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Tony Burris Of The Barley Hound: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef

Take time for yourself. Take a walk, get some sun and spend time away from the kitchen. Challenge yourself to learn something new and different every day.

As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tony Burris.

Executive Chef Tony Burris helms The Barley Hound, an American gastropub by Vivili Hospitality Group credited for distinguishing the small town of Prescott, Ariz. with inventive culinary offerings. Burris grew up altering his mom’s cooking to add his own twist to her recipes, which led to his personal philosophy of elevating comfort food. Today, with more than a decade of experience as a culinary artist, Burris is the catalyst behind placing Prescott on the map as a foodie destination in Arizona.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?

Growing up, I would always watch some sort of cooking show instead of playing video games or doing homework. I remember being so curious about what they were doing and how they knew how to do what they did. I was so fascinated by the ingredients they were using and how they would pair them with other components to create a beautiful dish. This natural inclination and curiosity definitely led me to pursuing the craft professionally.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

I wouldn’t say I have one certain food I focus on. I love learning about different styles of cooking and ingredients. If I had to choose, I would say I really enjoy experimenting with comfort food as it brings up memories from growing up in Nebraska. However, I also love using Asian-inspired flavors — my first experience eating sushi is what drew me to Asian flavors. There is something about the perfect balance of sweet, spice, acidity and the balance of vinegar that was appealing to me.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that has happened to you since you became a chef? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

When I was first looking into becoming a chef, I was involved with the opening of a new restaurant. My ego got in the way and I dived in head first with no experience whatsoever. Opening night, we got slammed, as expected, and in no way was I ready for that night. It was a whole new level to being in the weeds. Ticket times were over an hour, we didn’t have enough prep, the grease trap overreached its capacity, we were aiming to do more than what we were capable of doing. At the time, I was pretty sure it was the end of my career. The lesson I took away from it was that it’s not ever going to be easy, it’s always going to be a challenge but some people are wired to handle it. My takeaway was that I had a lot to learn and experience, but it wasn’t going to change the emotions that get stirred up when cooking.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

When I first started, I really questioned if I had what it takes to be a chef. The long hours, stress and busy nights weighed heavily on me. I felt slow at times and incapable of handling the task given to me. I stuck with it because I felt in my heart that it was something I was supposed to be doing. I sought help from friends that were in the industry, I collected and read cookbooks, I accepted failures and still to this day, I try to figure out why something didn’t work.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

Creating something that pushes their boundaries by using both familiar and unique ingredients paired with flavor combinations that may sound like they don’t work together, but end up blending well to create a memorable dining experience.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

The perfect meal for me is a medium rare ribeye seasoned with fresh cracked black pepper, smooth and creamy mashed potatoes, a combination of grilled asparagus and bell peppers tossed lightly in butter.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

My inspiration comes from a few different places. I get inspired by fresh ingredients grown by local farmers and one of my favorite things to do is to connect with other chefs, either by talking with friends or reading cookbooks by those I admire. I also turn to friends and colleagues as a source of daily inspiration along with listening to daily motivational talks.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

We just recently launched our first-ever brunch program at The Barley Hound, which has been a lot of fun to create and experiment with a different style of dishes. We change the menu seasonally and our latest one has our most elevated offerings yet, it’s great to bring a more sophisticated level of dining to the community that isn’t usually associated with a small town.

What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

Take time for yourself. Take a walk, get some sun and spend time away from the kitchen. Challenge yourself to learn something new and different every day.

Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Nothing beats experience

As valuable as culinary school is, working as much as you can in the kitchen offers another level of education that is unmatched.

2. Learn the ins and outs of the business

Make the time to truly learn the hospitality industry and take business classes. Being a chef involves more than just creating dishes — it’s food costing, inventory, P&L sheets, budgeting — sometimes it’s more about working on the business rather than in it.

3. Accept feedback

Be open to constructive feedback. You won’t always please customers, but if you are open to feedback, you will learn something that could play an important change in a dish or spark a new idea.

4. Embrace failure

Don’t be afraid to share crazy ideas and let them fail. Sometimes the weirdest ideas and the worst failures can turn into some of the most popular dishes. You won’t know until you try it.

5. Think local

Learn and know where food is coming from and who is sourcing it. Some of the most flavorful and unique ingredients are within an arm’s reach.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

Bahn Mi Burger, Duck Fat Fries and the Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Educating people about local foods, seasonal ingredients, nutritional value of locally sourced foods and how keeping money within the community benefits the community as a whole. Learning from and spending time with people who grow food is a powerful and inspiring experience that leads to creative ideas. I believe understanding the importance of local sourcing is bigger than cooking, there is a more overarching perspective to it all.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!



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