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Through the ranks with spice:
By Joe Sweeney
Are you a self-conscious high roller? Do you prefer the finer things in life, but don’t want to come off holier than thou? Is your preference to roll up your sleeves and just hang out, and not in the demeaning, politician-photo-op way? If so, Hutch’s Restaurant (1375 Delaware Avenue) is your spot. A perennial favorite since it opened in 1995, Hutch’s fuses adventurous haute cuisine with a bright, unpretentious atmosphere. You could argue that owner and head chef Mark Hutchinson has constructed the ideal example of fine dining in Buffaloa down-to-earth white tablecloth experience.
Ever since Hutchinson’s high school gig as a dishwasher for Casa di Pizza, the restaurant business bas been in his bones. “I basically went through the ranks,” he reminisces. “When I was around eighteen, I worked with a chef at Fanny’sat that time the whole chef thing wasn’t as glamorous as it is now in the eyes of the public.” The budding chef then moved to Dallas to hone his craft in the cradle of Southwestern cuisine, moving back to Buffalo in 1989. After working as a chef at Oliver’s for five years, he opened Hutch’s in 1995.
And it seems Hutch’s fans have something special to look forward to. “I think I have at least one more thing I’d like to do in the restaurant business before I retire,” the forty-nine-year-old chef explains. “We’d like to expand a little bit. Not Hutch’s necessarily, but we may try and get something else going within the next year or two.”
Assertive flavors and dishes that keep them coming back
Hutchinson has become known for several signature dishes over the last fourteen years; the first thing he mentions is the sesame-crusted tuna, which has become an attraction through word of mouth alone. “We have a good six or ten things that people come for: the jambalaya pasta, the liver,” he elaborates. What’s his secret to creating a dish that becomes a star? “Always fresh ingredients, that’s always been the focus here,” he shares. “Given the smallness of our kitchen, everything is pretty much cooked to order and put on the plate.” Even if this restaurant were tempted to store stuff for later re-heating, it wouldn’t have the room to pull it off.
When asked about what he feels most confident preparing, Hutchinson responds, “Probably seafood. I worked in the Southwestern style in Dallas for four or five years, and back in those days, Southwestern food was just coming of ageit was before Bobby Flay was doing that style. So a lot of the food I prefer has a little spice to it, bold flavors.”
Just a glance at the Hutch’s menu reflects the chef’s proclivities: “Thai high” calamari with spicy red pepper vinaigrette. Jambalaya pasta including chorizo and a spicy tomato cream sauce. And last but not least: locally famous stuffed jalapenos with pico di gallo (shown here).
A chef first and last
It’s always encouraging when somebody has trouble talking about anything other than their specialty. Faced with the task of listing interests on top of cooking, Hutchinson draws a blank. “It’s more than cooking for me; it’s a business, too,” he explains. “I enjoy wine and all the aspects of thatthe purchasing of wine, and of course, the drinking of the wine. I like sports and time with my family, and that’s pretty much it.”
That’s what I want to hear from a chefthat cooking is basically everything. And when you spend a relaxed Friday night having dinner in the buzzing Hutch’s dining room, Mark Hutchinson’s exceptional devotion is palpable.
Joe Sweeney, a frequent contributor to Spree, eats at Hutch’s whenever he can.
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