The executive chef of Kona Kai’s Vessel restaurant dishes out his dream kitchen equipment, chefs that have inspired him, and his favorite recipe for you to take home.
What drew you to the food industry? How did you get started as a chef?
The diversity of the “industry” is what hooked me. There is never a dull moment whether it’s the produce, people, culture, or knowledge. As for how I got started as a chef, it began when I started learning the art of cooking at a family owned Japanese restaurant in Sunset Beach, California. From there came a hunger for knowledge to grow and develop my skill set.
Have your travels ever inspired what you do in the kitchen?
I traveled somewhat extensively growing up, and I even had the opportunity to live in England for five years. I would have to say that I have residual inspiration from all my past experiences – both in the U.S. and abroad – which are reflected in my dishes.
Do you have a signature ingredient that gives your cooking a unique, personal touch?
I typically gravitate towards everyday ingredients for what they bring to the table, literally. I have the most respect for good, simple food, however, I do try to seek out unique or under-utilized products to give a different spin on traditional dishes that we create at Vessel Restaurant & Bar.
What is your all-time favorite dish to make? Do you have a favorite wine pairing for the dish?
It has evolved as my skills have, but right now, it would have to be our short rib bolognese with tagliatelle pasta because of the complexity of flavors. It takes a lot of time and patience to prepare, so when the dish is ready, it is quite rewarding to eat. I think a nice dry Italian wine, such as a chianti, pairs best with the dish because it cuts through the richness.
What is your dream piece of cooking equipment?
I would love a wood-fired pizza oven or a batch freezer, as I love making ice cream. San Diego has the perfect weather for frozen treats all year round.
Is there a chef (or multiple chefs) that inspired you along your career path?
I have been fortunate enough to work alongside many great chefs throughout of my career. A few notable people that come to mind are Chef Thomas Ortega of Playa Amor in Long Beach and Chef Jennifer Cox of Levy Restaurants. I’ve worked with them both directly, and they taught me many practices I still value today.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not busy in the kitchen?
My wife and I have five beautiful children – there is no one I would rather spend my time with than them. We are so spoiled with the perfect weather here in San Diego, so we spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying the sunshine.
What is your favorite part of being a chef? Biggest challenge?
Having the autonomy to create is at the top. The biggest challenge would have to be remembering which hat I’m wearing at any given moment. Things run smoother when my team and I are calm, so I try to encourage that at the restaurant.
What are your favorite things to do around San Diego?
Aside from anything that involves my children, I really love trying new restaurants for inspiration and visiting local San Diego attractions, such as the Cabrillo National Monument.
What would be your alternative career choice?
I am a closeted history buff, so I think I would probably be a history teacher for sure.
Chef Hendrickson’s Cider-brined Pork Chop Recipe
with mustard parsley spaetzle and sour cherry pork glace
Part 1: Cider-Brined Pork Chop
4 double cut pork chops (13 oz. to 16 oz. each)
1 qt. apple cider
1 qt. water
½ c. kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
- Mix the apple cider, water, cinnamon stick, salt, and star anise together.
- Pour mixture in a sealable container and place the chops in the brine.
- Brine for 24 hours.
Part 2: Spaetzle
4 c. all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. kosher salt
2¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1½ c. whole milk
¼ c. whole grain mustard
4 tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tbs. minced parsley
- Place the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and kosher salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix by hand until even.
- Add remaining ingredients, and mix using a bowl scraper pulling the dough up with your hand until about chest height and slamming it down to incorporate air into the dough (about 10 minutes). The dough should be elastic and hold shape in the bowl with minimal tackiness when ready
- Fill a ½-size hotel pan with water about halfway, place on the stove, and bring to a boil.
- Once the water is at a rolling boil, place a ½-size perforated pan on top of the other pan, and spray the inside with cooking spray.
- With a bench scraper, place a portion of the dough in the perforated pan and press the dough through using a spackling motion.
- The dough will rise in the water when fully cooked. Once cooked, skim the dough with a wire skimmer and place spaetzle on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Continue with the remaining dough until finished.
Part 3: Sour cherry pork glace
¾ c. dried tart red cherries
2 c. sugar
1¾ c. water
3 tbs. light corn syrup
½ c. sherry vinegar
2 c. reduced pork stock
- Combine sugar and 1 cup of water with corn syrup in stainless pot. Stir gently with a spoon until just combined.
- Bring to boil and cook until medium golden brown, then turn off heat. Slowly add the vinegar, the cherries, and remaining water.
- Cool the cherry gastrique in an ice bath. Once cool, mix with reduced pork stock, adjust seasoning, and reserve hot until service.
Part 4: Putting It All Together
- Heat a heavy bottomed cast iron pan. While pan is heating, season the brined chop on both sides and dredge in an all-purpose flour and semolina mix.
- Once the pan is at adequate temperature, add a little grape seed oil and sear one side of chop until golden brown (about 2 minutes). Flip the chop and cook to mirror the first side.
- Once the chop is golden brown, place into the convection oven and continue to cook until medium (about 10 minutes at about 400 degrees, internal temp of 135 degrees).
- While the pork is cooking in the oven, move on to the spaetzle. Heat a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat and add bacon lardons (semi-rendered rectangular shaped pieces of bacon) to the pan.
- Once the bacon is about 75 percent crisp, add the spaetzle to the pan with the addition of whole butter and cook the speatzle until crisp and golden brown with minimal disturbance of the sauté pan. When the spaetzle is cooked to desired doneness, drain on a paper towel to remove excess cooking fat.
- One pork chop is finished cooking, remove from oven and let the meat rest for a few minutes. Select a plate and place desired amount of spaetzle in the center. Then arrange the pork chop on top and spoon the sour cherry pork glace over the meat.