To be a chef is to blend science and art into one perfectly plated experimental masterpiece. While artists traditionally appeal to 1-2 senses such as sight, sound or touch, chefs have the unique challenge of appealing to all five senses; a virtually impossible task given the subjectivity of most guests’ tastes and preferences. Few professions require so much dedication and are so physically, emotionally and mentally challenging. As a chef, you wake up early, prep, plan, train, cook, clean, and interact with the guests as much as possible; all while working 16 hours a day in kitchens of all shapes and sizes. You work holidays, stand on your feet all day, subject yourself to a crazy, fast-paced lifestyle, and try to make time for friends and family if you’re lucky. To be a chef is to be head-over-heels in love with what you do.
I know such a person: Chef Pierce Buckman. In fact, I have known Pierce for 20 years and have seen his talents evolve into a finely crafted mastery of flavor and culinary techniques. I sat down with Chef Buckman recently to get his perspective on cooking, being a chef, and to get a glimpse into what makes him tick. I hope you enjoy reading Chef Buckman’s perspectives as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Tell me about yourself. Who are you, where do you work, and where have you worked in the past?
My name is Pierce Buckman and I’m the Executive Chef of Eleven Eleven, a restaurant in the west loop of Chicago. I’ve worked at a variety of Michelin starred restaurants that include Charlie Trotter’s, Roister, Eleven Madison Park, Marea, EL Ideas and Blackbird.
How did you first get into cooking and when did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
When I was eleven I started cooking at home, learning from my parents; both of whom were excellent cooks. I was really fascinated by cooking and the versatility it provided as a creative outlet. When I was thirteen, being intrigued by Food Network and the great (but now gone) TV show Great Chefs of America, I knew I wanted to be a chef. I was fortunate to meet Charlie Trotter when I was fourteen and he took me on as an apprentice and had me work part-time in his restaurant and Trotter’s To Go gourmet shop. I spent ten years throughout junior high, high school and college working for him. In fact, Charlie encouraged me to pursue a degree at University of Kansas rather than going to culinary school; he told me it was a path that served him well. When I graduated college I began working at Trotter’s full time in a variety of positions, traveling the world attending different culinary events, learning under his guidance.
How would you describe your style, philosophy and genre of food?
My style and philosophy uses a balance of flavors as the main driver for creating dishes. It is very important to use a diverse spectrum of flavors where no culinary stone remains unturned to explore new flavor profiles and possibilities. I love pairing seemingly opposing flavors to create something new or novel. We all love sweet and savory but there are so much more nuanced subtleties when you open your palate to flavors and spices from other cultures. Philosophically speaking, my food is often visually simple but contains many layered flavors and textures. I believe food should appeal to all five senses and, when done right, evokes an emotional response for the guest. Anyone can cook a dish or put together a meal but creating an experience is the highest form of culinary perfection.