When Adam talks about the food scene in Spokane, he talks about its future: the continued growth the community will see and the chefs that will keep it thriving. “I try to help my employees be leaders, to succeed and grow in their careers. You can have a career in the industry now.” It’s what Adam and his company focus on, trying to take an industry where chefs really couldn’t have a stable career and make it into an industry where the next generation can have benefits, time off, and advancement opportunities. “We’re trying to offer longevity. And I enjoy being a part of this process, of making the industry better. This work is expensive and it’s not easy, but it’s important.”
For many in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, Chef Adam Hegsted is becoming a household name. With restaurants across those cities, his name brings to mind great food—from burgers to unique tasting menus—a growing local food scene, and events for the community. But Adam says his work started from more modest beginnings: growing up, he’d bake with his mom.
“I loved sharing what I made with others, and I loved art. Cooking let me mesh the two.”
When he was in high school, he studied graphic design and culinary arts, but his culinary work was more interesting to him. He also worked as a dishwasher while he was in school, and he said it gave him the chance to learn everything about a restaurant. The more he learned, the more interested he became. That’s how he ended up at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy at SCC.
“It’s affordable and ACF certified.” That American Culinary Federation certification makes it a high-end program, Adam explained. “And it has a really quality staff,” he said. “It’s where I learned to be a good cook.” In fact, when Adam went to Seattle to get another culinary degree, he was able to skip his whole first year because of how strong his fundamental skills were, thanks to SCC.
With that sort of review for a local institution, it might surprise some to know Adam went to Seattle after graduating from SCC. He said he thought he’d work in Seattle or Portland, since they had such strong food scenes. “At the time, Spokane didn’t have a food scene.” He felt like he had to work in one of the larger Pacific Northwest cities, but in his heart, he loved Spokane.
“I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I subconsciously decided that I’d rather try to do something in Spokane than work anywhere else. I wanted to make a difference here.”
When he came back to Spokane, he met new chefs who had the same mindset. They were all thinking about the opportunity to create a hospitality and food industry in Spokane. And they could really build it from scratch. “That couldn’t have happened in Portland or Seattle,” Adam joked.
It’s that community of chefs and business owners who built a pretty thriving local food scene that Adam talks most about. “Bigger cities actually recognize the scene in Spokane now. I was just in Princeton with 100 chefs, and almost every one of them knew about Spokane.”
And Adam credits the community of chefs for that. That community is what he said is unique about here. They promote each other rather than competing with each other. “Starting a chef-owned restaurant is a risk, and it’s a tough business.” But here, there’s a community to support you. “It’s not like that everywhere.”
Adam and the other local chefs are working to keep advancing the food and hospitality scene in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. And part of that is mentoring the next generation of chefs. When asked about now being in the teacher role, Adam says he’s always trying to figure it out. “I try to be level-headed and as fair as possible. I try to take myself out of the equation. And, you know, I love sharing my knowledge.” He talked about his passion for creating an industry where the next chefs can have a stable career in a place where they can sustain a chef-owned business.
It’s through that mentorship and passion for the industry that Adam gives back to his community. And he really does see it as giving back to the people that supported him through school and his career. When he was at SCC, he received a scholarship, which he credits as a big contribution to his education.
“If you get help along the way, you should give back,” Adam said. “I rely on the community and SCC to be my guests, vendors, and employees. So it’s important to invest in the community.”
For the Foundation alone, Chef Adam has donated his time, space, and skill by hosting a dinner as a live auction package at SipSwirl&Savor. It’s always one of the items that guests look forward to most, and the money raised goes directly to CCS students through scholarships, emergency aid, and program support.
Thanks to Adam and the community of local chefs who wanted to build a strong and versatile culinary scene locally, our students studying the culinary arts today will enter a strong industry. Here, they can dream big, take risks, and have their own chance to make a difference.
Photo courtesy of Doyle Wheeler