On tonight’s Chef Wanted, chef/owner Rodney Worth was looking for an executive chef for his restaurant The Pear Southern Bistro in Napa, Calif. He and his wife, Natalie, own and operate six restaurants in Northern California, and handing over the reins of The Pear to another chef would allow Rodney to spend more time with their kids. Anne Burrell brought in four viable candidates for the job opportunity, but only one got the position. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the winning chef.
In the end, Chef Ashurina Younan, from Napa, Calif., was offered the position of executive chef. Rodney and Natalie felt that she would be the best fit for the job. Through both initial tests, Ashurina showed a deft grasp of combining Napa style with Southern cooking, which the restaurant specializes in. Although she had many challenges testing her resolve during dinner, Ashurina came out of dinner service better for it.
During pre-shift you got really emotional when Chef Anne called out the presentation of the pea soup. What was going through your mind then?
I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my food. I take great pride in serving not only flavorful food but food that is visually appealing. The pressure of creating a menu and executing it, with the limited time, unfamiliar kitchen and staff that isn’t clear on my expectations, really got to me. I don’t cry when I’m sad; I cry when I am frustrated with myself. I knew what Chef Anne was saying was true, because I had already thought it myself before presenting it, but with the time crunch there was no other option but to get it plated and worry about fixing it later, which was precisely what I did.
During dinner the risotto kept coming back due to inconsistencies. You ended up getting frustrated with the cook, and took him off the line, which Rodney wasn’t too pleased with. In hindsight, what do you think you would have done differently in that moment?
When it comes to being in the kitchen, I am very passionate. I expect nothing but excellence, not only from my cooks but from myself as well. When the risottos started coming back because they weren’t consistent, of course I needed to fix that. I addressed it several times with Caesar before deciding to kick him off the line. This is when you could say my passion got the best of me. In hindsight, I think there was a better way of handling that situation. As a leader you have to look at yourself first when things aren’t going right. If anything, I could have just put him on a different station and took over risottos myself. I’m glad to say Caesar and I have managed to get along great now, and kicking him off the line has become nothing more than a joke that we both remember and laugh about.
What was your mentality going into the show? You seemed determined to win.
My mentality going into the show was to prove to myself and anyone that has doubted me that I am ready for the executive chef title. I worked at a resort for over two years doing the job of an executive chef, but never got the title because I was told by my boss that I wasn’t ready for it. This was my chance to prove him wrong and show the world what I’m made of. I also wanted to win for my mom. She worked very hard to raise our family, especially after losing my dad at a young age. Losing wasn’t an option, and it never crossed my mind. This win was just as much for my mom as it was for me!
How was it working with Anne Burrell?
Chef Anne is tough, because she expects only the best. She is straightforward and is truly there to help you be better. She helps you develop yourself and your food, by hearing out your ideas and using her experience and knowledge to help you perfect them. She has a great sense of humor, as well, and when she is happy with your performance and food, she makes sure you know that as well.
What has the experience of doing the show taught you?
Doing the show has reminded me of something my parents taught me as a child: that if you want something bad enough, and if you are willing to work hard enough, then you are capable of achieving any goal that you set for yourself. There was a poem that my dad taught me when I was growing up, and the last part of it said: “If you think you’re outclassed, you are. You’ve got to think high to rise. You’ve got to be sure of yourself before you can ever win a prize. Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man, but soon or late, the man who wins is the one who thinks he can.” The show retaught me just that, and I know when I put my mind to something, I can succeed.
How is it working out for you being closer to home and your mom?
My mom is very proud of me! She and I are best of friends, and having had the opportunity to show her that my hard work is paying off has really made her proud! It is very nice to be close to her — and to work in Napa. There is so much going on in Napa, from the daily farmers markets to the Chefs’ night every week in downtown. There are local gardens that I get to pick fresh produce from and fun food and wine events that close down the main street. People dining in Napa are looking for an experience and excellent food; it is fun to showcase the food and wine and all that Napa has to offer! It’s amazing to be able to immerse myself in the culture and to experience the wine country from the perspective of a chef.
What was one of the first things you did at The Pear? Have you reworked the menu? Do you have a favorite or signature dish?
Besides trying all the delicious food, one of the first things I did at The Pear was get to know the staff and build a rapport with them. I want them to know that I am ready and excited about being their leader, and I wanted to make sure I got familiar with them before I started making changes. Right now, Chef Rodney and I are working on the fall menu. We are looking forward to the weather getting cooler, because Southern food is all about cooking comforting food. One of my signature dishes that will be going on the fall menu is the Country Cassoulet: Liberty Farms confit duck leg, slow-roasted pork belly, thyme and fennel sausage, Rancho Gordo black-eyed peas and herbed breadcrumbs.
What advice would you give to other chefs coming onto Chef Wanted?
Be prepared, be yourself, leave your ego at home and take Chef Anne’s advice because if you have watched the show, you know that not taking her advice usually has the chef packing his knives and going home. This is a tough competition that is meant to find the best person for the job. If you don’t bring your best, and come mentally prepared to win, you might as well stay home.
Watch Chef Wanted on Thursdays at 10pm/9c and keep coming back to FN Dish for updates with the chefs.