For this week’s Behind the Kitchen, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bill Telepan of Telepan restaurant. He opened Telepan in 2005 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Telepan keeps with Bill’s personal culinary philosophy, as it celebrates seasonal, fresh, and local ingredients. Since its opening, Telepan has received glowing reviews and a Michelin Star in 2014.

And on top of all of his accomplishments, Bill Telepan has been the Executive Chef of Wellness in the Schools (WITS) since 2008, a non-profit organization dedicated to making school food healthy. For the upcoming 10 Year WITS Gala Benefit Celebration, taking place May 5th, I had the opportunity to talk with Bill Telepan about his life, what inspires his work, and his hopes for the future of Wellness in the Schools.

Benefit 2015 Invite-FF-1

What is your ideal food day, start to finish?

If calories didn’t matter, I’d start the day with a classic lumberjack breakfast; eggs sausage, bacon, and pancakes. For lunch I’d want a good pizza or a good burger, finish it with a hot fudge sundae, and then have a nap. For dinner, it would be a shrimp cocktail and a martini to start and complete the day with a good streak and a nice bottle of red. 

But most days, if I know I’ll be in the kitchen tasting a lot of foods, I try to keep it light until about 3 o’clock.

What catches your eye on a menu?

I like to see a good amount of vegetables, as well as what they’re doing with grains and if there are any interesting pastas. Those are the things that interest me on my own menu so I like to see how what others are creating.

What do you look forward to most about spring/summer, in terms of food?

Just that it warms. The city just becomes better, better for everyone. In terms of food, everything gets a little lighter. I love that

How has Telepan changed over the past 10 years?

I’ve seen this area, the upper west, change a lot over the years. It’s become more commercialized, with so many good restaurants having opened. The culinary landscape over here has really changed. Factoring in these changes and the fact that this area is a destination, we continuously try and provide a unique experience for the customer. Whether it is a tourist or a loyal customer dining here, we want you to feel at home at Telepan. You can always feel comfortable here. The one thing that hasn’t changed over these ten years is that it has always been about the customer for me.

Bill Telepan

What are the biggest challenges of your career?

At first, as a kid, the biggest challenge was just learning everything about cooking, and luckily it came pretty naturally to me, but that’s not to say I didn’t work hard. I always worked hard, you have to, but I enjoyed being in the kitchen. The next challenge was owning a restaurant, which is very different than being a chef. It’s about running a business. And the challenges that come along with that include making money, keeping staff engaged and motivated, and most importantly treating each staff member as an individual, as a human. And of course, with the ups and downs of the economy, I feel so lucky to still be able to sit here in my restaurant.

Where do you find inspiration?

For me, it’s always been about the different seasons. I like foods from all seasons and I don’t like to have them out of seasons. The seasonal foods challenge me and keep me motivated to make the best possible food I can make.

What do you find to be the biggest problem with school lunches today?

New York has to feed a million kids on a $1 day without killing them. That’s no easy task. How do you feed them the proper nutrients? One solution is additives, which is why you see so many highly processed foods in the cafeteria. Through Wellness in the Schools, we’re trying to show schools and kids an alternative solution. We believe if the kids get a healthy lunch, and some quality activity, they will have more energy, be more alert and focused, and have a better education experience overall.

Have you found that younger generations are more interested in healthy food and cooking today?

First we must educate. Once kids learn about food, what it means to their bodies, and learn how to cook and grow things, they get excited. We want these kids to start thinking long term about eating well and moving around. It’s important to me and my family, and I want it to be important to everyone. You have to eat to live and treat your body well.

What can we expect of the next ten years? What do you hope to see happen in schools in the next ten years?

Well, the overall goal is for us to be obsolete, that healthy school lunches and quality activity will be the norm in this country. Until then, we’re going to keep growing and reaching out to schools all over the country.

For more information on Telepan check out their website

72 West 69th Street
New York, NY


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About The Author

Resident Tourist

Born here. Lives here and never leaving. The nicest person to ever not speak in public. Loves New York