Steady is rarely a word associated with culinary professionals. But all sharp knives and pyrotechnics aside, sometimes the last thing line cooks need on a Saturday night is one more ounce of hothead drama. Metropole Executive Chef Jared Bennett advocates playing it cool. Here he waxes philosophical on personal growth, kitchen culture, and squash blossoms with CM’s Jeff Mathews.
You’ve worked in some high-end restaurants—Nectar, Daveed’s, and Orchids. What’s the biggest difference between a good kitchen and a great one? The teaching. You learn how to execute, manage a kitchen, and even how to source products. You learn to think big picture.
And this is how you grew? I didn’t take jobs I didn’t want. I stayed for longer periods of time because I wanted to be absolutely sure I had the skills to move on. People who rush themselves and get to the top too fast do themselves a disservice that’s really hard to correct.
I’ve always assumed, jokingly, that there was a Metropole Kool-Aid. The staff here really “owns it.” What’s up with that? 21c [and owners Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown] nurtures a workplace culture that is not like a corporate chain hotel. We have the freedom to experiment and take risks on both sides of the house, which lets us focus on the things that work.
How was the transition when Michael Paley left? The transition was smooth because I didn’t need to change. It helped that Michael and I had similar philosophies—we both wanted to cultivate local relationships, use what we have, like our wood-fired stove, and keep working the charcuterie program.
Where are you flexing your wings? This past summer we put a squash blossom salad on the menu. We grilled them until they started to wilt and shaved the squash thin, serving them with lemon and olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and a few stems for crunch. I thought it would be a way to push the boundaries—starting with familiar ingredients people recognized, but serving them in such a novel way they would still be excited and surprised. It was gratifying.