Editor's Note: This is the first in a series profiling local chefs and sharing their favorite summer recipes.
Executive Chef Leo Kremer describes his kitchen at The Colonial Inn as a "symphony," with everyone working together to finish the task at hand.
"Basically you are sitting back calling the shots and after awhile you get used to it," Kremer said of his role as chef in an interview with Patch at The Colonial Inn last week.
Kremer's staff includes six people; there are also two sous chefs who run the shift when he is not there.
In explaining how his kitchen runs, Kremer said every worker has a station, meaning there is a worker, for example, who runs the grill and another who runs the sauté station. Kremer creates the menus and prep lists for his workers who have "specs and pictures and everything of what is expected of them," he said. "They are managed by us."
After the food is prepared, Kremer is the one who must give final approval of the meal before it goes to the customer.
Such a process requires patience and being good under pressure, when you must face the daily dynamics of working to make everybody happy, which Kremer admits is hard to do.
"Everybody has such a different taste or different expectation of what it is that they want or what you should be doing that it is tough to make everybody happy," he said.
Kremer says he and his staff serve approximately 500 to 600 meals a day and as many as 1,000 on Saturdays.
A chef for 15 years, of which 10 has been spent at The Colonial Inn, Kremer said now he is much better under pressure and more calm then he was when he began as a sous chef in training at the Palm Restaurant, both in Philadelphia and in Boston.
"When I started my career at the Palm Restaurant as a sous chef in training everyone was always scared to work the grill because it was a grill restaurant, steak house and sometimes in a steak house — like at the place on a Saturday night — at your station alone you could serve 600 to 700 people.
Kremer added: "It is a lot of pressure when you grill $45 to $60 pieces of meat."
Reflecting on his work today, Kremer explained that what a lot of people don't see as far as a chef is concerned is that in addition to making people happy they also have to succeed as business people. He says that today he is a much better businessman than he used to be.
"A lot of people don't see the other 50 percent of the chef's job is business," he said. "At the end of the day we have to make money doing this."
Kremer's love of food preparation grew from his time cooking with his mom in his hometown of Cranberry Township, north of Pittsburg, PA. From there he went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY to learn all the skills of cooking.
All the recipes prepared at the Colonial Inn are Kremer's creations. He said he works with his purveyors on a regular basis to find the best food that is available at the time. He then puts together dishes using what he describes as common flavor combinations and influences from different ethnic backgrounds.
For example, he recently made a seared halibut with corn, which ended up being a Mexican-inspired dish.
Every Thursday Kremer said he is on the phone with about six purveyors, making sure he orders everything he needs for that week. Deliveries of produce and fish come every day to the Inn while meats are delivered two to three times a week.
Kremer said the Inn has daily specials, which include three to four a day, both at lunch and dinner.
We are "focusing on the freshest things available from our purveyors," he said in determining the specials for the day. "We use a lot of natural beef, local fish and local produce."
Recent daily specials included smoked mozzarella and spinach stuffed veal cutlet, seared West Coast halibut and scallop pesto. Some entrees on the menu include baked haddock with crisp potato crust and toasted Asian sesame salmon.
The work of a chef can be grueling at times. Kremer says on a typical week he will work close to 60 hours, while he works as much as 80 hours during the holiday season. He begins his work at 6:30 a.m. and often doesn't leave until at least 4:30 staying sometimes as late as 6 p.m.
"Whenever everyone is having hot chocolate and caroling I am working," he said of the holiday season emphasizing that his busiest time runs from October to December.
Kremer says he enjoys his job because he "loves working with food."
"I like working with the people who sell me the food because everybody has the same type of passion about it," he said.
Wearing a black hat and dressed in a black striped work attire with his name printed on his shirt, Kremer comes off as laid back with a good sense of humor.
The kitchen Kremer oversees is large and warm from all the cooking being done; with everything one would need to make a good meal and staff who are hard at work with the tasks at hand.
Everything is prepared from scratch and made to order while some meals, which require many hours of preparation, such as pot roast, are made earlier.
Kremer said his favorite dish is either a grilled beef or any type of fish.
He laughs when asked what his dinner consists of when he gets home.
"Coco Puffs or Lucky Charms," cereal, he says. "You don't want to eat what you have been cooking. It is not that you lose interest (in food). I guess you get it all at work."
Like everyone, Kremer said he admits to having made mistakes in cooking.
The No. 1 question everyone asks a chef to see if he is lying, according to Kremer is: "Have you ever burnt bacon?"
Kremer adds that if the chef says no, he is lying.
"Mistakes are going to happen and you try the best to recover from them," he said.
And his advice for new chef's starting out? To take a step back and "just organize yourself."
"If you jump into the fire, you are going to get burnt, but if you go into the fire prepared, you have a much better chance," he said.
Leo Kremer's Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler
Concord's Colonial Inn
1 qt. Local strawberries hulled, not cut
4 Local large stem rhubarb, washed and diced
1/2 C. sugar
2 T. cornstarch
1/8 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/8 T. salt
just cut the stems off the strawberries and wash in cold water
wash the rhubarb and dice the same size as the strawberries
mix all the dry ingredients together, then mix with the berries and rhubarb
fill this into oven proof baking dishes or ramekins (6 oz)
¾ cup sugar
½ cup flour
¼ cup rolled quick oats
1 stick butter small dice
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/8 t. salt
- mix together in your hands or with a pastry blender to form small pea sized balls
Put this mixture over the cobbler in your baking dishes and
bake at 375 degree for about 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling
served with vanilla or berry ice cream.