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Dan Smith

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Chef Dan Smith

Executive Chef/Partner
The Hearty Boys Caterers

Bio | Interview | Featured Recipes


The Hearty Boys was born in our eight-by-eight-foot Chicago kitchen. You could stand in the middle and touch the stove, the fridge, and the collapsible countertop that we had rigged to the wall behind the back door. Every time the business line rang, we'd run to the bedroom and pick it up, trying to sound professional and not out of breath.

You see, neither of us went to culinary school or studied the hospitality industry in college. We started out in New York as actors trying to pay our bills, which meant, quite simply, rolling up our sleeves and working in all aspects of the food business. We learned how to set up outdoor bars and buffets at the U.S. Open; at the French Embassy, we trained how to set an exquisite formal table; and when we worked luncheons at the United Nations, we became versed in treating guests royally . . . literally.

We each soaked up all sorts of knowledge along the way and these experiences earned us the title of "accidental experts."

We had a vision when we moved to Chicago; we wanted to take all the knowledge we had accumulated and bring an East Coast sensibility to the Windy City. We soon found that the Chicagoans were ready to listen. They started to look to us for hip, urban parties, and reporters called for tips on their upcoming entertainment articles.

Our success quickly enabled us to move out of the apartment kitchen and open a gourmet shop in the "Boystown" neighborhood on Chicago's north side. We served an ever-changing array of foods-all of which we created on the spot each morning. The Hearty Boys continued to grow happily and steadily…and then we hit the summer of 2005. True to form we squeezed everything into one eight-week period that summer. We sent a tape into Food Network and beat out 10,000 entrants to become The Next Food Network Star; we launched our own show, Party Line with The Hearty Boys and opened our first restaurant, HB. Then we topped it off with the birth of our son, Nate.

In October of 2007, The Hearty Boys Cookbook "Talk with Your Mouth Full" will further the opportunity to use our "accidental expertise." In it, we share our irreverent views of food and entertaining along with recipes, anecdotes from our journey and, of course, how-to tips we've culled from our time in the trenches. We're often asked what the secret to The Hearty Boys success is. It's one word and it's also our "business plan” - Accessibility. Now "Accessibility" is probably not a well rounded and complete business plan but I think we already came clean about our culinary history. We want our food to be unexpected, intriguing and accessible. We want the staff to be knowledgeable, attentive and accessible. We want the whole catering shebang (which can seem daunting and verge on frightening) to be an accessible experience.

It works for us…now let's see how we can work for you.


Q: How did you get started with your career? Please describe your journey of how you got to where you are today.
A: I started out in NYC as a waiter back in the 90's and gradually started working BOH. I was lucky enough to work with the likes of Sara Moulton and Jonathan Waxman. When I gave up my acting career I bought a café in a ski town in Maine, which is where The Hearty Boys was born. After 5 years I moved to Chicago and I have my businesses based here ever since.

Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: I love creating new menus and recipes. I also love the daily challenges that get thrown at me as a business owner. I'm a problem solver.

Q: Describe your cooking style.
A: Eclectic. As a caterer I've had to become proficient in a vast array of cuisines.

Q: What is your favorite Chefwear item and why?
A: I love the seersucker short sleeved chef coats. I've had them in multiple colors for both my catering business and for our various restaurants.

Q: If you could choose any chef (dead or alive) to spend the day with, who would it be? Why?
A: Julia Child - for her attention to perfection and her vast knowledge, for the way she came into cooking and for her inimitable style.

Q: What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
A: A bench scraper…crazy right?!

Q: What is the funniest kitchen incident you’ve encountered?
A: At our first restaurant, HB, I had a brunch cook with Tourette's…and while Tourette's isn't funny it was kind of interesting to be in the dining room and hear intermittent and random shouts and curse words coming out of the kitchen.

Q: What do you do to stay educated about new trends in the restaurant industry?
A: I read publications, go out to eat as often as possible and keep an open dialogue with other chefs and people in the business.

Q: What is your favorite meal?
A: Any kind of pasta…for a more upscale dinner spaghetti alla carbonara, for comfort pastina with butter and Locatelli Romano cheese

Q: Please list awards and accolades.
A: We were the first winners of Search for the Next Food Network Star, 3 year series on FN (Party Line with The Hearty Boys) and 2 cookbooks - "Talk with Your Mouth Full" and "The New Old Bar"

Q: Which accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
A: I created a cooking program at a gay and lesbian youth center. It was designed to give down on their luck people a leg up. I both created the curriculum and taught classes for a period of time and I'm proud to say that some of my students now work for me.

Q: What was the best advice you ever received in your career?
A: My mentor Francine Maroukian once told me that I should enjoy what I did every day - and if I stopped enjoying it then it was time to make a change. I've stuck by that for over twenty years now and I believe it's kept me fresh and happy.

Q: What advice would you give to a home enthusiast?
A: Don't be afraid to try new foods, new recipes and new techniques. Throw a lot of parties and use your friends as guinea pigs…they'll thank you!!

Featured Recipes:


Braised Short Rib Beef a Roni

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