On her fourth birthday, Heather Terhune told her parents she wanted to be a chef. And, judging by the dinner she requested that night, before even starting kindergarten – artichokes and spareribs – they couldn’t have been too surprised that she never wavered from that dream.
“I never changed my mind,” she said. Although she always knew she’d attend culinary school, there was another stop she wanted to make first – getting a college degree and some background in restaurant management. Terhune said the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource’s Hotel and Restaurant Management (now Hospitality Management) program made for an easy choice.
Terhune recently returned to MU for the program’s Benefit Gala, which invited alumni to prepare a course for attendees (Terhune prepared the third course – braised veal cheeks, three sister’s grits, toasted almond-orange gremolata and port wine reduction).
She said she is impressed with her alma mater program’s hands-on experiences for students – a café, bed and breakfast, meat market and ice cream parlor.
“I love the fact that they have these opportunities here,” she said. “The program has really developed.”
Prior to the Gala, Terhune hadn’t been back to campus in years but said the timing was right.
“I love the teaching aspect of cooking,” she said. “It’s an honor to be here and be giving back. I loved going to school here.”
Terhune came back to MU and CAFNR with an exciting resume. She recently appeared on Top Chef: Texas, making it into the Top Ten – a great experience, Terhune said.
“They approached me about it three years ago but I was in the middle of opening a restaurant,” she said of the Bravo program. “Last January they asked again and it seemed to be the right time.” Terhune said at the time she applied she also was turning 40.
“I knew I’d be one of the oldest and I wondered if I could hang with the younger kids,” she said. “I thought it would be fun, and it was – the most fun I’ve had cooking. You have to have a thick skin though.” Terhune said she loved sharing the intense experience with 15 other people – many of whom coincidentally also are currently chefs in Chicago.
Terhune is the executive chef at Sable Kitchen and Bar in the Windy City. The restaurant is focused on new American small plates; the food is simple and comes out quickly.
“It’s all about sharing,” she said. “I don’t go out with people who don’t share!”
Sable is the second restaurant Terhune has helped envision and open with Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, the company she has been with for 14 years. Kimpton restaurants are typically housed in hotels, but as an amenity to the hotel rather than a traditional hotel restaurant. The company focuses on what a chef does well and allows that chef to make the restaurant his or her own vision. Kimpton is ranked 16th on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.
“They take people and think outside of the box,” said Terhune, of Kimpton’s success. The company operates restaurants and hotels in many large cities across the country.
Terhune describes her cooking style as “farm-to-table.” She tends to work with five ingredients or less. She feels Chicago is a great city for this type of food, as it is surrounded by farms and agriculture and has so many resources from which to pull.
“A few years ago I spent four weeks in Italy,” Terhune said. “It changed the way I cook. My food is my focus and my focus is my food. I don’t care about being over the top.”
What she does care about is making her mark in the restaurant industry.
“No matter what it is you like about this industry, be passionate; take risks,” Terhune said. “Get out of your comfort zone. You have to be a free-thinker.”