George Hirsch Leads The Way In The Kitchen

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If you ask television chef George Hirsch for a cheesecake recipe, his response might sound something like this: “90 pounds of cream cheese, two cans of eggs, six scoops of sugar and 8 ounces of vanilla.” That’s because he’s not just another television personality, he’s the real deal. And making 60 cheesecakes at a time is what he does.Mr. Hirsch used to run the kitchens in major hotels such as the Helmsley Palace Hotel in New York and Circus Circus in Las Vegas. He came up under the regime of “angry” European chefs who made their cooks memorize recipe books. He hasn’t forgotten the experiences.

“Well the original Europeans that I had worked for, and they were all Europeans, you were never allowed to look at your book,” Mr. Hirsch recalled while sitting on his back deck in Noyac with his fiancée Trish Bennett. “If you did that you had to do it on your own time, so you really had to be prepared, you had to study.”

Mr. Hirsch is entering his 20th season as a television chef. His new show, “George Hirsch Lifestyle” is all about bringing it back home, literally. The show is filmed at his home, and is also returning to a technique-oriented cooking program.

His very first television show, which aired in 1994, was “Grilling With Chef George Hirsch.” At the time of that show’s conception there was no Food Network, and only a few food-centric hosts on television, such as Julia Child, Martin Yan and Jacques Pepin.

Those shows all took place in a studio. But Mr. Hirsch was looking for where the trend would go next, and he started it himself by having a show where he traveled and cooked outdoors.

“I’d do in a half hour five, seven dishes and it would be a live tape,” he explained. “What we were taping was what we were doing, we are cooking in real time.”

Those old episodes, in what would become the George Hirsch style, were all filmed without the aid of pre-made styled food. The reruns still give Ms. Bennett, who wasn’t then, but is now, the show’s producer, agita, she said.

“We’re not just talking about meat on a grill, there’s side burners, multiple side burners going at the same time, a complete meal, even a dessert going,” she laughed. “It was like holy crap! It made me anxious.”

For the new show, “George Hirsch Lifestyle,” which will air on PBS, the chef is yet again looking to start a trend: getting back to basics. The template will be the same as his previous shows—cooking a meal from start to finish in one take—but the studio will be his home kitchen and grill.

“I think it’s a little bit important to take food shows back to what they really were, initially,” Mr. Hirsch said. “It’s highly important to put a strong influence on technique and real honest-to-goodness basics of cooking food because it’s not being done.”

If any celebrity chef can teach viewers how to cook, it’s Mr. Hirsch. The certified executive chef and culinary educator spent eight years working professionally after he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, he reported, just because he wanted to “hone it down.”

While running Circus Circus, he and his crew served a record Thanksgiving buffet for 68,000 customers: the equivalent of feeding Yankee stadium. He said he took the job at the giant casino because he wanted to try volume, since he already had fine dining down.

Next he returned to New York and was the corporate executive chef to the chairman of the board of Grumman in Bethpage. He said that he considers that job his most intense, yet rewarding, position. Much of the work included feeding heads of state, presidents and visiting dignitaries.

From there, the chef moved on to education. It was an offer too good to refuse.

“Then I had a very tough decision coming up, I was offered the director’s position at New York Tech, to take over the culinary school while it was in Commack,” Mr. Hirsch said.

He took the job and grew the school from 35 students to 600. The position brought a lot of media attention. The visibility led to one of the producers at News 12 asking him to do a weekly segment. And with that, Mr. Hirsch’s television career had begun.

“It came natural, very natural, you run kitchens and I think that’s really what a chef is, really just someone who can master multi-tasking, being able to do many different things. Being able to teach, train and speak,” Mr. Hirsch said.

The chef became an expert by doing, and all of his experiences have fed into who he is today, and also the success of his television career, he said. His mantra is “If I can do it, you can do it,” and that is exactly what he does, teaching his viewers how to properly cook.

“The best advice I got was learn everything, try everything, I always wanted the challenge,” he recalled. “I think every piece of it has made me who and what I am.”

While taping, Mr. Hirsch said, the crew starts out laid-back but attentive. By the end of the shoot, their body language is leaning in, he said. They’re listening, and he can sense that, and it’s how he knows he is hitting all the buttons.

Even Ms. Bennett gets drawn in, she said.

“At the end of the day when we wrap it’s like ‘so class what did we learn today?’” she said while laughing. “Thank you George for our private lesson.”

“George Hirsch Lifestyle” will premier in the fall on PBS.

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