The Up-and-Comer: Steven McHugh 

Cured (set to open at the Pearl by the end of 2013)

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY JEREMIAH TEUTSCH
  • Illustration by Jeremiah Teutsch

So what’s on the horizon for you?
Oh, just trying to open my first restaurant. It’s been a real eye-opening experience with many hats to wear. Looking forward to trading in my hard hat for a chef’s hat (which for me means no hat at all).

What advice do you have for us home cooks?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Also, go the your local farmers market and buy the ingredients first, then go home and figure out what you’re going to cook. If you go there looking for carrots because that’s what you feel like cooking then you’re going to walk right past the beautiful squash and chances are you might just go home empty-handed when you don’t find the carrots.

The table of five that comes in 23 minutes before closing–what are you muttering under your breath?
I love that table because it’s a chance for me to show my young cooks and waiters that I truly do this because I get enjoyment out of feeding people. I don’t understand people who get mad, when your life’s chosen path is to make people happy.

Any place, event or culinary thing that has you excited this year?
Does a book count? Really looking forward to John Currence’s new book, Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey. That guy can cook and I have been a huge fan of his for years. He also doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks of him.

Anything you were pumped about that no one else noticed in 2013?
(Laughs) Did anyone notice the Cronut?

What chef leaves you starstruck? Who is your food idol?
Don’t know if a chef would leave me starstruck but I did have a conversation with Jacques Pepin a couple of years ago and I remember thinking to myself, “Why in the hell is he talking to me?”
I don’t know if a chef would have a food idol, I just respect other people’s craft and their abilities. Does Tim Duncan get excited around Michael Jordan? Perhaps not, but he probably respects him.

What drives you crazy in the kitchen? Like “pack your knives and go” crazy?
Great question. Lack of respect will make me go off quicker than anything. I grew up with a mother and father [who] taught me to respect everything, your elders, your food, your clothing, your upbringing, you name it. Then I went to the [Culinary Institute of America] and went to class every day scared to death that I would [be sent] home because I didn’t shave or some other crazy rule, but it really made you respect not only your teachers but, more so, yourself. When you overcook a carrot and act like it’s not big deal, that tells me that you have no respect for that farmer who worked his or her ass off for months just so I could put it on a plate. And if you don’t understand that, you won’t last long in my kitchen.

Cured–what are the details?
Smart, seasonal and sustainable. Committed to being local.

What inspired the name and concept?
We just really wanted something that spoke on many different levels. The food, drink and, of course, my struggles with lymphoma a couple of years ago. This restaurant is the result of looking at myself and saying, “you had a scare, what are you going to do about it?” We also want it to mean that as a guest you will leave cured of what was ailing you when you walked in.

How much of the food at Cured won’t be cured?
It will be a gradual process. I worked with John Besh for 10 years and had the opportunity to make so much charcuterie that it comes naturally to me ... to have this as a centerpiece of our menu. We will explore fermenting and making our own vinegars as well. Like 3 percent?

What did you love about New Orleans that San Antonio should be doing?
That’s not a fair question, there [are] so many differences and similarities that I wouldn’t change either one. In New Orleans, I rode a ferry to work across the river, now I walk the river to work. I was fortunate to spend 15 years in New Orleans and learn a bit about what makes it such a great food city. San Antonio is on its own pace and I am excited to be a part of the change.

Recipe: Chilled Summer Squash Soup with Avocado Crème Fraiche

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