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Dishing with the chef
Ben Downey’s first dish was cream of roasted red pepper soup.
Now, the newly appointed chef at Kitsap Conference Center at Bremerton Harborside is whipping up dishes like pistachio crusted pork chops with apricot glaze and the always popular smoked salmon.
Downey, of Port Orchard, was born in Wyoming and grew up in Utah. He attended the Art Institute of Seattle and loved the Pacific Northwest so much, he decided to move here.
We recently sat down with Downey at the Kitsap Conference Center and talked about his culinary career, the Kitsap Conference Center and advice for aspiring chefs.
Question: How long have you worked at the Kitsap Conference Center?
Answer: Since it opened in July of 2004. I started as a lead cook then April 2006 I became the sous chef. Then July 2007 I became the banquet chef and October of this year I became the chef.
Q: Had you worked in the culinary field before coming to the Conference Center?
A: I started with Columbia Hospitality (the Kitsap Conference Center’s management company) at Bell Harbor International Conference Center (in Seattle) in 2004 and worked at the Alta Club in Salt Lake City for two years, 2002-2004.
Q: How did you get into the culinary field?
A: At 16, it was pretty much the only job I could get. Then I went to Davis Applied Technology College (in Utah). I got a full tuition scholarship to the Art Institute of Seattle by taking third in the national Skills USA VICA Culinary Hot Food Challenge.
Q: What made you decide to stay in Washington after attending the Art Institute?
A: I actually worked for Columbia Hospitality while I was attending the Art Institute and I decided I loved the Pacific Northwest and thankfully Columbia Hospitality decided to hire me again.
Q: How has your role changed now that you are the chef?
A: Having to manage the department, ordering, scheduling, writing menus. There’s four people in culinary and two dish staff.
Q: What do you like the most about your job? The least?
A: The most — Probably just the growth and getting to know the people management portion of the job.
The least — Probably the hours. It’s a lot of hours. During a busy season, I’d average 12 hours a day. December is the busiest time of year with holiday parties.
Q: What’s your favorite dish to create?
A: Pistachio crusted pork chops with apricot glaze. I always look forward to that one when it’s on the menus.
Q: Do you cook a lot at home?
A: I have as of late, but most of the time, no.
Q: What’s your favorite hobby?
A: As of late, that’s home wine making. There’s a large apple tree out behind my house that produced over 300 pounds of apples one year, so we made hard apple cider.
Q: Do you have a signature dish?
A: At home, I do homemade pastas. Here, our smoked salmon has been one of the favorites. That’s one of our most requested ones.
Q: Do you prefer working in a restaurant or a catering environment like at the Kitsap Conference Center?
A: I started out in restaurants. I can’t say I like one more than another. It’s just a different beast as I like to call it.
Q: Is there a No. 1 rule every chef should follow?
A: Don’t be afraid to use salt.
Q: What advice would you give to a high school student looking to enter the culinary field?
A: Work in a kitchen before you go to school. You need to know if you like it before you spend the money.