CHEF CHRISTOPHER KOETKE
Chef Christopher Koetke has done many different things in his professional life including: teaching, consulting, recipe development, product development, cooking equipment development, kitchen design, writing, presenting, performing, and cooking. The common element that strings them together is his love of food and beverage.
Because he has been involved in most facets of the culinary industry, people often ask him how he best defines what he does. His response is always and simply “Chef.”
While not currently working as a restaurant’s executive chef, it is his foundational restaurant training that is at the core of all the different projects he works on. The culinary arts and all that this entails is his passion. This started when he was 12 years old. He remembers being in the back seat of the family car as his parents drove in his hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana. Chris remembers being stressed out as he did not know what he would become when he was “older.” (Previously, he had considered being a biology professor and had spent a number of years dissecting various animals in his spare time which admittedly was a bit unusual. During that car trip, it literally came to him in a moment of time that he wanted to be a chef.
In retrospect, it is not that unthinkable that he wanted to become a chef. His mother is an amazing talent in the kitchen where she made great food (and especially baked goods). Her love for her family was evident in the food that she made.
Even today, Mumphy (her nickname) pies are admired and loved by every kid, spouse, and grandchildren in his family. Family meal times were special times loaded with great memories. Additionally, In the USA in the late 70’s, culinary arts was rising in popularity and the chef was becoming admired, respected, and more visible.
Never being one to waste time, Chef started his culinary journey right after his decision. He bought La Technique by Jacques Pepin and the Larousse Gastronomique with his paper route money and would stay up late at night reading them. Inside of these books was an unfamiliar world of fine cuisine and ingredients he had never heard of. It was so enticing! He started to experiment with making his own sauces, pastries, etc. He talked to everyone who knew anything about cooking and tried as many different ingredients as possible. He even signed up for a culinary continuing education class at Valparaiso University taught by a local caterer and chef, Judith Goldinger. After the first class, she invited him to be her assistant so that he would no longer have to pay for the classes. She became his first mentor and helped him grow his world view. Today her chef knife hangs in his home as a reminder of her kindness and a lasting memory of her.
At 14, Chef started working in restaurants which proved to be a completely different world than cooking at home. The fast paced nature of the business, the euphoria of the rush, the teamwork among a diverse set of employees, the instant gratification, and the hard work was perfect for his personality. Over the next 12 years, he had many different mentors and opportunities to grow as an up-and-coming cook.
Some of these mentors are:
· Chef Louis Ratailleau of Bon Appétit restaurant in Crown Point, Indiana which was his first restaurant experience. There he tasted strange and wonderful things like sweetbreads, veal testicles, and fish heads. It was his first introduction to fine French food at age 13.
· Chef Russ Adams of the Strongbow Inn in Valparaiso, Indiana, who gave him my first legal job and believed in Chef. He gave him more responsibility than any 16 or 17 year old should have. He is grateful for the 4 years he spent with him.
· Julia Child with whom Chef corresponded by mail when he was 15 and 16 years old. She always answered his letters and provided guidance and wisdom.
· Jim Nadeau of Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures with whom Chef carved ice for almost 25 years. The two did some really crazy and beautiful ice carvings across the USA!
· Chef Lucien Verge of L’Escargot in Chicago who gave Chef his first job in the big city and started him down a long path of cooking in my now hometown of Chicago.
· The many chefs in France who allowed him to work and stage in their 2 and 3 star restaurants.
· Monsieur Hohrwahr of the Patisserie Mage in Genève, Switzerland who gave Chris the opportunities to learn the pastry world and work in Switzerland.
· Chefs Jean Banchet and Roland and Mary Beth Liccioni of the famed Le Français restaurant in Wheeling, Illinois who guided Chris to really become the fine dining chef that he dreamed of becoming.
No one realizes their dreams alone. There are so many others, not listed above, who taught him the nuances of the business and for whom he is grateful.