Chef Johndavid Henlsey -- the new chef at Prime in Delray Beach -- made his name in the culinary scene in New York City and the Hamptons, in such places as the Russian Tea Room and Indian Cove. But the lure of a slower, less pretentious lifestyle and a beachside existence convinced him to ditch New York state and relocate to South Florida.
"I fell in love with Delray; the town, the lifestyle," Hensley said.
Hensley first "met" Delray earlier this year when he was traveling between the Hamptons and Florida to help open 75 Main on Atlantic Avenue (the original 75 Main is a popular spot for celeb spotting in the Hamptons). In the course of his travels he was able to network with chefs and restaurant folks in Delray Beach. When he learned of the opportunity at Prime -- former chef Peter Masiello exited the restaurant earlier this year to help open Damiano -- he pounced.
"It's a beach day, every day," said Hensley, an avid surfer who uses the sport as a way to "vent" after a chaotic shift in the kitchen. "I wake up every morning and walk out onto the beach."
"On Long Island, we have snow, so there's just a small window of opportunity," Hensley said. "That's what brought me here; summer, surf, and sport."
Hensley also is feeling energized to help reinvent some of the offerings at Prime. Though he heads the kitchen at a steakhouse, he eschews meat in his personal diet.
"I learned to separate church and state over the years," he said. "I understand (meat)...it's a dietary choice for me."
Don't expect Prime to ditch the T-bone for tofu anytime soon, but diners will find dishes like handmade pastas and more organic and hormone-free items on the menu. Hensley is interested in incorporating more specials and seasonal menus, while exploring local farmers' markets and fisheries to source ingredients. In place of heavy creams and butters, he wants the kitchen to rely on fresh herbs for a "vibrant, healthy flavor."
Hensley said he discovered that cooking was his "thing" early on in life. He grew up in a large family and with 17 people at the dinner table, he learned that "cooking was from the heart." He started young in the industry and chose to "turn food into my life."
"I ate, slept, and breathed it seven days a week. I love and adore what I do for work. Every day is different," Hensley said. "I'm very passionate about it. When I walk into the kitchen, my palms get sweaty and my heart beats a little faster."
Hensley said he likes to operate with a "pay it forward mentality" at work and in his private life. He'll take on externs at Prime and said he wants to help to facilite his staff in being able to "fall in love with what they do."
"The customer is the only reason we're here," Hensley said.
In addition to working the kitchen and hitting his surfboard, Hensley is working on a cookbook manuscript and currently has another at Random House.
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