
GH: Mortar and pestle makes great chile paste!
AESCA: What’s the one ingredient you have to have in your kitchen at all times?
GH: Garlic! It’s the basis of many types of cuisine and is an invaluable ingredient, in my opinion.