The way food should be
Chef Bill Harden has made a name for himself in the greater Huntsville metropolitan area in the nearly two decades he has been in the culinary business.
Harden is the head chef at the Back Alley Bistro in downtown Decatur that boasts a different menu of “new American” food every 10 weeks. His creations include crafted burgers, artisan sandwiches, seafood entrees, homemade desserts and more.
Harden says his notoriety came from the successful ventures he had been associated with through the years.
“I worked at 801 Franklin, a special occasion restaurant in Huntsville, for a while,” Harden said. “They had a lot of beer and wine dinners with lots of press. They did nice events like presidents’ dinners at UAH and stuff. My name got tagged to a lot of the big name events they were doing, and my name started getting recognized.”
Harden feels his flexibility is his most identifiable quality.
“I will always say ‘yes’ to a request if it’s something I can do,” Harden said. “That’s not something every chef will do because they feel their food should be experienced a certain way. I know that playing the customer is my number one priority. If I don’t do what they want, they may never walk into the restaurant again, which means I’m I could be out of a job.”
Harden considers being a chef a job with instant gratification.
“As soon as I leave work, I know what kind of day I had,” Harden said. “If the guest left happy, then I know I did my job right. Some people work on long projects that may or may not work out in the end, but my work pays off very quickly.”
He went to culinary school in Georgia at the suggestion of his mother. She felt that should be his next step in life after he had followed The Grateful Dead on tour.
Harden had been crafting his own style of cooking ever since.
“I like to hit all the senses with my dishes and make sure they are of the highest quality,” Harden said. “I love the relationships I form with local farmers. I’ve been doing seasonal and local foods since before it was a trend. It always seemed like it was the natural way to do it.”
Harden considers himself a hands-on chef.
“I’m definitely not an office chef,” Harden said. “I touch about 90 percent of the dishes that leave the kitchen to make sure they are done properly. I enjoy the process and I don’t want to miss out on it. Most anything we can feasibly make in-house we do.”
His own experiences with food make it difficult for him to enjoy eating out anymore.
“There are to many places that don’t really care about food,” Harden said. “I try to make sure that everyone, no matter their preferences or dietary restrictions, can find a ‘wow’ item on the menu they will really love. I hate mediocre food, so I never want people to have to settle on something they’re not excited about.”