Imagine a spattering of gardens growing peas in the spring, tomatoes in the summer and herbs along with edible flowers almost year-round. They are all just steps away from a kitchen—at a hospital. This is Executive Chef Tony DeWalt’s world at the 95-bed Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton, Va., about 45 miles north of Washington, D.C. Drawing from these five gardens tended by volunteers, DeWalt creates specials for the patients and augments the many food stations at the on-site restaurant, Bistro on the Hill. It’s a welcome switch for DeWalt, whose former career skewed toward feeding 500-plus people daily and managing larger operations. Now his role is more diner concentrated, allowing him to focus on simple ways of conveying care with food.
What do you like to cook when you’re off the clock? I do a lot with smoked meats. I like to play with different woods, like cherrywood and applewood, and meats like pork, chicken and duck.
One trend you wish would go away? Fancy burgers.
The most overused spring item that you love anyway? Edible flowers. They’re great for presentation but who really wants to eat flowers for dinner?
Your favorite kitchen tool? A 10-inch Wusthof chef’s knife. I can use it for cracking lobsters, dicing up scallions and things like that.
Your guiding principle to cooking? I’ve always been into simplicity—just using fresh ingredients. It works out better instead of trying to over-think everything.
If you had to choose one ingredient to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be? I love garlic. That would be a tough one to do without.
What’s the Next Big Thing? Small portions. Not even for dietary reasons, but for the cost of the way food’s going.
Finish this sentence: There’s never enough time to…? Travel.
Do you have any advice for the reluctant diner? Don’t be afraid to talk to your waiter to change things up.
What’s your process to developing new dishes? I like to try to keep it simple—just go with the flavors and try to go out of the ordinary.
What was your biggest kitchen disaster? Someone had spilled probably a half-gallon of clarified butter (in a new walk-in). I was thinking (the workers) would just scrape it up. (Instead), one of the workers got the hot water hose and sprayed the butter thinking it’s just going to rinse it up. [The butter] was everywhere. We got a good laugh. I learned that you really need to show people what you’d like them to do and follow up very quickly.
WHO’S THIS DEWALT GUY?
Hometown: Elmwood, Ill., near Peoria.
Education: L’Academie de Cuisine, Bethesda, Md.; Illinois College, Jacksonville, Ill.
Mentors: Rick Stephan at 1789 Restaurant, Washington D.C., and Tom Myer at Clyde’s in Reston, Va.