Being responsible for four Hereford Houses and Pierpont’s is all part of the day’s work for Corporate Chef Erik Hyre. What does being a corporate chef mean? Well, perhaps fewer late night hours (except during holidays) and more decision making to ensure all five restaurants move smoothly, create delicious meals, and train responsive staff, all necessary for happy customers.
Chef Hyre began working in restaurants in high school and soon decided he liked it and wanted to move up. That meant school and he graduated from Johnson County Community College’s extensive culinary training in 2000. From there, he began climbing, working his way up from the line, to sous chef, to chef, to executive chef and now being the guy who’s in charge of entire group. To that task load, he’s also currently the general manager for the Zona Rosa location where he’s adding extensive front of the house experience. The major difference from the whirlwind in the kitchen is “always listening to the customers and determining what they are really saying,” he remarks. It’s a different field of vision and really enlightening, especially when changing the dinner rolls can apparently rock a person’s world, he says wryly.
The newest thing at the Hereford Houses is a new menu, debuting September 3rd, which, while it will retain some of the must-have favorites like chicken fried steak or beef stroganoff, is more geared to “foodies” and the next generation of eaters. Creativity and presentation are important and even the favs will be tweaked. He’s hoping this doesn’t cause an uproar with the many traditionalists who have relied on Hereford House for years for their filets and KC steaks (almost equal in their top popularity) but of course, the restaurant IS a long-time Kansas City steak house and the charcoal grilling won’t ever change. The unique flavor of all the meats done this way is too important he points out.
So what does the top chef at a mainstay steak restaurant eat? For lunch, nearly always a burger. His absolute favorite, which you, too, can order is their slow cooked prime rib, rare, then tossed on the grill for a minute to caramelize it – the sweetness and full charcoal flavor make it taste like the best ribeye in the world, but different. It’s just great, he fervently claims. At Pierpont’s, since he’s eaten everything so often, he extols the variety of the menu which changes quarterly to take advantage of what’s fresh and local. And he loves the “wow” factor of the Union Station location, and its beautiful bar – but he’s well aware it takes more than a pretty place: service and food must be exemplary as well.
With four daughters, from 16 years to 8 months, Chef Hyre doesn’t have much free time. He doesn’t cook at home – his wife likes to – but he will grill. Or call for a pizza. He and his wife eat out as much as they can – it’s research, too, of course. Maybe twice a week he puts on his head phones, gets out his bicycle, and zooms away for stress relief.
He notes that the stress is mitigated by the enjoyment of running restaurants and making people happy. He trusts his team of chefs and staff and knows that everyone plays a role. “The happiest hours are when we’ve pleased someone from the front door to the back,” he says. And that happens enough to keep him happy, too.