Jim Heusser cuts through every day with enthusiasm. Heusser snips through a barber shop and the kitchen the same creative energy. The Murray barber trims sideburns as well as vegetables, venison and a variety of vittles.
Not at the same time, however.Heusser explained, "A guy like me has to be careful in his job. I have to cut it right or I won't see the customer again. In the kitchen I am careful, too. I always wear a baseball hat when I cook - don't want to chance a hair in the food. A barber thinks of things like that."
Heusser's a barber who thinks of much more than clipping necklines and snipping cowlicks. The haircutter imagines, dreams and fantasizes about food.
Preparing food has been a part of Heusser's life since he was a tot. The barber, however, has been through lean times. Heusser recalled, "My mother was a terrific cook in her day. We didn't have much to work with, but what there was, she made the best of it. My dad took a job in Garfield; we could shop at the company store. We couldn't believe going to a grocery store and buying what we wanted. My mother used all of my dad's first paycheck at the store. The bills at the grocery were automatically deducted from his salary check; Dad didn't see a nickel from that work, but we had lots of food."
As a youngster, Heusser remembered making hot chocolate, his first "cooking on the stove experience." He said, "It was real hot chocolate, not the kind kids stir up with a spoon today. I had to measure the cocoa and sugar, then add both water and milk. We never imagined an envelope of pre-measured powder to blend in a microwave."
From the hot chocolate beginning, Heusser expanded to other kitchen chores. He practiced Banana Salad and a macaroni goulash, both dishes he still makes. His youthful kitchen efforts, however, were undercover - behind closed doors.
Heusser stood firmly on his reputation as Murray's toughest kid - the meanest guy on the team, the one to beat in a playground fight. A boy with street smarts like Heusser could never admit to cooking. "That was a sissy thing to do!"
Through the years, Heusser's learned that "tough guys do cook - and cook in public."
Public cooking is now the barber's forte! When there's a ward banquet, a Relief Society supper, a family wedding or a neighborhood party, Heusser's the community chef.
The cook fed 800 people at his son's wedding reception - chicken wings, German sauerkraut, potato and macaroni salads. All the preparation was done in the Heusser kitchen.
The chef doesn't use conventional preparation methods: he rarely uses a recipe, assigns his wife, Alice, full-time KP duty (which she prefers to cooking), and calculates number of servings by the spoonful. When estimating the amount of salad required to serve the wedding guests, Jim filled a gallon jar, tablespoon by tablespoon. Figuring one tablespoons per serving, he could then calculate the number of servings per gallon; thus, the entire amount was "accurately" estimated. "We had plenty left to share," he explained. "I planned it that way," Heusser explained.
Sharing food is what Heusser does best. He cooks and cooks and cooks, then gives the cooking away.
The barber "hit the wall" two years ago. A major heart attack changed the lifestyle of a "go-for-the-gusto guy." The cook still uses the time-worn, family favorite recipes, but only for others. His personal diet is adjusted for cholesterol and low-fat content. "The adjustments don't always fit the family-loved recipes, so I cook for everyone else, then find a little I can eat. I don't miss the food; I still get enjoyment from cooking the food and sharing it with others. Besides, by the time I'm through cooking, I'm too tired to eat the heavy duty things I used to."
Heusser's not too tired to try new ideas, though. Once asked to prepare 200 enchiladas, he readily agreed. When he told Alice, she laughed. "You've really done it this time, Jim. You've never made a single enchilada and you volunteered to make 200."
Undaunted, the cook experimented until the taste was right, then rolled all 200.
The party guests concurred; Heusser put together the best enchiladas they had ever eaten.
Compliments come easy to a man who gives like Jim Heusser. The most treasured words of praise, however, are not from friends, church or business associates, but from Jim's mother. "I've got to admit it," Mom Heusser said, "you can finally cook better than I can."
Quick to disclaim the compliment, Jim acknowledged, "I may do some things like my mom, but she taught me. I still can't make pies like she did. Her pies were famous all over Murray. She taught my daughter, though, and she's getting close to pies like Mom used to make."
Jim inherited a sixth sense about food. He thinks of food as a best friend. People who know the barber understand that his best friends go uncounted - the number is too high. The combination of friends and food is unlimited at the Heusser house.