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My culinary career began in a very not-so-traditional way.
In fact, most of my young life, I avoided cooking; I was far more into the eating than the cooking. Along the way I met someone who became my mentor in life, and she said something that made me take note of cooking. She said: “Women love a man who can cook. Your looks might get them in the door, but if you can cook they will always come back for more.” She began to teach me meats and grilling, and since she spent years in Georgia with a prominent family, her grasp on the Southern cuisine and BBQ was exceptional. It was years of grilling that honed my palate for the enjoyment of those bold deep flavors of the South.
The next big culinary event was when I received my first set of chef knives. A way to turn a man’s head is by giving him something shiny and razor sharp to play with. It was with my newfound treasures and with that sunny Key West sunshine that I tackled fresh fruit salsas. It was here that mango habanero salsa and a pineapple peach salsa became my teachers in balancing the sweet heat of the Caribbean. It was here that I was exposed to Ray Massiero’s hot sauce that was balanced so well it was the sweat pouring off your brow, not the fire in your mouth that alluded to the heat inside. I worked under some renowned chefs from all over the world in Key West each imparting a new love and respect for the craft of food.
I then returned in 2009 to begin to head the kitchen at the Pie Place Café, a place nestled in the Grand Marais harbor right on Lake Superior. It was here that I collaborated with other great chefs to create a truly special culinary treat. It was here that the Caribbean fused with the North in a spice rubbed 5-pepper marinated pork was paired with a blueberry pineapple salsa. A place, where our fresh roasted tomatoes where combined with smoke crab to culminate in a crab bisque that was the highlight of some of our Valentine’s patrons. I am passionate about not only the creation of food but the experience of it.
Before my inner chef was awakened, I bartended and served, then managed the front of the house in some amazing restaurants. It was with this intimate knowledge of how we as people experience food that my true culinary instinct was cultivated. Food is an essential part of life and how we partake of it says quite a bit about the quality of it. I honeymooned on the Big Island of Hawaii and spent three magical weeks enjoying the fruits and vegetables of the local farmers markets. It was a revelatory experience to taste produce so fresh that every flavor was heightened to a point of artistry. There are few flavors so amazing as a butter avocado or a strawberry papaya.
I believe that my job as a chef is to let the food speak. Let the food feed the body but also nourish the soul. Food is many things, more than just the nutritional label attached. It is where we seek comfort after an emotional defeat (thank you, Haagen-Dazs!), a way of opening the night for seduction (Chocolate Covered Strawberries), and it is where we find family and friends (Thanksgiving Day turkey). There are many people who can cook. Allow me to help you come back to the heart of food. If you’re trying to lose weight, let us collaborate, so you won’t have to lose your soul with your waist line. If you want convenience, allow me to help you breathe some authenticity into your eating life. I believe because your life is busy, it doesn’t mean it can’t be special. Allow me to serve you.
Chef Ben Zang
Tastefull owner & your personal chef