Conversations with Hilary: Executive Chef Howard Ko

This month I sat down with new friend and member of the PlumpJack family, Chef Howard Ko. We are so excited to have him on board as Executive Chef of Balboa Cafe Mill Valley. In his career to date, Howard has already worked at some of the most well-respected establishments – The Restaurant at Meadowood with Christopher Kostow, The French Laundry with Thomas Keller and in the kitchens of Goose & Gander in St. Helena, Melisse in Los Angeles, Hanilkwan in Osaka, and Daniel in New York.

Howard lives in Napa with his fiancée, Wendy, and dog, Whiskey. If you haven’t experienced Chef Ko’s food yet, you’re in for a treat. Howard takes bistro classics and adds his own modern twist. Locally sourcing his ingredients, and sometimes even foraging for them in the wilderness.

Bon Appetite Test Kitchen NYC with Chef Christopher Kostow & Chef Pancho (Restaurant at Meadowood)

Bon Appetite Test Kitchen NYC with Chef Christopher Kostow & Chef Pancho (Restaurant at Meadowood)

What do you believe to be your greatest accomplishment?
Asking my fiancé Wendy to marry me. I never thought in a million years someone as wonderfully strong as her would agree to put up with my antics and this crazy adventure with me. We are getting married in August at San Francisco City Hall and am so excited!

What qualities do you think others love about you?
I think that I am understanding but stern at the same time. People know that I am fair and I think people are drawn to my work ethic, but also my sense of humor and lightheartedness.

If you could do anything other than what you currently do, what would it be?
I would own a barbershop. I spent a lot of my childhood at barbershops and I can do a killer fade. That was my side gig during my youth.

What do you like most about what you do for a career?
Making people happy. I never got into cooking just to feed people. I got into this career to create memories.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Hit the snooze button – ha, just kidding. Make it to CrossFit. I have to take care of my body due to the demands of the business. I either CrossFit, go to the gym or for a run, and I am getting into cycling now.

What’s your favorite thing to do on a Friday night?
I’ve been working on Friday nights ever since I can remember but on the rare occasion I do have one off I like to try out a new restaurant and probably watch a movie.

What were you passionate about in your younger years growing up?
To get better at my craft. Cooking was something I knew I was going to do since I was in the 6th grade. I’ve been trying to perfect it ever since.

What are you passionate about now?
I’ve been cooking for 10 years now homing in on the things I don’t understand and researching them. Not knowing how to do something really bothers me when it comes to cooking. I want to know everything there is to know about it. My cookbook collection is getting rather extensive.

What’s your favorite season and why?
Spring! It’s when everything starts to come back to life. All the vegetables and fruits are so beautiful. They really add so much to dishes.

If you were a cocktail or a drink what would it be?
Jameson neat. Nothing fancy. It’s a cook thing. Oh and chase it with a Chimay.

What’s the #1 most played song on your music rotation?
Right now it’s Billie Jean by Michael Jackson.

If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
My grandma who passed a while ago. At a young age she was the one who raised me and I felt I never appreciated that enough. I’d like to talk to her and get to know her and thank her.

If your life was made into a movie, what would it be called?
Sacrifice

Do you have any regrets?
I think everyone does to some extent. I have a lot. I could have been better, I could have loved more, I could have worked harder, but then I could have sacrificed less and spent more time with family. It’s the nature of what I do and I do it because I love it.

Wendy and Howard in Napa

Wendy and Howard in Napa

Define Freedom.
Being able to cook the food I love and want, and to have the support of every guest that comes into my establishment.

What are your personal core values?
To always be kind and genuine. I will help anyone out who needs it and I want to leave a legacy. Like the memories that I am trying to create, something that outlives me, my restaurant, our company.

What three things would you bring with you on a desert Island?
My fiancé Wendy, our dog Whiskey and some beers. I am a simple man with simple needs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *