Newark, Delaware - An interview with the winner of Season 1 Next Great Baker, "The Sweet & Savory King....Chef Dana Herbert".
PhillyBite: How long have you been a chef?
Chef Dana Herbert: Ooh, you're telling my age I guess! Technically I've been a chef for about 15 years. But I've been cooking for about 20-25 years.
PhillyBite: Which do you have more fun creating, savory or sweet dishes?
Chef Dana Herbert: I have my moments. Sometimes I'm all into cakes and designs and all that stuff. And other times, I just want to get my mouth around a piece of beef or some shrimp. So I float back and forth. I guess I love different things about each one of them. Pastry it's the art. With the savory, I guess it's some of the different flavor combinations that you can come up with.
PhillyBite: What are some ingredients that you always try to keep handy in your kitchen?
Chef Dana Herbert: Sugar, butter, olive oil, I like something citrus. So whether it's oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, I like having them because a lot of times, you need something to balance out the sweets. So citrus does a good job of that.
PhillyBite: What’s an important skill someone should have as a baker?
Chef Dana Herbert: Patience...persistence because a lot of times you're going to have to do things over in the beginning. I think that as a baker you have to be disciplined. Baking can be a little bit harder sometimes than cooking. Because if you don't follow the proper steps, it won't come out right.
PhillyBite: Do you have a personal favorite item that you sell at your bakery Desserts by Dana?
Chef Dana Herbert: Death by chocolate. We probably sell that the most out of anything. I would say our Pina Colada panna cotta, that's really good. We do caramelized pineapples on top. Another Dana favorite would be the creamsicle cupcake. Southern lemon is another Dana favorite. That's kind of like a pound cake with cream cheese icing, strawberries, lemon curd, it's good!
PhillyBite: Do you sell anything in your bakery that uses a family recipe that’s been passed down? If so, what is it?
Chef Dana Herbert: I think the sugar cookies and that comes from grandmom. I don't think I make them as good as grandmom, but it's the sugar cookies.
PhillyBite: Are there new trends in the food industry that you feel you have to keep up with?
Chef Dana Herbert: Food is always changing. As soon as you bring somebody into the mix something else is happening. I think you just have to keep looking, keep studying. If you see something new, or you eat out somewhere , you go home, you try it out and you dissect it and you pull it apart.
PhillyBite: Is there anything you feel you haven’t mastered yet?
Chef Dana Herbert: It's funny, even after all these years to me, holidays are always still a pain in the butt. It drives me crazy. I could pull sugar and make all these crazy sculptures. But holidays, it just drives me nuts.
PhillyBite: What’s one of your biggest accomplishments or special milestone that you’ve reached in your career?
Chef Dana Herbert: Well, from outside of TV and winning Next Great Baker, I got to be on a number of TV shows on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. But I think some of the other milestones outside of TV, I was invited to cook at the James Beard House and that was awesome. I just made the Macy's National Culinary Council. I think my first event with them is literally a few weeks away. So that's pretty cool. I think those would be my two favorite ones and they mean a lot to me. Now a third one, I work with Novo Nordisk as a celebrity chef as well doing healthy cooking demos around the country geared towards healthy eating and healthy cooking. My brother has diabetes, so working with them, I really love it. I feel like every time I hit the stage, I'm doing something for my family and in honor of my brother.
PhillyBite: As being one of the most popular wedding cake designers around, have you ever encountered a Bridezilla?
Chef Dana Herbert: I think every master baker has encountered a bridezilla. You just have to know a bridezilla when you see a bridezilla! And just do your best. You know, you already know what's coming. So, you just have to adjust.
PhillyBite: Do you struggle with keeping a balance between work and your personal life?
Chef Dana Herbert: Sometimes. That's the hard part. Because you can be in the kitchen so much and you don't even notice. You just look up at the clock, and you're like "ooooh, it's midnight, I'm in trouble!"
PhillyBite: Do you see yourself opening up your own restaurant?
Chef Dana Herbert: It's in the back of my head. When I started this food business, I always had the idea that I would open a restaurant. I had no idea that a bakery would come first. It just did. So, a part of my brain is like "what about that restaurant?" So it's quite possible.
