Customer Focus

Hy-Vee Crossroads – Waterloo, Iowa
An Interview with William Gerstenberger, Executive Chef

Tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do at Hy-Vee Crossroads.

chef kneeling down in front of a display case of various prepared foods

Chef William and some of his favorite creations

We have a new Market Grille here in our store with a diverse menu.  We have hand-cut steaks, pan-seared sea scallops and other great seafood delicacies, sushi, great pasta dishes, hand-crafted burgers and an array of great appetizers.  There’s something for everybody on this menu.  I occasionally have specials for a themed menu for adventurous and fun occasions.

I teach cooking classes here at Hy-Vee Crossroads.  I also get involved with our monthly wine clubs where I will pair up appetizers and entrées with different wines from around the world.  I do cooking segments with our local NBC station KWWL.  I create menus for dietary and nutritional needs as well.  You can find me in the store demoing tasting products on a routine basis.

My background—well you would have to go back to the mid- to late-80’s.  Billy Idol gave me my first “real” culinary position as a personal and production chef.  I worked the culinary scene in Hollywood, California for a good stretch of years before moving to Orange County, California, learning every style of food I could get my mind wrapped around:  French, Asian, Italian, Latin and Americana to name a few.

beautifully prepared fish mealI worked my way up the chain without attending any kind of “Culinary Institutions.” I went to the school of “hard knocks” and never looked back.  Made Executive Chef, then concentrated on working with “Script to Screen” companies, which are companies that cater to film productions.  My last kitchen in California had the privilege to cook for A-listers such as Oprah Winfrey, Jane Seymour, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Miley Cyrus a.k.a Hannah Montana.

Then the final chapter in my culinary journey will end with Hy-Vee Crossroads.  Chef Alfonso Hernandez, (Rochester, MN Store #3) and I were the first two Hy-Vee chefs, except for our “corporate chef,” Chef Kim. Our job was to put in motion the bones to help build the “culinary blueprint” that you see at work in the Hy-Vee food stores across the 8 states where we have set up stores, including Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas.  Our corporate office is in West Des Moines, IA.

Where’s there’s a chef or chefs at a Hy-Vee, the sky’s the limit!

How did you get involved in cooking?  Could you describe your career path to your job now?
My mother was not a very good cook.  Soggy, watery lasagna to overcooked chicken, pork, beef, noodles and don’t even get me talking about seafood.  Forget it, not going to happen.  She’s much better these days.  After I moved back from California in 2008 after 25 years or so, she has now started to listen to me and cooking is fun for her now.  My father’s very happy with her new-found skill.

prepared meal with chicken and vegetablesI started cooking when I was 7.  My parents bought me a “presto fry daddy”.  I fried up everything in that thing.  I was 16 years old when I got a job at McDonald’s.  Then I got a job at a “Shrine” club in downtown, Waterloo.  That’s where I learned how to cook seafood, steaks and pasta dishes etc.  Then after high school I moved out to Hollywood with a couple guys who were going to a musical institution for guitar.  I worked for Billy Idol as a personal chef/production chef.

Then through many of the different culinary scenes that Hollywood had to offer, I moved to Orange County.  I worked my way up the chain, made Executive Chef and worked the restaurant scenes until I stayed with a catering company that specifically catered to “Script to Screen” production companies for A-list movie stars and musical acts.

25 years go by and I returned to Iowa.  Good move on my part.  It’s nice to live at a much slower pace.  I miss the California weather, though.  I am one of the pioneering chefs that help build our culinary program here at Hy-Vee and we now have over 400+ chefs in our Hy-Vee stores.  I really hope this will be my last culinary position in my life.  I plan on eventually moving to a nice warm climate again in my senior/retirement years!

prepared meal labeled "Created by Chef William"What kinds of meals and food do you serve?  Do your customers have any special needs?
The food I like to prepare are dishes that are flavorful, inspiring and have great presentation.  I am into French, Asian, Italian, and Latin and specifically I have really been into Brazilian cooking lately.  Lots of seafood and coconut milk with bold spices wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.  A very healthy way of cooking too. I still love those staple dishes too—Lasagna and Chicken Marsala, Duck Confit, Beef Adovado, Shrimp Tempura and Yakitori Chicken is one of my favorite appetizers.  I really love spicy food too!  Thai food is way up on my list as well.  Panang curry and the classic Pad Thai.

My customers are the best.  I give them ideas and broaden their horizons with new and tantalizing recipes.  We all know Iowa is a meat and potato state.  One of the aspects of my job is to bring new ideas and recipes that are delicious and easy to prepare.  I love the feedback from the customers when they come back in the store.  Some customers have specific nutritional dietary needs.  That’s when I get our dietitian involved.  The customers feel at ease knowing that we can give them a solid and safe recipe for their particular needs.  I get a lot of ideas from our customers too.  Our customers are so loyal and friendly.

Why did you begin using Iowa Choice Harvest products?  What types of dishes do you prepare using Iowa Choice Harvest foods?
My first time using Iowa Choice Harvest products was back in March of this year.  Our dietitian, Katie Squires, and I were having a healthy cooking class.  The menu was Mesclun Greens with Raspberry Vinaigrette, Asparagus & Roasted Red Bell Pepper Risotto, Pan Seared Sea Scallops, and for dessert an Iowa Choice Harvest product.  We used your apples to make a wonderful Apple Cinnamon Crumble a la mode.

salsa and breads on a buffet tableI use the corn for multiple different recipes: Salsas, Southwest Chicken Pot Pies, Mexican Corn on the Cob, Fajitas, Paellas, Santa Fe Style Black Bean & Roasted Corn Soup and Corn Chowders.  I also love the corn by itself.  It comes frozen so I can have great corn year-round.  I don’t have to wait until late July or early August anymore.  Very convenient.  The apples are great too.  I use them to make Tarts, Custard Pies, and Salads, and multiple desserts like Pies, Turnovers, Dumplings, and Sauces.

I haven’t had the opportunity to work with the asparagus yet.  I look forward to preparing some recipes with it.  Asparagus is my favorite vegetable.

What do you like about using Iowa Choice Harvest foods?
I love that Iowa Choice Harvest picks their food products at the peak of ripeness.  Iowa Choice Harvest products are very convenient with their packaging.  Being a frozen product extends its shelf life.  Farm-toTable and being local is important to me and Hy-Vee.

Why have you made Iowa-local foods an important part of your cooking/business?
It’s always been in my DNA as a chef to get the most fresh and local products that I can get.  My food and everybody’s food tastes better.  Simple as that.  I thank you Iowa Choice Harvest for everything.  Thank you for the opportunity to do this story.

Hy-Vee Crossroads is located at 1422 Flammang Drive, Waterloo, Iowa 50702. Contact Chef William at 1866chef@hy-vee.com or (319) 433-5632. Visit Hy-Vee Crossroads online or at Facebook.com/CrossroadsHV.  

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