Compliments to the Chef

By Tressa Versteeg

From North to South, East to West, Executive Chef Andrew Lehrke oversees it all. The MacWeekly sat down to meet the man behind what we eat.TMW:How long have you been at Café Mac?
Andrew Lehrke: Three and a half years. I started off working a year and half as a sous chef.

What does being the “Executive Chef” mean?
Anything food related. I’m in charge of food operation of the café and of the catering, as well and the different outlets. I oversee the kitchen staff and the dishwashers as well.

Do you approve all the food as a part of your job?
Well, I oversee the menus…I do most of them but my sous chefs have some ideas too. We get together and if they want to do something or try something, we try to incorporate that as well. It’s a team effort…We’ll do them a week ahead so the next week’s menus are usually done mid-week or the week before.

How many years have you been a chef?
It’s been about 20 years…Most of my experience is with hotels. I worked for Four Seasons hotels for 13 years, and I worked for smaller hotels, like Hilton, and a few restaraunts here and there.

Were those in the Twin Cities area or were they in other places? I’ve bounced around quite a bit. I went to school in Portland and then spent a couple years there. I moved to Seattle and spent almost 10 years there. I was in Scottsdale briefly and then in the San Diego area for almost four years. I spent one year in Boulder too.

Do you prefer hotels or restaurants or the type of thing like Café Mac?
I like the different venues and I’ve always enjoyed the catering. The restaurants are fun too. It’s fun and challenging to make it all work together.

What brought you to Café Mac?
I just kind of stumbled upon it. I moved back to Minnesota and I was on Monster[.com] and Bon Appétit had a few positions posted so I sent my resume and the GM [General Manager of Café Mac] called me.

You said “back to Minnesota,” is this where you’re from?
Yep, I grew up…in the New Elm area…and then I left for18 years.
When you were growing up did you think you would be a chef or was it something that you though of a little later? It kind of came on later high school. I started to think about it, [but] I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Then I checked out some community college programs and they had a good program and I just thought I’d give it a try.

In Portland?
That was actually here. I did a community college in Eden Prairie, Hennepin Technical College, South Campus. I did that and I worked for a few years and then I wanted to go back to school and I moved out to Portland [and studied at] Western Culinary Institute.

Do you remember the first thing you ever cooked on your own?
I think omelets were the first things that I played around with. And I got better as I?did that more.

Is there something you wish someone had taught you early on but you had to figure out on your own?
That’s just part of it. In school you learn the basics. Most of it you learn as you go-it’s the school of hard knocks, you learn from experience. But it’s also good to have good teachers and good chefs to work with.

Have you ever had any big cooking disasters?
I wouldn’t really say disasters. You burn things or overcook things here and there, forget to set a timer, that type of thing. Nothing horrible though.

Why did you want to be a chef?
I suppose helping my mom cook and watching my grandma. Both my grandmas were both pretty good cooks.

Did they have special family recipes that they all ways made? Nothing really out of the ordinary. I came from a German background. One of my grandmothers used to cook a lot of German food.

Do you like to cook German food too?
It doesn’t really do much for me…I enjoy a lot of the Asian cuisnes, Italian and Classic French. What’s fun at Café Mac is you get exposure to everything around the world.

When you cook food for yourself do you, is it fancy or do you just do the basics?
It depends. If [I’ve had] a long day at work, I try to keep it pretty basic. Sometimes on the weekends I try to do something cool or something different.

What are somethings you like to do in your free time, when you’re not the Executive Chef?
I read a lot-a lot of cookbooks…I bike a little, hiking and camping.

What is it like working at Café Mac?
It’s fun and it’s very challenging because of the volume aspect of it…Its fun with the different cuisines, to research them and try new things and be exposed to different stuff… I like to teach and train and pass on what I’ve learned.

Do you think you’ll stay at Café Mac for a long time or do you have other career aspirations?
It’s hard to say because there are the other accounts of Bon Appétit, so it depends on if they need help or a position filled somewhere else.

Do you like living in Minnesota more than the other places you’ve been?
I have likes and dislikes for everything. I miss some places I’ve been, here and there. The winters here are harsh when I think of my San Diego days. I enjoyed Seattle a lot too. It’s a great city, a great area, a lot going on.

Do you think you’ll go back?
It’s hard to say. If there is a great opportunity, maybe.