Executive Chef Jon Boetel: Keep on Learning

Posted by Lynda Bassett +

Executive Chef Jon Boetel came from good stock. It seemed like everyone in the family was a good cook. He remembers his father making homemade beef jerky that was dried overnight and resulted in a “delicious combination of sweet, salty and soy. I loved it,” he said.
Tools of the Trade
When he first started working at Chef Dave Casper’s restaurant in Brookings, SD at age 14, “I was just looking for a job so I could quit my paper route,” he said. But it wasn’t long before it became so much more that an after-school job. “I got a 4-year apprenticeship, and then I fell in love with the industry right away. I learned technique, professionalism and integrity to the trade. Chef Casper was one of the best chefs I've worked for,” said Boetel.

Cooking Style
Currently, Boetel is now working as Executive Chef for McGarry’s Pub, an Irish pub located in Maple Plain, MN. The restaurant features American comfort food, as well as Irish classics and inventive new dishes, along with an extensive beer selection.

The way he describes his cooking style is “earthy, yet light. I usually find myself trending towards Italian and French technique,” he said. One of his favorite dishes to cook is a cabernet braised lamb shank. “It’s super simple. You just season and sear your shanks in a hot pan and braise until tender. Mix in cabernet, mirepoix, aromatics, and meat stock. I’m always proud to serve this dish,” he said.
The Art of Cooking
From apprenticeship to other restaurants and finally to McGarry’s, Chef Boetel has always tried to surround himself with people who challenge him and encourage him to perfect his craft.  “McGarry’s has two great owners and bosses, who set the bar high. They truly care about the people that work for them and that frequent the pub,” he said.
The atmosphere in the back of the house is “light, but professional,” he said. “The key is to maintain adequate prep lists, and assign the right task to the right person. At pre-shift meetings, we discuss what the day might bring,” said Boetel. ”And when all else fails, Beer,” he joked.
Although the days are long, “the best part of the job is when you’ve created a menu or dish that really says who you are and it come out gorgeous and delicious—and the guests agree. This is truly rewarding. There’s really nothing like it,” he said.
Keep Learning
His advice to aspiring chefs is this: “Go to the best culinary school you can afford. Read and do as much research as you can. Finally, intern at all of the best restaurants in your city,” he said.  
“Once you’re in the kitchen, listen to the Chef,” he said.  “Really listen, don’t just nod and say yes. Ask questions and follow up when you finished. Work up to or mimic your immediate supervisor. Being promoted from line cook to Sous Chef can be a difficult step, but this strategy will help,” he said.
Another strategy is to watch food trends. “I think the focus is going to be local and hyper local ingredients, along with sustainability in seafood. Customers will be demanding more healthy meals for kids. Another big trend will be fermented foods,” he said.
Up next for the Chef is earning his certificate from the American Culinary Federation. “It’s time consuming, but the reward is definitely worth it,” said Boetel.
In the end, it’s about hard work, seeking out good mentors and bosses and focusing on lifelong learning. But most important of all, said Boetel, “Put your whole self into your cooking.”

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