The Interview: Chef James Hackney

We Chat With the Chef of Cape Cod’s only AAA Four Diamond resort


Cape Cod’s only AAA Four Diamond and Forbes Four Star resort is the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club, and James Hackney is the chef at its signature fine dining restaurant, twenty-eight Atlantic.
 
Hackney’s most recent post was executive chef at Boston’s legendary L’Espalier, where his farm-to-table-inspired dishes and seasonally changing menu garnered legions of fans. Originally hailing from Leicestershire, England, he was inspired to begin a culinary career by working in his parents’ inn in the English countryside. Hackney would eventually move onto the title of chef de partie at such esteemed restaurants as Blantyre in Lenox, Mass., in addition to Charlie Palmer’s Aquaterra in Palm Beach, Fla.
 
At twenty-eight Atlantic, his menu is focused on native, seasonal ingredients. Offerings may include parsnip and almond cream chowder with pork belly and fried steamers; Atlantic halibut over sea beans, asparagus, and fingerling potatoes; and lavender-roasted organic chicken with sweet onion purée and turnips. 
 
What was your first restaurant industry job?
Stapleford Park, in Leicestershire, England, a country house hotel started by Rick Tramonto and Gail Gand. Unfortunately I never got to work with them directly but the foundations they set up had some classic American dishes that gave me the bug to cross the pond.
 
When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it’s well-run, will be a good experience, etc.?
My first interaction with the staff; a quick acknowledgment that is warm and welcoming. Also, a sense of calm but with an upbeat attitude. This helps put me at ease and makes me feel that they are in control. There is nothing more distracting than seeing things going wrong!
 
Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
I don’t like cooking with ingredients that are of poor quality. 
 
If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, what would it be?
Fernand Point, Foie Gras en Brioche. The father of modern French cuisine and at a time when you could stuff lobes of foie gras with whole truffles. It also reminds me of eating pork pies as a kid. My favorite!  
 
What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
Hitting the 10-year mark at L’Espalier. In that time I wrote a cookbook with chef Frank McClelland, relocated the restaurant to its current location, retained five-star status for the restaurant throughout my time there, and then became the executive chef at Wequassett Resort and Golf Club. What is most rewarding is seeing young cooks becoming chefs in award-winning restaurants and opening their own spaces.
 
What do you consider to be your biggest failure as a chef?
Failure is a harsh word. I like to say missed opportunity. I worked with people who went on to work with Marco Pierre White. I would love to have had that opportunity to be there when he got his three stars or any of the great French Michelin-three-star chefs.
 
What is the most transcendental dining experience you’ve ever had?
Dim sum in Chinatown when I first came to America. It was amazing to see all the different types of food and just the amount of people waiting to get in.
 
Are there any foods you will never eat?
Durian fruit is one of those that I am in no rush to try.
 
Is there a story that, in your opinion, sums up how interesting the restaurant industry can be?
The industry brings all types of people together from all over the world and from all walks of life. I have worked with people who came from royal blood lines that are being taught by someone who came into country illegally, hardly any English. And they were the best of friends!  It’s an industry that just requires you to roll up your sleeves and jump in. Hard work, passion, and teamwork will help you climb the ladder of success, wherever you come from.
 

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