Through our friends at Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), we’ve learned about many places to eat in NYC. Café Katja, co-owned by Andrew Chase and Erwin Schröttner, is definitely on our list next time we visit the Lower East Side. We caught up with Andrew to learn more about him:
FP: How did you get your start with cooking?
AC: My mom was a really good cook and I’ve loved food all my life. That might sound silly and obvious but I know a number of people who just couldn’t care less about what they eat. I also love cooking for, and eating with, other people; it’s one of my favorite things to do.
FP: We definitely enjoy a good meal with some friends!
When did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
AC: I never considered cooking as a job until I had already graduated from college and fell into it accidentally. I was in a job and unhappy with the work when my boss told me he wanted to open a small restaurant in one of his buildings; he thought I might be able to help him. I took a cooking course at The New School and I had a teacher whom I really loved; his name was Richard Glavin. I just became totally fascinated with the whole world of restaurant kitchens and that was all I wanted to do. I was very lucky to get a job at Le Cygne restaurant; lots of amazing mentors there. I really miss all those old places!
I never worked with a career path in mind and never thought about being a chef. I simply followed the natural course of working in a restaurant and then doing the next challenging thing. Through the people at Le Cygne, I went for my first year in France; the first of the two years I worked there. I was pretty obsessed with French food and restaurants and it was really a dream to work there.
I do NOT recommend not having a career path; that was just my experience. On the other hand, I see a lot of young people today with maybe too much of an accelerated career plan.
FP: What do you enjoy most about being one?
Taking a chef’s job was not something I felt compelled to do because I had a “culinary vision” I thought was important to share with the dining public. Being a chef means managing a kitchen, hiring the right people, training, and giving inspiration. Menu is a huge part of the responsibility, but you need people to make it happen.
FP: Please share with us your experience and involvement with C-CAP.
AC: My main experience with C-CAP has been with one of its graduates who is now our Executive Chef at Café Katja. Swainson Brown worked for my partner and I when we were at The Mark Hotel, so we’ve had the opportunity to see him grow and realize some of his own goals over the past 10 years or so. C-CAP has been an anchor for Swainson over the years we’ve known him, serving as a support system and a group of like-minded colleagues to network with. We have the greatest admiration for C-CAP’s good works.
FP: It’s great to know that Swainson has a mentor like you to learn from.
When you’re not working at Café Katja, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself and/or your guests?
AC: I love making late-night crepes for my wife; they put the most beautiful smile on her face.
FP: If you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NYC.
AC: I don’t like the new, “improved” look of the place but I still love the Borscht at Veselka.
FP: What are some of your guilty pleasures ? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name.
AC: Honestly, too many to name. Also, I don’t feel guilty. Here’s one: Kouign Amana at Dominique Ansel Bakery.
FP: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing? Any non-cooking hobbies?
AC: My biggest passion outside the restaurant is surf-fishing for striped bass!
FP: Hope you get some fishing in this summer! Thank you for your time. We will make sure to stop by Café Katja this summer!
For more information on Andrew Chase, visit http://bit.ly/ddB3HO.