A thing of the past
In the past, if someone were to have asked me to imagine food options at a ski area, two images would have come to mind:
Exhibit A - Nachos... better described as canned "cheese" product smothering salty, yet flavorless corn chips.
Exhibit B - Avoiding the over priced artery cloggers and brown bagging it!
Oak Mountain Today!
When I think about Oak Mountain Ski Area in Speculator, NY, this is not the case. In fact, as much as I love to ski, and as excited as I am to hear my boots clicking into my binding for the first run of the season, there is something that I might be even more excited about: THE FOOD!
This summer, culinary superstar, Chef Louis Petrozza "Chef Lou" joined the Oak Mountain family. Those familiar with Fox Broadcasting Network's hit show Hell's Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay may recognize the name. Among the many impressive experiences listed on Chef Lou's resume, it is his successful run on Season 4 of Hell's Kitchen, that he may be most well-known for.
LOU's Journey To Oak Mountain
Before meeting Lou for our interview, I did my research. I learned that he had been in the Carolinas for a number of years both before and after his 2008 appearance on Hell's Kitchen. It made me then wonder how he ended up in the Adirondacks, and more specifically at Oak Mountain. I know the Adirondacks are appealing for so many reasons, but it always interests me to learn what particular attribute is the one that lures someone here.
In this case, I think Lou tells the story best in his own words:
Chef Lou: "Let's start from the beginning... I was born in Brooklyn and at the age of nine, my family - like so many others - moved out to the suburbs (Long Island). It is funny because I actually went to school not too far from here at CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in Hyde Park, so I find it fitting that my whole round trip journey would take me back up here. It is ironic and it's special that I did make it back up here.
"When I was twenty-eight-years-old, a friend of mine moved down to Outer Banks, North Carolina. He said, 'Lou it's wonderful, it's like the Hamptons but without the taxes!' I was like: 'Okay, I guess that is good enough for me...' So I went down to visit him. I came back up to New York for a very short time, then called my friend and said, 'You know what? I think I am going to come down there and take you up on your offer (which was to build fireplaces of all things).' So I went down there, and after about 2 days I said, 'You know what? I am going to build fireplaces, but I have got to get my hands back into food.' I lasted about forty-eight hours out of the kitchen (laughs). I ended up staying for twenty-three years in the Carolinas.
"After eighteen years on the Outer Banks, I went to Charlotte - and after a short time in Myrtle Beach, an opportunity came up to actually come up here and work with some of my friends at a special needs camp, Camp Takodah. I texted my friends back and said, 'Do you guys still need me up there? I have got this feeling like that is where I am supposed to be.' They texted me right back and said: "WE NEED YOU LOU!" that was the quote. I was like, 'whoa', I packed up my stuff - could not have really done it any quicker; threw my 3 chihuahuas in the car - my rear-wheel drive, American-made car, that is going to be horrible in the snow (laughs)! I drove up - it took me 2 days (about 22 hours) to get up here, and I found out that there was only 5 days of work left here at the camp. So, I guess they did need me, but not for a very long period of time. But they also knew that this is where I was supposed to be. Before coming up here I was looking for a job that was the right fit for me in Charlotte for about two months. Two months and I couldn't find the right fit! I came up here, worked my five days at Camp Takodah and I wasn't on the road for 10 minutes before I showed up here at Oak Mountain and walked in. It was just a cold call; I was in shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers. I saw Matt O'Brien standing right here at the bar in the restaurant and I said, 'Hey, I'm a chef and I am looking for work...' and Matt says, 'I think I might have something for you, what's your name?'
"The next day, I had a job! And... I love my job here, I love the Adirondacks, I love all of the water around - I have dreamed of living like I am on a lake in a little place with my chihuahuas and no drama...no drama! It really is a dream come true... I have to pinch myself!"
HELL'S KITCHEN WITH GORDON RAMSAY
After hearing the story on how Lou made it to Oak Mountain, I had to ask about him about his experience on Hell's Kitchen. He explained that at the time he was working as a catering director at a high-end grocery store in Charlotte, NC. "My friends, co-workers, and business associates were all saying: 'Hey, Lou you should try out for the show.' It was kind-of a current event that was happening... there was going to be an open casting call for Hell's Kitchen right outside Charlotte. I was like, 'Whatever, I don't watch that show!'"
Push came to shove, and the morning of the casting call Lou decided he would go up to the casting call after work, "Just for the sole reason that it is a single solitary adventure of going that day... not because this was a dream of mine and I had been watching the show and wanted to be on it. Almost everyone that was trying to be on it was in that position; they also liked a few other shows and were trying to get on those too."
At the open audition Chef Petrozza was number 434 of over 600 people auditioning. After a few hours of waiting, the staff at the auditions came out to say they were not going to take any more auditioners for the day, but would hold it over. The next morning, he got to the auditions at 5:00am and was first in line. From there he got a callback to go for an interview on camera and was told to, "Bring something indicative of your culinary personality." Chef Lou brought with him a basket full of fixings for Bananas & Blueberry Foster Flambé. Little did he know that he would not be able to cook in the location of the interview, but on the spot, he decided to make believe he was cooking something, "...unknowingly, aligning the stars for the show. What better opportunity could I get to just to be myself!"
As history goes, Lou got another callback and eventually made it onto Season 4 of Hell's Kitchen where he finished as runner up in a showdown against culinary student Christina Machamer.
In The Kitchen at Oak Mountain
Lou has been at Oak Mountain now for a little over two months. Everyone seems to be very excited about his arrival and he has happily made himself at home running the kitchen in the Acorn Pub & Eatery. They have now had a successful couple of months running theme nights like "Fish Camp Fridays" and "Mex Econo Thursdays" which features dollar tacos.
