Vieux Carré NOLA Kitchen’s new executive chef reflects on cooking, his relationships with fellow local chefs and more

click to enlarge Chef Andrew Blakely - ALYSSA HUGHES PHOTO

Alyssa Hughes photo

Chef Andrew Blakely

The rigor and camaraderie of the kitchen appeals to Andrew Blakely, who worked his way up from the dish pit in a series of kitchen jobs beginning in Virginia, where he was raised. Blakely had a hankering to come west, however, and ended up in Salt Lake City considering college for biology. But he felt more at home in the kitchen, where he proved himself worthy of increasing responsibility. In 2015 he and a friend relocated Spokane to pursue becoming chefs, where both have thrived.

INLANDER: How do you challenge yourself to stay creative in the kitchen?

BLAKELY: For me it comes from just fully immersing myself in the kitchen. I’m very hands-on with everything I do, right down to making sure the dish pit is clear. I’ll look at pans and think about what can fit in there. Having over-the-top dishes that have 10 components in them isn’t appealing to me, but if I can take something and just make it right, do it justice, that’s what is most important to me.

What kinds of places do you look for when you dine out – what excites you?

I love simple food. The place that I frequent the most out of any restaurant in Spokane is Yards [Bruncheon]. I love how the menu is just unapologetic. If I wanted good eggs benedict and biscuits and gravy, I’m all over it.

Who are your culinary heroes or biggest influences, and why?

I don’t want to be cliché and while these people are still important to me – Anthony Bourdain, Sean Brock, people like that – I think the most important people in my life and people I look up to are people I worked with personally.

Darrin Gleason, the head chef [and co-owner] at Republic Pi – I love that man. He’s very patient. He was the first person [in Spokane] who gave me an opportunity to become a chef.

Taylor Rainwater [Blakely’s friend and head chef at Casper Fry] is another one. He’s one of the only people I can banter with about food.

Jeana Pecha [Vieux Carré’s former executive chef, who’s departing for an opportunity to create her own venue in California]. Working with her and just being able to crank out menus and just stretch what we’re able to do.

click to enlarge Barbeque-and-blue fried oysters are on Vieux Carré's Inlander Restaurant Week menu. - ALYSSA HUGHES PHOTO

Alyssa Hughes photo

Barbeque-and-blue fried oysters are on Vieux Carré’s Inlander Restaurant Week menu.

What are your thoughts on Inlander Restaurant Week, and what are you most looking forward to during this year’s event?

I really enjoy getting together and the camaraderie. I think the biggest thing for me is being able to take away that I did good, that we did so much business, and we prepped enough, and we were able to take care of this. It feels good at the end of the night.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since the start of the pandemic in relation to the hospitality industry?

I feel like restaurants are getting busier and busier and more understaffed. And it’s changed the culture of cooking. The amount that we’re able to get done now, the way we push ourselves is so much more severe than what I remember doing a few years ago. We’re putting in long hours and figuring out a way to multitask in a way I never saw myself doing.

Looking into the future, how do you think the industry will permanently shift because of the pandemic?

It’s been tough, but it shapes a new kind of cook, I think — one that’s more malleable and someone [who] is more receptive to taking on a bigger load. And I think that’s really cool.♦

Article Source: Inlander