by Jay Kitterman, consultant, Culinary Institute, Lincoln Land Community College
Opening a restaurant can be daunting at any time. Even during ordinary times, opening a restaurant is a harrowing ordeal — a stressful whirlwind of inspections, permits, trainings and test runs. It’s extremely difficult.
According to the National Restaurant Association, “100,000 restaurants nationwide, nearly one in six, have gone under as a result of the pandemic.” Now, with many restaurants shut down completely, launching a new business seems illogical if not downright insane. Still, a few restaurants have forged ahead, opening their doors at a time when customers are hesitant to even dine inside.
For my article today, I am featuring Chef Howard Seidel and his newly opened restaurant Brunchfield Café located at 751 S. Durkin in a space previously occupied by Nico’s Homestyle. I spoke with Howard two days before he opened.
I first met Howard in 1998 when he was hired to be an adjunct instructor for the culinary arts program at Lincoln Land Community College. He has continued to teach (taking this semester off) one of the most challenging classes in the college’s culinary program: Food Service Math and Purchasing. He loves teaching and feels very strongly about passing on the knowledge that his culinary school instructors and mentors provided him.
Howard is from Milwaukee and the original plan was to be a professional photographer. You can see many of his photos on the walls of the new Brunchfield’s. Similar to many future chefs, Howard started his food career as a dishwasher and attended the culinary program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Then, he was on to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated with honors. An externship from CIA took him to New Orleans and began his love for Cajun food. Typical for a young chef, what followed was a number of career stops at various cities working for Hilton and Marriott. In 1994, he arrived at the Springfield Hilton (now Wyndham City Centre ) where he redid all the menus and created Gumbo Ya Ya’s restaurant. After nine years at the Hilton, he was named executive chef at Illinois College. The executive chef position opened up at the University of Illinois Springfield when Chef Raven Pulliam retired. Howard was the successful candidate. A career highlight while at UIS was helping design the kitchen in the new student union plus developing all new menus and procedures. He retired from UIS last December and as foodies say, he still had “ketchup in his veins” and is back in the kitchen again.
Originally planned before the virus started, Howard and his partners developed the plan for Brunchfield’s. New for Howard is operating what we call “the front of the house” or where the customers are and all parts of the service aspect.
Brunchfield’s is open daily from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch. Howard describes the restaurant as “gastro café” and “upgraded pub food” without the pub. You will find the traditional breakfast and lunch items with a twist inspired by his time in New Orleans and other stops. The website says, “We make people happy with our food.” Of course, his famous gumbo is on the menu, and he recommends everyone try the “bacon jam.”
Opening a restaurant today requires implementing safety procedures as a main priority. Howard is requiring that his workers wear masks all the time following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing the entire operation. “We are allowing only one customer or one family in at a time following the city and state protocols,” he said. To reduce congestion at the entrance, Howard is asking people dining in to call when they arrive, and they are called back when a table is available. The restaurant has a drive through window on the side for curbside orders. Howard personally is challenged by the amount of disposables recruited for curbside service and has made vey effort to utilize environmental friendly packaging.
An important factor to be successful today is being innovative and creative. An advantage of being chef-owned and operated is that Howard has total control over the menu, will be offering menu specials and is able to listen to requests from his patrons. When asked what we would find in his refrigerator at home, he answered lots of salad (he has lost 35 pounds – his out-of- restaurant diet) plus fresh vegetables, a variety of cheeses, and from his days in New Orleans, sausages and fresh potatoes. He thanks his wife Ellen for her support and tireless work in getting Brunchfield’s ready to open.
As the weather gets colder and we are unable to dine outside, please remember to support our local restaurants. My thanks to Howard for meeting with me. He has provided the following recipe for his popular Mahi Mahi sandwich. I am reminded of one of my favorite Henny Youngman quotes regarding restaurants.
“Some people ask me the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
1pc 5-6 oz. Mahi Mahi Fillet, fresh or frozen, preferably 1/2″ thick
Choice crusty roll, Ciabatta, Kaiser
As needed, Old Bay Seasoning
As needed, oil for grilling roll and fish
1 cup small diced tomatoes
1/4 cup small diced red onions
3 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. chopped fresh garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Pesto Mayo 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup pesto, 1/3 cup fine grated parmesan cheese. Can be homemade or commercial
Rum Pineapple Peel, slice thin, core pineapple, immerse in Rum to cover. Does not have to top shelf, but not rotgut either.
1. Prepare both cilantro relish and pesto mayo by combining all ingredients
2. Lightly coat fish with oil, (can use cooking spray also)
3. Season generously with Old Bay
4. Place on Char Broiler, Panini grill, or even cook in skillet, cook until done. Also lightly grill pineapple
5. Toast roll with a little oil on griddle or in oven
6. Place the relish on roll bottom, than the fish, than the pineapple
7. Pesto mayo on top of roll, top of fish
8. Eat and enjoy, drink the leftover rum.