PhillyBite: On your down time, what does Dana Herbert love to do?
Chef Dana Herbert: Down time? I have that? Honestly, when I do get it I love to just go away. My wife and I drop the kids off and just hang out like we're young bucks again. I like to just sit and watch movies, I love movies. I like all kinds, I love action movies. But some of my favorite movies are "Shawshank Redemption", "The Green Mile", "The Five Heartbeats"
PhillyBite: Do you have a favorite band or singer that you enjoy listening to?
Chef Dana Herbert: Hmm, my favorite singer today would be Grace Otley, she rocks! Other singers, I like Michael Jackson a lot. Let's see, what would be in my radio right now in my car in the CD changer, Drake is in there. The Weeknd is in there, Maxwell, Kirk Franklin. So I have my moments where I just gotta float back and forth.
PhillyBite: If you were able to take an entire month off from work, what would you do?
Chef Dana Herbert: Oh my gosh, is that possible? An entire month? So I can't go in the kitchen is that the deal? Umm, if I can't go in the kitchen, I think I would like to travel. I'd like to go to Dubai. I haven't been there yet. I would like to go somewhere tropical or the islands. One of those places where you see those rooms and the cabanas out in the water. That would be awesome.
PhillyBite: Is there anyone in the food industry that you admire?
Chef Dana Herbert: People in the food industry that I admire, a couple different people for different reasons. I never met him yet, but I love Morimoto. He's so versatile, you give him anything and he'll make something out of it. I remember seeing him on Iron Chef and he made some sort of fish ice cream or a seafood ice cream and I was like "whhaaattt!" So as a sweet and savory person, I'm like "he did whaaat?" I just love him, he's just so innovative. Who else...I love Pichet Ong, I love him. He's an Asian baker. He's very good. I like TK, Thomas Keller, he's a chef. His bakery cookbook "Bouchon" was real nice. I like Bobby Flay. I've eaten at a few of his restaurants. The food is good. What I like about Bobby Flay is he's always changing. You've seen him through the years, you've seen his growth. He's always changed and reinvents himself. He's forever changing. So I really admire him for that.
PhillyBite: Name someone you would love to cook for that you haven’t already.
Chef Dana Herbert: Obama. I was like, I wanted to cook for him while he was in the White House. Now I'm like damn it, I missed it. So, I still would love to cook for Barack and Michelle. That would be quite an honor. I've made stuff for Biden before, just never Barack. So I can't claim it until I do it. So, we'll see. Who else would I like to do something for? Tyler Perry. That would be cool to do something for him.
PhillyBite: If you could travel anywhere in the world for dinner, where would you go?
Chef Dana Herbert: Ooh...that's a tough one. It's funny, I've been to Europe. But I've never been to France yet. So I want to experience that. But I don't know if that would be my one place that I would want to go. For some reason, something is sending me to Japan. And I don't know what it is. So I'm thinking maybe Japan. That would be my destination. I love Asian food.
PhillyBite: What’s some of the best advice you’ve received from someone that you still try to follow?
Chef Dana Herbert: I think any of the really good bosses that I've had just always kept telling me to never stop learning. Never stop creating. I remember I had one boss at the Marriott and it was almost like a love hate relationship while I was working there. But when he left, it's almost like having a dad. And you don't always see everything they're trying to do until they're gone. And then you're like "damn, he told me that" or "he taught me that". He schooled me on it. I might not have wanted to listen at the time, but it made a lot of sense. He could be a hard ass, but he was hard ass for a reason. And sometimes as a young chef, you don't see all those reasons until you become that head chef and then you're like "he did tell me that."
PhillyBite: Through your journey as a chef, are there any steps that you wish you would go back and change?
Chef Dana Herbert: I can't say I would change anything. And this is just based on my faith. I feel like God puts you in certain places for certain reasons. You're supposed to walk the way you walk. You're supposed to make the mistakes that you make so that you can learn and be better. So I can't say that I regret or I would necessarily change anything. Sometimes you may question stuff, and then you're like "oh God, why didn't I open my bakery right after I won Next Great Baker?" And He was probably like "because you haven't learned a couple things I wanted you to learn before you got it." So, I can't say that I would change anything.