On January 23, 2016 Crave Catering welcomed the addition of Justin Hawkinson as their new Head Chef. Justin is a lifelong Whatcom County resident and has been working in local kitchens for more than 25 years. He has joined the team in order to bring higher food quality and professionalism to the upcoming events at Crave Catering and Bellewood Acres.
Justin considers soups and stocks to be his specialty, but has worked with all sorts of large batch catering menus. “I just love the idea that a catering kitchen can produce anything the client wants rather than just working off a restaurant menu. We might do Asian food one night, and Spanish tapas the next. It’s a constant push to stretch yourself beyond what you’ve done in the past.”
Most recently Justin was the Sous Chef at Bellingham Golf and Country Club, where his batch of chili won the 2015 Dirty Dan Days Cook-off. He has also honed his craft at Market Street Catering, Semiahmoo Resort, Shuksan Golf Club and Bob’s Burgers and Brew.
Looking forward, Justin is excited to work with Pamela Felke and the Crave Catering crew as the parties line up for what promises to be a busy spring and summer. “Crave is a special situation because Pam plants a lot of the produce we are going to use on her farm. I’m excited to have the access to the freshest possible ingredients and present food that is local and natural to our guests.”
This blog is slated to become a platform for Justin to share what Crave Catering has been doing and what events are on the agenda.
Justin shared the following insights in an interview with Crave staffer Prarie Sandbloom on February 1st, 2016.
P- Where did you grow up?
J- I grew up in the Ferndale area. I’ve been living in Whatcom county all my life and I love what this area has to offer.
P- What made you want to become a chef?
J- Its funny, because a lot of local people might remember me from my first culinary job working for my dad, who owned The Big Scoop Family Restaurants in Ferndale and Bellingham. My first job was sitting in the back weighing fries and putting them into little paper bags. It was his way of keeping me and my sister busy. We got paid a quarter per hour and when we were done we would run to the lobby and play an arcade game with our quarters. It was pretty great as a fourth grader hanging out at an ice cream parlor all the time. A lot of our family and friends would come there for birthdays and meals. It became a social event and a chance to see everyone, which made me appreciate the atmosphere that food brought to the table. I thought it was pretty special. Eventually our family sold our restaurant and in high school I started working for Bobs Burgers and Brew. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until I began working banquets for Shuksan Golf Course that I really knew “this is what I want to do for a career.”
P- Where did you do your training?
J- Most of my training has been on the job. I’ve worked with a lot of amazing chefs throughout the years. Together we have done some really great work and that taught me what I needed to know to be where I am today.
P- How do you get your inspiration when you create menus and recipes?
J- I like to think of the foods going together, but also contrasting each other. They should always be complimenting each other by making the other more exciting. I do check out and admire what other chefs are doing when I go out or read cookbooks, but I put my own spin on it when it’s appropriate to be unique and personal.
P- What is your favorite food to eat?
J- I have a weakness for Cajun food. I love the heat and the way the spices and textures always pair so well with seafood.
P- What is your favorite food to make?
J- I really enjoy making homestyle American food. There’s nothing like a really good roast with seasoned potatoes and roasted vegetables. It’s the type of meal where the flavors can really hold their own. I don’t feel the need to try and distract too much from the natural flavors when food has been braised or roasted properly.
P- Who do you look up to in the food world?
J- Thomas Keller is royalty of course, but there are a few other people out there that I feel have a lot going on for them right now. Grant Achatz has an interesting take on things and I’ve been a Michael Mina fan for many years. His food is incredible. There is so much out there that I’d like to try. Perhaps my next vacation will involve traveling to a few of my favorite “destination restaurants.”
P- What do you do for fun?
J- Well this past year I’ve been spending a lot of my time on renovating my home. It’s hard work, but I’ve been having some fun with it. I have two teenagers who I love to spend time with and I’m also a pretty avid reader. I enjoy playing and listening to music, have some favorite shows on Netflix and it’s not unusual to find me out crooning with my friends at the local karaoke bar.
P- What is your favorite part of your job?
J- I love the fast paced environment that is the food industry. When it starts to move a little quicker and you can feel the pressure- that is when I feel that I thrive and have the most fun. I find that I do some of my most creative work in those circumstances.
P- What is the best piece of advice you could give to someone who is just starting out with cooking?
J- Don’t drown your flavors! I’ve always believed in building your ingredients in the pot slowly. If I’m making a soup or a sauce then I will put my aromatics in the pot and cook on high to try and get some of that water released before I add the next ingredient. If you add everything too soon and you don’t evaporate some of the water out at each stage then your food won’t have as much of a naturally intense flavor as it could.