Chef’s Special: Bernard Henry
By Chester Simpson
Chef Bernard Henry
207 King Street
Old Town Alexandria
Bio: I was born and raised on a dairy farm in Alsace-Lorraine, France. I learned to cook watching my mother and grandmother whip up the family specialties. Growing up on a farm with fresh produce, fruit trees, poultry, livestock and other fine foods, I have developed a passion for quality cuisine. The organic food trend is nothing new to me and my parents are still tending to their garden the same way they did it 50 years ago. They taught me from a young age how to plant, harvest, pickle, can, preserve, cure and smoke all the bounties that Mother Nature has to offer. I didn’t become a “Farm to Table” convert overnight because it is now trendy; I have been part of that trend from the day I was born!
For years, I was an executive working for a multinational company. My work took me around the world, opening my taste buds to exotic and international cuisine. As a hobby, I spent much of my time trying out new recipes on friends and family. Then, one day, it struck me – why not cook for a living? Food has always been a passion of mine and I am constantly looking for new trends in cooking and obtaining training as needed. Food is also a vehicle to unleash my creative side.
I am professionally trained and I studied at L’Académie de Cuisine, a premiere culinary school in the USA, where I was taught the classic and modern techniques of French cuisine. I have worked in some of the best fine-dining restaurants in the DC area and in France. Lately I was the Executive Chef at Open Kitchen in Falls Church. I also worked as a personal chef to Leonardo DiCaprio while he was filming the movie “Body of Lies” in Washington, DC. I have also worked on yachts on the French Riviera in France.
When did you first become interested in cooking and why did you decide to pursue a culinary career?
I’m not sure if I became interested or if I didn’t have a choice. I have 4 brothers and while my dad was the happiest farmer in the county with cheap manpower, my mom was struggling in the kitchen to put lunch and dinner on the table every day. That’s when our parents decided that we – the boys – had to take a turn in the kitchen and help my mom feeding the family. I was enjoying it and my brothers didn’t enjoy it that much. We started trading chores on the farm and I ended up cooking a lot with my mom and baking with grandma on Sundays before church. By age 12 I knew that I would be a chef but life decided otherwise and I had to wait age 49 to fulfill my dream.
Who have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
My mom, my grandma and my family in general. We are the type of family who likes to take time sitting around a table to eat, drink and have a good time. A lot of conversations revolved around food and it was fascinating to me hearing my aunts talking about food and exchanging recipes.
What dish on your menu are you most curious to see how it’s received by your customers?
The Two-Celery Soup. Stop 10 people in the street and ask them what celeriac is?
What do you do to insure the quality of the food going out to customers is of a high standard?
I share my passion for food with my staff both in the back of the house and front of the house, while leading by example and being open to their suggestions. I look at the front of the house as being my ambassadors when delivering my food to customers. I want them to exude the passion that we in the back of the house put into preparing even the simplest dish on our menu. I am also demanding with myself and I am also demanding with my staff in terms of quality, presentation and cleanliness.
If any chef in the world could prepare you a meal, who would it, be?
That’s a tough choice. I have dined in many fancy restaurants around the world but I would have to pick Chef Alain Passard at the Arpege Restaurant in Paris.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Anchovies out of the can on a piece of crusty baguette at 3 am in the morning!
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