We are excited to feature the talented people behind the scenes – those who create and prepare the tasty treats that we all get to enjoy in our restaurants. Each month we will be introducing you to the gifted and passionate individuals who make up our culinary team. Bon Appétit!
Wesley Del Hood III, Executive Chef at AQUA by El Gaucho
“No matter how much one learns about food…there is always so much more to learn,” says Wes, Executive Chef at AQUA. “I have been continually inspired by the people, the chaotic-urgency of the dinner rush, the sights and smells of fresh ingredients, and the ways that cuisine can be artfully displayed.”
Wes’ passion for food and cooking started in high school, when he began working as a dishwasher for a local restaurant at the age of 15. His dad would often tell him, “Whatever it is that you do, do it to the best of your ability. Don’t be a follower: if you and your friends are going to rob a bank, make sure you are the one planning and leading it.”
He took his dad’s advice to heart, and his work ethic and leadership were noticed: he was soon allowed to do everything in the kitchen –still attending high school – “because the chef was usually in jail,” he laughs. After moving to Seattle in 2000, he worked two full time jobs, for both Meridian Restaurant and Classic Catering. He worked through the ranks at Palisade restaurant until promoted to his first management position at Maggie Bluffs, and later at Scott’s Bar and Grill. His next adventures took him to Consolidated Restaurants as a Sous Chef for both Elliott’s Oyster House and Union Square Grill. When Union Square Grill closed its doors, Wes joined our AQUA team (at that time, Waterfront Seafood Grill), and assisted with the rebranding and transition to AQUA. In January 2012, he transferred to El Gaucho Bellevue as a Sous Chef, and in March of 2013, returned to AQUA. Shortly thereafter was promoted to Executive Chef.
Wes admits one of his favorite things about working at AQUA is, “Quality. We buy the absolute best ingredients available. The quality of the people – to find such a tight-knit group of passionate professionals is truly rare. And, the view and ambiance in our restaurants is world class.”
Another favorite is cooking for the occasional, and special, wine dinners at AQUA. “Often they involve trying new techniques and have a heightened attention to detail,” he notes. His most exotic food? “Geoduck!” he exclaims. “It’s clean and pure clam flavor and tastes just like the ocean!”
When he’s not grilling up some Copper River Salmon or shucking oysters at AQUA, he loves barbequing at home for his family, and is never deterred by the weather. His favorite is a medium rare NY Steak, grilled over live coals. Wes also couldn’t live without coffee, and items you’ll always find in his pantry at home are quite varied: smokehouse almonds, wasabi peas, mae ploy (Thai sweet chili sauce), capers, and peanut butter.
Lately, he’s been experimenting with baking, and his current favorite is sourdough bread. “I am having a ton of fun learning more about baking,” he says. “I have a living levain at home and named it Monster,” he jokes. If you’re unfamiliar with what a “living levain” is, Wes explains: “it’s a starter you use to make bread. You don’t need to add any yeast to it as it pulls in natural yeast from its own environment. A levain also contains a good bacteria that gives bread a favorable sour flavor. To make it you just mix flour and water, leave it out to ferment and feed it periodically until it becomes very bubbly and active.”
His wife of 12 years, Elizabeth, and their two “brilliant and rambunctious boys,” Connor (7) and Ethan (5), are Wes’ pride and joy. “The highlight of my day is walking them to school every morning,” he says. Another favorite is playing Legos or wrestling with the boys, as well as solving puzzles like Sudoku, Cryptograms (“I’m a total nerd,” he says), and burning off steam by running. Lately, he’s been found watching episodes of “Criminal Minds” and Gordon Ramsay’s, “Kitchen Nightmares.”
Wes stays on top of food trends by searching his favorite internet cooking sites, and following Chefs Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulund, and Thomas Keller. “It’s inspiring to look at their work,” he explains.