Cook simply! Oven roasting is my go-to technique at home.
Chef Zach Bell originally thought he wanted to be a physical therapist. But working in kitchens part-time during his schooling, Bell encountered a chef who pointed out that perhaps his destiny wasn't the one he was chasing in the classroom—it was the one right under his nose. Though he'd already completed three years in his physical therapy program, he transferred to prestigious Johnson & Wales University to pursue a culinary degree.
Now the executive chef at Addison Reserve Country Club—one of the top private clubs in the country—Chef Bell dedicates much of his time out of the kitchen to charities.
Recently recognized with a National Leadership Community Award for his work with No Kid Hungry, Chef Bell shares the invaluable skills he's learned in the kitchen and why combatting childhood hunger is so important to him.
Alejandra Ramos: You started working in kitchens as a teen—what did you learn by starting at the bottom?
Chef Bell: Starting from the bottom—doing everything from chipping ice off the freezer floor and cleaning basements, to stocking and dishwashing, to peeling vegetables—makes you truly understand that every single person in a restaurant, regardless of his or her position, is vital to its success, and should be treated with the utmost respect.
AR: You've worked at top restaurants known for fine technique and exacting standards. How has this influenced your cooking today?
Chef Bell: I am a very simple, market-driven cook at this point in my life. I want true flavors, the highest quality products, and clean presentations. Working with chefs like Andrew Carmellini and Daniel Boulud has allowed me to experience ingredients, techniques and kitchen cultures that I never would have known otherwise.
AR: Does being the executive chef at Addison Reserve Country Club differ from cooking at a traditional restaurant?
Chef Bell: A residential private golf club is, by far, the truest expression of hospitality that there is in the culinary world. You are actually in their house cooking for their family, friends, and neighbors on a daily basis. If you disappoint with one meal, it's still guaranteed they will be back the next day, and you will need to win them back. The pursuit of perfection is constant and omnipresent.
AR: What vegetables are you currently cooking with this season?
Chef Bell: Well, the South Florida growing season is a little wacky, so we tend to straddle a bit of everything in our vegetable world. For example, the beginning of autumn for a hyper-seasonal cook should mean apples, squash, mushrooms and the like. However, in South Florida, it means that we would just be getting our first locally grown tomatoes, summer squash, and eggplant.
AR: What's one tip you'd recommend for folks looking to cook more at home?
Chef Bell: Cook simply! Oven roasting is my go-to technique at home. I toss almost everything in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then I pre-heat a sheet tray lined with foil in a hot oven. Once it's hot, I spread the veggies out and cook until just tender. Voila! Afterward, you can ball up the foil and throw it away. Easy clean up!
AR: You've been a finalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef on four occasions—what did that mean to you?
Chef Bell: Well, I mean just being on that short list four times was a win for me. To be named among the amazing chefs we have in the South was an honor. I do appreciate recognition when it comes, but truly it is the whole team that earns and deserves those credits as well.
AR: Where do you get your passion for working with No Kid Hungry?
Chef Bell: Serving guests that can afford to eat out several times a week amplifies the huge disparity looming over our area, where kids are going to bed and school hungry on a daily basis. With such vast resources around us, we don't feel that this is acceptable, and frankly, it is downright embarrassing. Our goal is to help local organizations with the tools and outreach they desperately need to be effective in combatting childhood hunger.
AR: Your wife, Jennifer Reed is an acclaimed pastry chef; are you two ever able to enjoy holiday meals together?
Chef Bell: Ha! You do know what industry we're in, right? We're inevitably working during the holidays, so we typically have our holiday meals on the Monday before. But they are pretty all-out! We don't skimp. The best part, of course, would be whatever seasonal tart or cake Jennifer has created for us. Honestly, she works a lot more than I do. From October to May, our paths don't cross a whole lot. That is the downside to being in a highly seasonal locale, plus the fact that she owns her own business.
AR: What do you eat when you are able to have a night in together?
Chef Bell: We are usually together on Monday nights, so I'll grill something on my Big Green Egg, sauté some spinach or roast some veggies. That—plus a little wine and time with our pets—rounds out to a perfect night!
Join Zach Bell in the fight to end childhood hunger by purchasing tickets to a Taste of the Nation for No Kid Hungry event near you. Citi cardmembers enjoy 10% off the ticket price and exclusive event benefits, including: expedited check-in and entry, special gifts and giveaways and access into the special Citi Lounge (at select events).