Chef Q and A with Chef Dan Bethard
Executive Chef at Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in West Chester3 West Gay Street West Chester
Q: You’ve been at Iron Hill for a long time. How long has it been?
A: Twelve and a half years. I was actually the first employee that they hired officially in 1996.
Q: What did you do before Iron Hill?
A: I worked in Wilmington, DE for awhile for a restaurant group and I did catering and country club stuff to learn new things. No matter what I’ve done it’s always involved food. I always love to help my mom in the kitchen and I’ve just loved to work with food ever since.
Q: So what are your duties as Executive Chef in West Chester?
A: I do the planning and designing of the recipes and menus for all the locations. I also head up the entire culinary team. We are working on an official title for everything I do.
Q: How many people does it take to run the kitchen in West Chester?
A: There are 22 staff that work in the kitchen.
Q: Word on the street is that you’re pretty tough in the kitchen. True?
A: Ha, well, I have high expectations, I set the bar high.
A: Well, I believe that our food has to be perfect every time. Every plate has to be perfect and even though there is always human error I need my team to perform at a high level day in and out and i expect the same (even more so) from myself. I’m tough but fair, I’m a straight shooter.
Q: What are the best sellers or dishes you are most proud of?
A: The best selling soups are Seafood Bisque and Chicken Gumbo. They get a lot of compliments. In fact, I have had people from New Orleans who have come in and they say it’s the best they’ve ever had … that’s a huge compliment. Also, the Ahi Tuna Tataki is a signature dish for mine. It’s an appetizer with sushi grade tuna, Maui onion marmalade and macadamia nuts, pineapple, pea shoots and a sesame soy drizzle. Also, our Lejon Pizza (with shrimp, bacon, green onion, horseradish and mozzarella) has been on the menu since we opened. It’s just good.
Q: Anything else?
A: Well, it can be argued that I was the creator of the first Cheesesteak Eggroll ever. And, I make the best grits in the United States. (He laughs) It’s all about the heavy cream.
Q: Okay, okay. But let’s go back to the Cheesesteak Eggroll. Do tell.
A: Well, I’d never seen it before when I came up with it. Now everyone is doing them so as far as I know I came up with it. I may not have, but I’ll sleep at night thinking I came up with it.
Q: Any future plans at Iron Hill?
A: I’m going to continue to come up with new and interesting menus. We are going to start experimenting with small plates for the bar and cocktail area. Things like flat breads or maybe some sausages, an upscale bruschetta. Like different tapas, things like that. Also, the new menu is out right now as a test in West Chester but is going to hit all the locations the last week of May and in the middle of June it’ll be in all locations.
Q: Some people argue that your menu is too big. Thoughts?
A: I don’t think so, not for how many people come here. On the weekends we are doing over 600 covers a night and we want to have enough options for people. We do 99% of our items from scratch and it’s pretty demanding to cook, but the people want it. We don’t want to limit ourselves or the options for the people to come here. We have 268 seats not counting the patio so we have a lot of people that we have to please.
Q: What is your secret to success?
A: We pride ourselves on consistency. We have fool proof recipes, skilled people in the kitchen, good training and a staff with longevity. So they can say I’m tough but I retain staff for a minimum of 2 years. People know what they are going to get when they come here.
Q: The biggest mistake you’ve made in your career?
A: There’s always that dish that you put on the menu and it doesn’t work or isn’t as received as well as you would hope. Then you move on and come up with something better with each menu. Over the years we’ve tweaked things to make them better and we’ll keep doing that.
Q: You’ve added a few new burgers to your menu in addition to the ones you already had on the menu. Do you have a personal obsession with burgers?
A: I don’t have a personal obsession but our clientele does… I mean, who doesn’t LOVE burgers? Our new ones are 8oz so they are easier to eat and fit better in the bun. We also have a lot of upscale toppings so you can get whatever type of burger you want.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: (He laughs) I love living and working here in Chester County. As they say, “I’m livin’ the dream man, I’m livin’ the dream.”