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Ask a Chef: The Stockton Inn's Alan Heckman

Hilary Deutsch

January 21, 2016

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Once a Prohibition speakeasy and a hub for literati like F. Scott Fitzgerald, the storied Stockton Inn has satisfied diners since 1710. This month, chef Alan Heckman joins us at the Beard House to showcase the restaurant’s imaginative colonial America–inspired cuisine for a feast worthy of the inn’s fabled past. In anticipation of Heckman’s upcoming dinner, we spoke with the chef about his love of braised meats, his culinary past, and his recent fabulous dinner at Le Bernardin.

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What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?

My inspiration for the menu comes from all of my culinary experiences. I wanted to do something that showcased the moments that have had the most influence on me and my style of cooking. Each course is different in that respect because it shows something from my past while still being rooted in classic technique.

What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why? 

Braised veal cheeks. I love braised items. To me, nothing is more satisfying than the smell and taste of a perfectly braised piece of meat.  

What’s your guilty-pleasure food?

Chicken wings—and they have to be crispy!

Tell us about the last great meal you ate.

My wife surprised me with a night out in New York City and we had an amazing meal at Le Bernardin. The highlight of the evening was Eric Ripert’s the seafood truffle pasta, but overall it was such a great experience.

Who's been your biggest inspiration, and what dish would you cook to thank them?

The biggest inspiration for me is not just one individual, but rather an entire family. The Canlis family, who I worked with at Canlis in Seattle, has had a huge influence on my life. They showed me that consideration for others creates not only a great restaurant for guests, but a positive work environment for all team members as well. I would cook them pan-seared halibut with charred leeks, roasted mushrooms, and uni. I came to love halibut while working at Canlis and I would like to pay homage to them with that dish. 

What are your favorite places these days? 

My favorite places to go are Honey in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where they have really great small plates. For date night I have to go to Fond in Philly. The food and the service are always solid.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?

“Shortcuts are the nails in the house of failure.” — Chef Anita Eisenhauer, one of my instructors at the Culinary Institute of America.

View all upcoming Beard House events and book your seat at jamesbeard.org/events.

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Hilary Deutsch is editorial assistant at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.