Member Spotlight: Chef William Dissen

Q&A with Chefs Collaborative Cookbook contributor, Chef William Dissen of The Market Place Restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina

You can find Chef Dissen’s recipe for Pork Tenderloin with Bacon and Blackberry Peach Chutney on page 144 of The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook.

Chef William Dissen

Chef William Dissen of The Market Place Restaurant, Asheville, NC. Photo: Matt Rose

Why are you a member of Chefs Collaborative?

Chefs Collaborative has grown into a unique network of chefs and producers that are all passionate about creating food that produced in a sustainable way. This might mean different things to different people – using local produce and meats, operating in a LEED certified building, advocating healthy foods, etc. – but the underlying meaning is we care about the way people eat and as the “middle man” to the end consumer we take a keen responsibility about the food we bring to the table.

I have been a member of Chefs Collaborative for all these reasons, but for me it’s also a unique place to meet and collaborate with other chefs to learn about how the sustainable ways they are running their businesses. I’ve grown my network and had the opportunity to brainstorm with other great chefs and grow ideas from the collaboration.

What was your introduction to sustainability in the kitchen?

I worked at the San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, CA under Chef Jamie West while on my externship from the CIA (Hyde Park). At the Ranch they kept a large organic garden and citrus orchard. I remember asking Chef West where to find thyme for a recipe and he told me to get a pair of garden shears and “head outside”. The memory of using garden-fresh produce sticks with me still today. Fresh flavors and bright colors straight from the garden.

Starting out, was there a chef whose career you admired and wanted to imitate?

Chef Donald Barickman, former executive chef and owner of Magnolia, Blossom & Cypress Restaurants in Charleston, SC, was my mentor and friend and advisor as I was advancing in my career. He was keen on advancing and using Southern heritage ingredients before it was the fashionable thing to do.

What size restaurant do you operate?

The Market Place Restaurant is 120-seats with a 32-seat bar and 20-seat outside patio.

Market Place Bar

Market Place Bar

How would you describe your restaurant?

The Market Place Restaurant is a “New American Farm to Table Restaurant”. We focus on using ingredients grown or raised within 100 miles of the restaurant. When we can’t find local, we source from the most sustainable purveyors possible.

How do you apply sustainable practices on a daily basis?

We are a partner with the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and with the Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s Seafood Watch. So, we strive to provide our guests with fresh and sustainable produce, meats, and seafood. We also use thermal solar panels to heat our hot water, we compost, we recycle, we recycle our fryer oil for biodiesel, and our restaurant features many reused or recycled metal and wood accents and pieces of art and furniture.

What’s your framework for making choices?

Local whenever possible, always sustainable. To me sustainability means fresh, well produced food and ingredients. When a producers states that they are “sustainable” they are showing that they care about the bigger picture.

Can you describe one sustainability challenge you’ve overcome?

Our biggest challenge was always with seafood. Long before my involvement with the Seafood Watch I was demanding more transparency from my fishmongers. We would order a distinct species of fish and would sometimes receive a similar, but different type of fish. I finally had enough so I withdrew my sales from a few different purveyors. They would hound me to ask me for my business, but I refused until they would list the sustainable fish on their order guides. It came down to money. I did some calculating from my financial statements and showed them how much we were spending annually on seafood. I told them that they would have my return business if they could show me more transparency about the seafood I was ordering and about its sustainability rating. It took some time, but eventually their order guides started to note their sustainable species of fish and shellfish.

What do you still have to conquer?

We are fortunate to have such a unique network of farms and artisan producers in the Asheville, NC area. Our biggest challenge is to create more local whole animal processors to cut down on the carbon footprint of processing our livestock in this region. If we had more local whole animal processing facilities, then we would be able to help the farmers cut their costs and keep local dollars in our region without having to haul livestock hundreds of miles away.

Describe what you do in terms of community outreach?

Market Place Restaurant & Lounge

How do you use social media?

I use Facebook and Twitter to reach out to my customers to inform them about updates, news, and specials for The Market Place Restaurant.

What are your five favorite ingredients right now?

It’s Spring – wild ramps, “green” strawberries, spring onions, radishes, and morel mushrooms.

What are your favorite food combinations?

My wife was born and raised in India, so I love good Indian food. Curried Okra (bhindi masala) with a saffron rice pilaf, yogurt & cilantro chutney is so bright and flavorful.

What would you eat for your last meal?

That’s a loaded question, but here is an answer I’ve given to a few folks recently:

  • Kumamoto Oysters on the half shell with a little caviar and a squeeze of lemon
  • A bowl of homemade tortilla chips with fresh guacamole
  • A dry-aged ribeye rubbed with good sea salt and cracked black pepper wood grilled and served with duck fat french fries, homemade ketchup, and a butter lettuce salad with a simple vinaigrette and Roquefort blue cheese
  • Dessert would be a few truffles from Pierre Hermes and a glass of Pappy van Winkle 20-year bourbon

Posted by: Chefs Collaborative

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