Dennis Stover, a veteran of Big Star and Longman & Eagle, passed up a Greenwich Village post at the last minute to join the pastry potentate Mindy Segal at Hot Chocolate (1747 N. Damen Ave., 773-489-1747).
Dish: Which of your career stops had the greatest influence on you?
Dennis Stover: Where it all started to take shape was going to work at Vie with Paul Virant. It was life-changing. I staged on a Saturday night, and that Monday he [Virant] asked me to come back. It was like being a newbie, [first] realizing what it means to season food. And he offered me a line cook position. Garde-manger. I worked my way up—hot apps, sauté, and grill stations.
D: You worked at two hipster havens, Longman & Eagle and Big Star. What do those places have in common?
DS: The only similarity between Longman & Eagle and Big Star is pushing high volume, but making a really, really good product at high volume. Longman uses foie and lobster and truffle. The most expensive item at Big Star is the salad. And it’s a good salad. But you are serving so many people there, that’s the fun and the challenge—to make the product consistent all the time.
D: What are you bringing to Hot Chocolate from those places?
DS: I’ve learned about systems and the right way to do things. It’s really hard to keep your cooks motivated and keep them hungry to work, in the heat and on the long days. There’s a lot more to cooking than putting flame to meat.
D: What have you changed at Hot Chocolate?
DS: Last week, I changed six things. We’re slowly incorporating peas and favas and all that spring wonderfulness onto the menu. The savory-side approach is food that is approachable but still really good. I don’t need a lot of high-end garnish. Using foie is easy. It’s special and wonderful, but everyone has had foie. It’s a luxury item. Not that I wouldn’t work with [it], but sometimes it’s [too] easy just to throw that on there.
D: Now that you’re in the kitchen, how is Segal involved?
DS: It’s still her house. There are a couple of things that won’t change. But she’s given me full control of the savory side. She is in control of pastries—as she should be. But I will have one eye there too, [although] not creative influence. Why would I mess with her desserts? [I’ll] make sure they go out right. We’ve talked about how the savories should complement the desserts and the other way around, too. It’s a very nice fit.