We’re familiar with what local chefs serve in their restaurants. What about the food choices they make at home? This series offers a glimpse into what chefs are eating when they step outside their own establishment.
Josh Hill is the Executive Chef at Manny’s and the W Hotel in Minneapolis. He grew up in Hawaii and moved to Minnesota by way of California and Oregon. Prior to his current gig, he worked at Red Stag Supper Club, Cosmos, and the now closed Goodfellows, and New French Cafe.
On his path into the culinary world:
I was a latchkey kid. I’d come home and always have to cook for myself. I didn’t think it was a chore, I loved it. I remember finding some hot peppers my mom bought, and eating those for the first time. I thought it was so cool, something none of the other kids were doing. I’d experiment with food. I remember being young and making a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. I thought I came up with that. I thought that was mine. Of course, I soon found out it was a classic.
When I was a teenager I got a job at a country club doing dishes. I was always fascinated with the guys cooking. While I was working there I entered a poke contest, and I didn’t win, but I was the youngest guy in there. Then, when I was doing my generals at college I always had jobs cooking. I went to college in Hawaii and — this sounds like a cliche — if the surf was up we skipped school. It’s hard to go to school in that environment. Then I moved to California, bummed around San Francisco for a little bit. Then I moved to Oregon and had a job as a tree planter. I’d go off in the mountains for months at a time and come back with a wad of cash, since I couldn’t spend it up there. And when I came to Minneapolis, I was trying to figure out what it was that I loved to do. I never really considered cooking as career. It was something that I enjoyed, but always a side project while I figured out what I was going to do. But then I realized, it could be a career. So I went to culinary school here, then I got a job at Goodfellows, and went from there.
On maintaining balance:
I have a condo three blocks away. I can see work from my window. I try to get two days off in a row. But, because this is a hotel and we serve food through the night, there have been several occasions when I get a call at 3am and need to come down to the kitchen to help out. To find balance I work out. That takes care of a lot of stress. The other option is to have a drink, which I do sometimes. But it’s easy to get caught up in that. For a lot of people who get into this business, when they’re young, it’s great. There’s booze, girls, and drugs. Great! When you’re 19 years old. But it’s gotta end or you’re not going to go anywhere.
On his empty fridge:
I go out to eat 10 or 12 times per week. Every meal I’m not here for. I don’t have anything in my fridge except bottles of wine. Oh, and a couple condiments. I’ve attempted to buy groceries, but I always end up throwing it away. I’ve probably gone grocery shopping twice in the last year. OK, wait. I have bought a few snacks. But when I eat them, it’s straight out of the container. No plate. It’s the ultimate bachelor pad. When I’m not at work, the last thing I want to do is cook. Not because I don’t love it, but because I want that time to relax. I want someone else to do it. Plus I love to see what other chefs are doing.
My favorite restaurant is Quang on 28th and Nicollet. It’s Vietnamese. My Sunday ritual is to go there around 2pm, once everyone clears out. I love 112 Eatery, too. But my favorite places to eat are the small, ethnic restaurants. The places where the whole family is helping out. I like supporting those restaurants, plus the food is always good.
On visits back to Hawaii:
My uncle has a ranch on Mauna Kea, on the Big Island. It’s 18 acres of manicured land: Japanese citrus garden, wild coffee, banana patch, avocado trees, and pineapple bushes. Typical day when I go back there starts with a 5am surf with my uncle. On the way back, we’re starved. We get loco moco, a traditional Hawaiian hot plate dish. It’s scoop of macaroni salad, two scoops of rice, two hamburger patties, with brown gravy on top. Nothing classy, but it’s awesome. Then I like to walk the property and pick food for dinner. There’s nothing like making a salad with stuff you picked out right off the land. He has cattle he raises, too. He’s not selling the cattle, they’re there to eat the grass, and he’ll butcher a couple per year.
When I’m up there, 90 percent of the food is right off his land. I love cooking for friends and family there. Reuniting with people, and bonding with them again — it’s awesome. I try and go there for two weeks a year to recharge. When I come back I am fired up. There’s something about being in the ocean and the sun, in the middle of nature.