Mike Peshek, exec chef of Lou's Food Bar, muses on social-review sites, roadkill and customers who toss out skewering threats
"See the spaghetti and meatballs?" asks Mike Peshek, pointing to a vat of fat orbs glossed with an herby tomato sauce. "That's one of our favorite dishes -- and one of our most popular staff meals." A dishwasher, who's just about ready to turn the tap off for the day, bobs his head up and down in agreement. "There are people who work here," insists Peshek, "who've been in this business for thirty years and say that we serve the best staff meals they've ever had."
And Peshek, the executive chef of Lou's Food Bar, is clearly proud of the accolades. "Look," he says, "it's super-important to us that we we're really good to our staff and give them great food. We may not be able to pay them a ton of money, but we definitely feed them well."
That's a lesson that Peshek learned while growing up in a small town in Nebraska. "Getting the whole family together to eat was the most important part of our day, and my mom is an awesome, unbelievable cook who always made sure that she went all out when we had a meal together," he recalls, adding that he still picks up the phone to call her for advice. "My mom taught me the basics early on, and when I really learned how to cook, she always gave me hints, and she still does."
He got his first taste of a professional kitchen in 1994, at a restaurant called Grandmother's in Lincoln, Nebraska. "It was hideous, at best," admits Peshek, who was the designated pasta bag/microwave monkey. "I had to microwave frozen pasta sauce, and I'd burn myself every single damn time because the bags were so hot, but I needed a job, and it kept me out of trouble and helped me pay for college."
He stuck out both the job and college, then moved to Aspen to join his brother. "I thought I'd be working at the Little Nell, but I ended up serving Caesar salads in the cafeteria on top of the mountain," remembers Peshek, who quickly climbed up the culinary ladder. "I showed up sober every day for a month -- I guess I was the reliable guy -- so they moved me to the Aspen Mountain Club, a private, upscale dining club on Aspen Mountain." He eventually made it to the Little Nell, where he worked in the banquet department until a fellow chef suggested that he try his hand at culinary school. "I never knew that bona fide culinary programs existed, and while a lot of chefs bag on culinary school, I ended up at the New England Culinary Institute and I absolutely loved it," he says, noting that he spent a mandatory sixty hours a week in the kitchen and classroom.