Q & A WITH CHEF ED O’NEILL OF THE ANDES HOTEL — January 2010

By Judy Garrison

Having enjoyed many snacks, meals, holiday and special events at the Hotel, I was curious to know more about Ed O’Neill’s background and his culinary point of view. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Ed agreed to tell me about himself.

 Did you have an early influence that lead to your career in cooking?

My mother. I liked helping her in the kitchen. An early memory is making Fettuccine Alfredo with her.

 Did you have a mentor as a chef? 

My early kitchen experience was with Charlie Palmer of Aureole Restaurant, a celebrity chef. But it was Mike Valle of Palmer’s staff who really trained me, took me under his wing. I learned the nuts and bolts with him.

Ed How would you describe the cuisine here at the Hotel?

Eclectic American. I have a background in French technique, and grew up in Brooklyn eating Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean food from a young age, so to me it all gets included in “American.”

 How is catering special events different from the every day cooking?

It’s a chance to do themed menus and to spread your wings when you are cooking for 80 or so. Sally and I each grew up in the tradition of hosting dinners and large events. We both get joy from watching people enjoy themselves and the food.

 Anything you’ve been exploring recently you want to tell us about?

Razor clams are a type of clam I’ve gotten into. And the wood grill is all the rage. We grill all our burgers and steaks on it. We’re also doing more smoking of meat in our smokehouse.

 Is there an item you put on the menu even though it is not a big seller?

I like to make Trippa alla Romana. There aren’t a whole lot of takers for tripe. Liver, maybe unexpectedly, is a popular menu item. My theory: there’s usually someone in the family who doesn’t eat it, so it doesn’t get cooked in many homes. The people who like it order it when they are out.

 What is something most people don’t know about the Andes Hotel kitchen?

How much goes into dinner service. There are 5 cooks, 5 servers, and 2 bartenders, all of whom have to co-ordinate.

 What are the jobs and how are they divided?

The sous chef is the second in command. The garde manger manages the salad station, wings and desserts, pretty much the cold side. Two or three people are on line doing the grill, appetizers, sautéing the fish, heating the vegetables.

 What is your favorite snack or comfort food?

At the Hotel, it’s Buffalo wings, at home, salad.

 What is the biggest difference for you between summer and winter?

It’s much busier in the summer and we get wonderful fresh produce like tomatoes to make into tomato soup and gazpacho, for instance. We let the fresh produce speak for itself. In the winter we have more time for labor-intensive cooking. An example is Texas-smoked brisket.

Visit the hotel website, www.andeshotel.com.

Note:  As the Gazette goes to press, Chef Ed is in Palm Beach, Florida at the request of Mike Valle who is serving as the head chef for an intimate five-course dinner related to fundraising for the George W. Bush Presidential Center and Library. While there Ed met former N.Y. State Governor George Pataki and Rush Limbaugh when they said hello in the kitchen.~