When I asked Chef Petrozza what people should expect to see this winter, he stated:
"The restaurant here is going to be serving casual, but innovative, fun cuisine with a high standard in mind. Thinking about the idea that the worst meal that you put out is how good that you are. So, everything has to be of a high standard. You have to serve every single person like you are sitting down to eat it. I will tell you what... if you do that you can't go wrong! For the winter menu, we are adding some cool entrees, a nice steak, some cool chicken and shrimp dishes... we are going to add a handful of entrees that are value minded and just outstanding. They are going to be tested and built for speed, they are going to be awesome!"
In addition, Lou has prepared menus for a number of weddings and events at Oak Mountain this fall. "When we do events, I like to think that I am bringing another whole level of excitement to the event."
Quick Bites - The Cafeteria Line
One of my favorite parts of my interview was when I questioned Chef Lou about the cafeteria line. I asked him about the challenge of bringing his creative flare to the quick bites served on the cafeteria line and got the opportunity to watch his creative mind get to work. As he spoke, you could see his excitement build and love of food shine.
Me: "You have mentioned that you are looking forward to taking the cafeteria line up to the next level, can you elaborate on that a little? What should we expect to see that is different?"
Chef Lou: "I'm crossing that bridge when I come to it... probably when we get our first frost, which is apparently like anytime now! You know what, that's actually a good question: what are you going to expect to see different on the cafeteria line? You're like Lou, are you going to have burgers? Dogs? What are you going to do with a dog that's different? Buy more expensive dogs and charge more money?
"Well, Matt has always used a good Nathan's dog! But you know what we might do... maybe we do some cool sauerkraut that I will call 'my crazykraut' and I will put some bacon and onion and caraway seeds in it. All of a sudden you are taking something that is a good base, and you add a good roll... not those cheap-o rolls. You buy a good quality roll, you put a good hot dog in it, and then you top it with some crazykraut or you make some cool beans... whoa! When we make pork and beans it's not like those canned beans, there is actually pork in there! Have you even opened a can of beans and there is just one little piece of pork at the bottom? Our pork and beans actually have some pork in them! We will cook up some bacon, or smoke a pork butt and chop it up and throw it in there with some good sweat onions and molasses. Matt makes fun of me because I love molasses, I bought a whole gallon of it... he's like, 'Now Lou what are you going to do with that?' That is what we are going to do, we are going to put it in some beans!
"Then there are burgers, we are going to use fresh beef! We have already upgraded our rolls. We hand patty our burgers here in the restaurant. Actually, Matt has always done that! It is great to be working with people that have always been quality-minded, and now they have got an idea-man with them. We are going to make a great team and you know what, it is so all about the team..."
During our our hour together, I asked Chef Lou how he was adjusting to his new home here in Speculator and what he was looking forward to as winter approaches. Lou stated that he, "...has skied a little." It has been some time, but he is looking forward to getting on the slopes this season (even though he may have hinted at being a little nervous). He is also starting to prepare himself for winter - after spending over two decades in the Carolinas. But most of all he is looking forward to: "The excitement around here... and having a lot of people around. I am looking forward to teaching staff, I am looking forward to being someplace that I feel that I can make a difference. Even though Matt & Laura (O'Brien) do an awesome job, I feel that I can be a positive component and I feel we could lift ourselves up even higher this year... and have fun doing it. They have already made a name and mark for themselves, and I am excited that they have taken me in as part of the family! It is going to be a lot of fun!"
Outakes & Just Great Moments with Lou
As I had mentioned earlier, Chef Lou brings more to Oak Mountain than just his culinary talents. You just need to have one conversation with him and you will realize why the he moved through the interview process for Hell's Kitchen with such ease. There were more laughs and inspiring moments during our hour together than I could count, some of these moments are definitely worth sharing:
- Lou: "I could have a whole big list of all of the things I am excited about around here: the streams, the wildlife, the peace, the spot the O'Briens gave me to live on the lake, the mountain, the excitement, the adventure, my free time that I able to get closer to God... it is good for my soul and everything around me!"
- Me: "Are you are ready for an Adirondack winter?" Lou: (Laugh) "This is really nice weather for December." The date the interview took place was October 3rd, and a warm day for October at that.
- Lou: "I have ADD, too, as you can tell, but you know what: when I get really busy in the kitchen, or when it is like crunch time, when I have a big job at hand, when its kind-of like do or die, you know survival, the survivalist instinct gets inside me and the ADD goes away. That is why I think I might have done so well on the Hell's Kitchen thing... because it was about survival. Ok, where were we? Ok, yeah back to the Carolinas..."
- Lou: "That's after all, all that I know how to do. Don't ask me to groom the trails, certainly not safely... because nobody is going to want to be skiing! I have never seen a snowcat flip over and roll down the hill, but this guy was able to do it! Ask me how to make a meatloaf and I will tell you how! But don't ask me how to do anything up there on the mountain, maybe not even how to ski... okay, back to food, there is that ADD-thing kicking back in again!"
- Lou: "For events, they have got some crazy things like Human Dog Sled... (laugh) Human Dog Sled, what is up with that? By the way, I will be cooking that day! Don't be coming up here thinking I am going to be hoofing it across the trail pulling people in a sled. Get the defibrillator!"
Visit Oak Mountain
Start planning your Oak Mountain winter getaway today! Find lodging opportunities available near Oak Mountain, and take advantage of advanced lift tickets sales & packages online at oakmountainski.com. After a great day of skiing, riding and tubing, stop into the Acorn Pub & Eatery and enjoy some good eats served up by Chef Louis Petrozza.