After rising through the ranks of kitchens here and in the Northeast, Kevin Getzewich is coming into his own as Indaco’s executive chef, a position he earned in March. We spoke with him about what it’s like to become the boss and start a kids’ nutrition program—all before turning 30.
CM: Are you enjoying your role as executive chef?
KG: It’s still fairly new, and I have a hard time stepping back. Typically, executive chefs don’t cook a whole lot, but I’ve been working on the line every night, which I love. I find one of the most stressful parts of my job is sitting in an office with a stack of paperwork.
CM: Have your past experiences in kitchens influenced how you run your own?
KG: I was part of the last age group to come into the industry when it was acceptable for chefs to get angry and yell and throw stuff. But working under Jeremiah Bacon at The Macintosh influenced me a lot. He, too, was part of that old-school tradition, and we both worked at Le Bernardin in New York. But he’s very gentle and soft-spoken; he taught me that you say more with what you don’t say than with what you do.
CM: Is there anything you wish you could change about your job?
KG: I do feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot, maybe too much: relationships with my parents, brother, and significant others. But I can’t help it—I want to be at work. It’s where I go when I want to relax. Finding a balance between my personal life and work is something I’m still figuring out.
CM: What’s your process for creating a new dish?
KG: My food starts with the frame of, “If I could eat anything, here’s what I’d make.” On the other hand, I don’t eat meat, except for tasting purposes.
CM: Why not?
KG: I haven’t eaten it in about four years. It started as a bet: I was offered $200 to stop eating bacon, which I loved. It turned out not to be too hard. I started learning about the problems that come from conglomerate processed meat and the environmental damage from feedlots. I love making sausage and charcuterie; I just greatly prefer eating veggies.
CM: Do you draw from your heritage?
KG: My earliest memories of food are of my grandmother’s house in Connecticut. She was a Polish immigrant and always had pierogies, blintzes, and pickled fish—pickled everything, really. I love pickling things, so I definitely draw on that.
CM: Does that fit in an Italian restaurant?
KG: Getting pigeonholed by a certain cuisine is my biggest pet peeve. I tend to flirt with the edge of what could be considered “Italian.” Indaco does get customers looking for the typical red-sauce dishes, but that’s not us. I’ll make you spaghetti and meatballs—it’s not my job to say “no.” But I like guiding diners to trying something they’ve never had.
CM: Tell us about the in-school nutrition program, HIVE, at Carolina Voyager.
KG: It stands for “Hope, Initiative, Vision, and Education.” I was obese as a kid; I never learned about food or nutrition. I grew up outside of Philadelphia in an area that’s surrounded by farmland, but my school never brought us on field trips to see what was growing. Instead, I was inundated with propaganda for fast-food chains. There were so many things I refused to eat as a kid because they weren’t introduced in appropriate ways. It was like, “Here’s some steamed spinach.” Well of course I’m going to hate it—there’s nothing to it. But if we can make healthy food approachable, it becomes cool.
CM: What are some of the foods you’ve brought in for the students?
KG: I did a lesson on celery, where we dipped celery in yogurt and fished for Gold Fish, and another with quinoa. I made quinoa, flaxseed, and coconut oil cookies with M&Ms. The kids get hooked in with the candy, but then they learn about quinoa, too. It’s all about creating food memories.
CM: That’s pretty cool.
KG: I’m only visiting kindergarten through third-grade classes at one school, because it’s only me. I’d love to work with other chefs to expand the program and go into more schools. Even if it’s just for a few hours every month, we really can make a difference in the next generation.