Posted by Patrick Maness
Sunday suppers bring back fond memories for Steven Van Stone, Executive Chef for Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center in Lewis Center, OH. “I have great memories of cooking with my mom in the kitchen. She was a good cook,” said Van Stone.
As a young Chef, Van Stone soaked up all he could from people like Chef Joachim Schaaf and Chef Tim Fields in Denver, CO. “They taught me a lot and took me under their wing. These guys took the time and really showed me what it was going to take to be a professional Chef,” he said.
Van Stone’s said that his cooking style is dictated by the seasons. “Seasonality is woven into me by my upbringing in this field. I love to wow the guests with clean, fresh ingredients,” he said.
This approach toward local, seasonal foods is no longer a trend, says Van Stone. It is something that all restaurants are doing now. “Restaurants are always looking for fresh, local and sustainable foods. Many restaurants even grow their own produce,” said Van Stone.
Experimenting with unexpected flavors, ingredients and techniques is one of his favorite things to do in the kitchen. “I love to push myself, and learn new methods. I bought an immersion circulator and a cryovac machine, and I’ve been playing around with the sous vide method of cooking for a couple of years,” said Van Stone.
At Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center, the signature dish is espresso crusted lamb chops with a Godiva demi glaze and pickled Jalapeño relish. This dish is one example of how he adds “that extra touch of something you weren’t expecting,” he said.
Dedication to His Career
Dedication to his career means that he “never wants to miss any time from work because I feel that other cooks would get opportunities I would miss out on. So that fear drives my success,” said Van Stone.
Van Stone’s received a number of accolades from the industry, include being the IACC Copper Skillet US finalist three times; winning the 2013 Silver Spoon Award from the Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP); and the facility itself won the Couple Choice Award the past 2 years from Wedding Wire and from The Knot.
But Van Stone does not stand alone in his success. “I always want to help the team, my Chef or whoever was in the kitchen. I feel responsible for the food, even if it wasn’t mine. That goes a long way. In the end, it got me promoted,” he said.
Even so, time at the restaurant means less time to spend with family. “The worst part of the job is not being able to do certain activities on weekends or holidays with my wife and two girls,” he said. But the best part of his job? “The best part of the job is the instant gratification you get from someone eating a meal in your restaurant,” said Van Stone.
Working in the kitchen is stressful, but he’s found a few outlets for his stress. “I joined an Adult Hockey Team. Also, PlayStation helps me to blow off steam. Generally, you’ve just got to keep cool, calm and collected during highly stressful times. Just being able to relax is half the battle,” he said.
A Team Effort
The challenge in his job is figuring out how to motivate his team. “This is always a tricky one. I think everyone is motivated differently. I try to figure out what makes my staff tick. Once I find out what makes them tick, then I can motivate that person. The other trick is to hire quality staff that loves what they do, and aren’t here just for a paycheck,” he said.
“Only go into this field if you love what you do. It’s not like TV. It’s hard work. It’s physically and mentally draining on most days. Do you really want to do that to yourself?”
For Van Stone, the answer is a resounding yes. “Like most Chefs, I’d love to try my own place. That would be one thing that I’ve always kind of dreamed about in the back of my head,” he said.