Getting to know Executive Chef Jeffrey Hileman
Like many, Jeffrey Hileman struggled deciding what to do with his life while in college. He decided to take a semester off and consider his options, and he needed to get a job to support himself during that time. Ruby Tuesday was hiring, so he took a job as a line cook. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now 34, Hileman, is the newly appointed executive chef at the Four Seasons’ new Michael Mina restaurant, The Handle Bar.
Through his first job, Hileman quickly realized cooking was his passion. “What drew me to keep coming back was the intensity, energy and camaraderie with the guys on the line,” he said. “There is something very rewarding about pumping out orders.”
Though the Florida native did return to school and finish college, he got right back into the food game as soon as he completed his degrees in music history and humanities. He found a gourmet shop/restaurant called Clusters and Hops that offered food and dining that he felt would help him grow professionally. He worked in the front of the house to learn more about wine.
He transitioned back into the kitchen after a year and, eventually, partnered with the owner in the restaurant who was taking a sabbatical on a boat. Hileman began to feel trapped by a “glass ceiling” and he decided to further his career by going back to culinary school. He attended Johnson and Wales in Charlotte, N.C., and graduated at the top of his class with a perfect 4.0.
“I knew how to cook but didn’t know why I was doing the things I was doing and wanted more formal training,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without culinary school. It was a chance for me to focus solely on food and elevate my skills.”
After graduation, he pursued a position in Washington DC. Hileman secured an interview at another Michael Mina restaurant, Bourbon Steak, also located within a Four Seasons, and he knew that was the place for him. “They took me to the garden, I toured the kitchen and knew that was going to be the place.” He also saw one of the restaurant’s dishes on the cover of a local magazine and was sold on the job. He ultimately turned down a higher paying position to become the “Cook 1” for Bourbon Steak.
“These were my type of guys,” Hileman said. “They were young, sharp, professional and hungry.”
After two years he moved to the hotel’s in-house dining restaurant as the sous chef and worked on his management skills and speed and accuracy in the kitchen. As luck would have it, just when he was ready to move up the chef ladder again, the position in Jackson Hole opened. Within a short period of time, Hileman moved here with his wife and two young sons.
“That was in September, he said. “I moved here Nov. 1, and it’s been a whirlwind awesome experience so far. I am so excited about this project.”
With an impressively relaxed and easy-going demeanor, Hileman will fit into the lifestyle in Jackson perfectly and said, so far, The Handle Bar has been a “really fun” place to work.
We asked him for a few other thoughts about moving to the area and his new life at the Four Seasons:
Dishing: First impression of Jackson Hole (prior to his move he has been here only once before with his family at age 7)?
Jeffrey Hileman: It is a complete 180 from DC. It is obviously a small community, and everyone is extremely friendly and helpful. Everyone here seems to be thankful that they live here.
Skier or snowboarder?
Neither yet, but I am an ex-surfer so will probably pick up snowboarding when I have time.
Favorite dish on The Handle Bar’s menu?
Probably The Handleburger – It is served with caramelized onions, a light fluffy bun, magical mushrooms, black truffle aioli, smoked blue cheese, and we use Wagyu beef.
Favorite place to eat in Jackson Hole so far?
I haven’t had a real chance to eat out much yet, but I live near The Bird and have been there a few times.
What are you most looking forward to with your new job?
I am excited at the chance to offer Jackson Hole something that does not exist yet. This is an American pub with no sense of exclusivity.
So the mustache: pre- or post-Handel Bar (who’s trademark logo is a mustache)?
Post. I had a beard sometimes before.
The Handle Bar opens in the Four Seasons Jackson Hole today!