A Tale of Two Passions

Cody Hogan is a classic. He’s always followed his instincts and, in doing so, traveled a path of two passions: food and music.

As Lidia’s Chef de Cuisine for over a decade, Hogan’s love affair with the piano is equaled by his affinity for creating beautiful food.

“I like so many aspects of working in a restaurant, but ultimately, what you’re doing is taking care of people.” Hogan says. “It’s nice to make people feel better.”

Gloria Gale: What’s the difference or similarities between playing music and being a chef?
Cody Hogan:
Both involve interpretation and creation. Most often I find myself interpreting Lidia’s food, or classic regional Italian food, just like when you’re playing music written by another composer. Sometimes, though, when a special ingredient comes along, then I do a little composing myself. I don’t know which I prefer, because classic recipes, like classic pieces of music, have been tested for generations and they are beautiful and so well thought out that you can’t help but enjoy them.

GG: Do you still play piano regularly?
Not regularly enough. I steal 20 minutes here and there, especially if I can’t get some tune out of my head.

GG: Why are you in Kansas City and not Chicago, New York or L.A?
My number one reason is being closer to my family (they all live in northwestern Arkansas). New York is too frenetic for me. L.A. — well, I love our four seasons too much. Chicago — that’s not so bad, and not off my radar. I’ve been here for 22 years and this really just feels like home.

GG: Explain how you team with Lidia.
She is a force of nature with a brilliant creative mind. She is very easy to work with if you have a similar work ethic and a passion for what you do. She’s so “in the moment” that whatever you’re doing becomes exciting.

GG: What have you learned from her?
Go with your instincts. Try to treat people the way you would like to be treated. Work hard and do your best.

GG: Toughest dish you make? Colossal flop or stupendous success?
The most difficult dishes are always the ones that are the most “simple.” In order for those dishes to work, everything has to be perfect: the quality of the ingredients, the handling, the presentation. And the person you’re cooking for needs to “get it.”

GG: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Honestly, I’ve never “seen” myself anywhere. I just go with the flow. I think the last time I had a plan, I was in junior high school and I wanted to be a band director. I’ve asked myself this question countless times since I was about 20, and it seems that I just follow what I enjoy.

GG: Explain a typical work day. What’s the most pleasant, most stressful, most rewarding?
Most of my workdays begin around 11 in the morning. I usually work on the line or expedite lunch service. After lunch, I do any purchasing needed for the restaurant (I do about a million dollars in purchasing every year — it takes a lot of stuff to keep Lidia’s going). Then I tackle paperwork (never thought about paperwork when I was dreaming of being a chef), work on a special for the evening or maybe do some menu development with executive chef Dan Swinney, with whom I’ve worked for almost 18 years. Then I run dinner service. The most rewarding and stressful aspects of the day occur during dinner service when everything is “humming” like a well-oiled machine, or it’s teetering on the edge of disaster (the two are separated by a very fine line). I also teach cooking classes at the Culinary Center of Kansas City in Old Overland Park a few evenings a month. I really enjoy doing that because the students are there because they want to be, and it’s always fun to share something you’re passionate about with interested minds.

GG: If you could eat at any restaurant anywhere in the world (money is no object), where and with whom?
I wish I had an impressive answer for this question. Restaurants are fine, but I would rather have a nice meal with people I enjoy, somewhere a little more intimate and personal. Definitely nothing fancy. A duck or chicken on the rotisserie in my fireplace, a salad out of the garden, good wine — that’s what I prefer.

GG: What’s wrong with the way people eat today?
Everything is out of proportion. Too much protein on the plate. Too many refined carbs. Too much processed food. In America, the attitude seems to be that more is better, but that seems to be slowly killing us. The Mediterranean model with smaller portions of everything, especially animal proteins, and more diversity makes more sense to me. What makes it difficult for most people is that they simply don’t know how to prepare vegetables and other whole foods. Somewhere along the way, Americans forgot how to cook. Now people are accustomed to restaurant flash and flare — and I’m glad they come to our restaurant. But with 24-hour-a-day Food Network and the Cooking Channel, people are too intimidated to prepare a meal for friends or family because they don’t think it will be fancy enough.

GG: If you could eliminate something from the menu, what would it be and why?
I would love to remove that silly warning the Health Department requires us to have on the menu about raw or undercooked food increasing your risk of food-borne illness. I love what they have on the menu at Peanches: “Everything on our menu can do your body harm, rather undercooked, overcooked or in vast quantities. Please eat & drink responsibly.”

GG: What do you do to relax?
What does “relax” mean? I like to spend time in the garden, but even that is stressful sometimes when you see everything that has to be done. I enjoy having people over for drinks or a meal at home. I love reading. Music of course …

GG: Who would you choose to work with in a perfect world?
I would hope that in a perfect world no one has to work.

photos Mackenzie Eveland