By Chester Simpson
Margaret Long Hatfield
L’Academie de Cuisine
When did you first become interested in cooking and why did you pursue a culinary career?
I grew up with a keen awareness of good food; both my maternal grandmother and mom are wonderful cooks. My grandma, Lola, moved in with my family when I was only three so I grew up cooking alongside her and my mom. My family sat down to dinner together every night, and most days when I got home from school it would be me and grandma in the kitchen together before anyone else had gotten home.
When I went to college, I started cooking for myself and my roommates and realized I really loved it. I was in school at UVA and started to think seriously about wanting to cook professionally. I had never even waited tables, so I got a job at HotCakes (a cafe, bakery, gourmet shop, and catering company all in one). There I was, able to get my hands on everything from delivering lunch orders, running the kitchen for offsite catering events, to helping in the bakery. I was hooked. I was accepted to culinary school at L’Academie de Cuisine before I even graduated and started the following fall.
Who/what has been your greatest inspiration in your career?
Throughout my childhood, most of my free time was spent performing. Whether that was a dance recital, choir concert, play, or musical, both my sister and I have always been artistically inclined. I vividly remember the moment that I realized food was art. My sister had been accepted to graduate school for opera in Manhattan and she, my mom and I traveled up to spend a weekend helping her find an apartment. We decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal and, somehow, ended up with a reservation at Gramercy Tavern (back when Tom Colicchio was the chef). This was the first tasting menu I had ever experienced and I remember just being in awe of each plate; I had never seen food look so beautiful. Anytime I feel uninspired, I think back to that meal and find the excitement I felt all over again. Now that I am teaching at L’Academie, I try to instill that excitement in my students.
These days, I also draw a lot of inspiration from my husband, Nathan Hatfield, and his work. Nathan owns Junction, Bakery and Bistro in Del Ray and is the chef and head baker. He truly makes some of the most beautiful bread and pastries I have ever seen and he never seems to get bored or lose his passion for his art. With long hours and the hard work, it is not always easy to stay passionate.
What made you decide to take on pastries as your specialty?
I did not originally begin cooking with any focus at all on pastries. I went to school for the Culinary Arts and spent my time in restaurants (6 years in Old Town at The Majestic and Virtue Feed and Grain, and later as chef at Grape and Bean) working as a savory chef. I absolutely loved my culinary school experience at L’Academie de Cuisine and stayed in touch with the LADC family. When a faculty position became available, teaching pastry techniques to professional culinary students, at first I was unsure that I would enjoy the pastry side of things as much. I was wrong. There is something so calming about the way pastries come together; the science and chemistry behind combining ingredients to become something so beautiful. The amazement on my students faces when they see a few simple ingredients transformed into a pastry so intricate and delicious is the best feeling.
What do you do to ensure your product is of a high quality?
I am very fortunate to work at a school that puts quality of instruction and the students’ experience above everything else. LADC is ranked one of the top 10 culinary schools in the nation and I work alongside some of the most talented chefs I have met. Restaurants all over DC, MD, and VA look to us to provide quality cooks and apprentices. Since I teach a set curriculum of techniques there is an element of repetition to my job, but, like all of my fellow instructors, I strive to make every dish and every pastry more perfect every single time I make it.
If you could have any chef in the world prepare you a meal, who would that be?
Ana Ros. Very few people know who she is, but she is a completely self-taught chef who runs an inn in the mountains of Slovenia with her husband. Her passion and drive to learn and her success story is amazing. I also love the fact that she is a woman who has helped to transform the way cuisine and cooking is thought about both in her country and internationally. She’s a badass.
What is your guilty food pleasure?
Chocolate. Always. Every time.
If you would like to see your favorite chef featured here, send contact information to Chester@ChesterSimpson.com.