An Interview with Keith R. Esbin
What is your present employment and tell us a little bit about it?
Corporate Executive Chef of the Bar Harbor Seafood Corporation. It is the largest distributor of fresh, frozen, and live seafood in the state of Florida. Owns and operates the Boston Lobster Feast Restaurants, 3 retail stores, and a food truck – Clawdaddys. My job entails overseeing the day to day culinary operations of every aspect of the company.
What special awards have you earned within the ACF?
- I have earned 2 bronze medals and 1 silver medal in category K competitions.
- Chapter Junior Member of the Year 1999 – ACF Tampa Bay
- President’s Achievement Award 2010 – ACF/CFC
- President’s Achievement Award 2012 – ACF/CFC
What special awards have you earned outside of the ACF?
- Starkist Tuna Recipe Contest 1998 – 2nd place $1000
- Australian Lamb Recipe Contest 1999 – 1st place $500
- Bacardi Millennium Competition 2000 – Finalist $1500
- Tableside with Custom 2000 – 1st place $500
- Dawn Celebration Contest 2009 – 1st place $1000 + $2500 kitchen cleaning
- Bunge Worlds of Flavor Contest 2009 – 1st Place Trip to Napa for 2009 Worlds of Flavor in Napa
- T. Marzetti Recipe Contest 2010 – 1st place $250
- Con Agra Ro-Tel Recipe Showdown 2011 – 3rd place $1000
- Inducted into Conferie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs as Chef Rotisseur 2011
- Unilever Seductive Nutrition Challenge 2012 – finalist, Trip to CIA Greystone in Napa
- McCormick for Chefs Kids Recipe Contest 2013 – winner $1500 + trip to NRA Show in Chicago
Did you attend a culinary school?
No, taught on the job.
Who were your “mentor” chefs and how did they impact your career?
Chef Hans Hickel the chef of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay taught me the most valuable lesson about being a chef and that is; how to manage the kitchen! Chefs with amazing skill have failed because they could not manage food, labor, equipment, and other costs in their restaurants. He taught me to “INSPECT WHAT I EXPECT”, never assume it is happening automatically.
What type of cuisine do you like to cook the most?
I love Asian and Latin cuisines!
What type of cuisine challenges you the most?
Classical French. Not going to culinary school is one of the downfalls of not being able to have more experience with this cuisine.
What is your favorite culinary television show – past or present?
I love watching Top Chef, but love seeing old reruns of Jacques Pepin or Julia Child because I have so much respect for their mastery of their craft.
What or who inspires your culinary creativity?
I get inspired by what other people are telling me they like to eat. I then begin thinking how would I like to cook that item, what style of cuisine or flavors would I use, what vegetables, sides, or sauces would be perfect? Do I want to make it fancy or something that could be eaten on a stick or on a sandwich? Do I want to be traditional or do I want to go crazy by using a new technique, or deconstructing the dish?
Do you have a favorite cookbook and what is it?
Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. This book gives amazing insight into what foods go great with each other and what seasons they are usually served in. It serves as one of the foudations of my creative thought process.
Do you remember the first dish you ever made – and who did you make it for?
The first “real” culinary dish that I remember creating was for the Maple Leaf Farms category K competition at the FLRA Show back in 1999. It was my first time ever competing and I won a Bronze medal.
What ingredient(s) could you not live without?
Wasabi! To me; it is a food group!!!
What is your favorite dish to cook for kids?
Pizza, you can never go wrong!
Who was the most important person you ever cooked for?
When I was with Hyatt, we had many important people that I took some kind of role in cooking for. President Bill Clinton was one whom I assisted with. I also once cooked at a party at George Steinbrenner’s home.
Or who made you the most nervous?
I make myself nervous, because I get so excited when I cook for people. Whether it is cooking a burger on the grill or doing a 7 course dinner in someone’s house, I want everything to be the best it can be.
Who is your culinary hero/heroine?
Fritz Sonnenschmidt! All of that culinary knowledge and always willing to take time out of his schedule to talk with me.
What was your worst disaster in the kitchen and how did you turn it around?
I was the chef of the Clarion Hotel in Tampa in 2004. Hurricane Frances came onshore and we had full occupancy of people that had evacuated from elsewhere. While the storm was not supposed to hit dead on, a last hour change in track pushed it closer to Tampa. Besides some damage to the hotel itself, we lost power completely early that afternoon. The hoods were not working so we shut off the gas. We still needed to provide food for the 300 guests in the hotel somehow. With candles, flashlights, some portable butane stoves, a few cases of Sterno and some Hot Boxes, I managed to prepare a meal for everyone much to their amazement.
What was your best day ever in your culinary career?
I just did a photo shoot for Unilever to be featured in their North American ad campaign. It was amazing fun and I received VIP treatment the entire time.
What do you think is “the next big trend” in food?
I think one pot meals will begin making a comeback, especially those done in pressure cookers and Crock Pots.
What advice do you have for new culinarians and chefs entering the field?
This has to be something you are absolutely committed to doing! Prepare yourself for working Holidays, weekends, nights, on your birthday/anniversary. You will get out of it exactly what you put into it. Become friends with people whom are already in the field and let them guide and mentor you. Join and actively participate in the ACF. The networking, connections, and friendships you will make will propel you further in this field than by any other means.