Chef Don Schoenburg

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By Robert Johnson
September/October 2009

09-10chef-don4394.jpgAsk Chef Don Schoenburg a question and you will get an answer. Just make sure to be prepared to hear the plain, unadulterated truth because he makes no efforts to avoid what needs to be said. To do so would be a waste of his time. Chef Schoenburg immerses himself completely in what he is doing at the moment and this go-getter attitude nearly steered him down a different career path at a younger age. He has really come into his own as a chef, and luckily for restaurant patrons, his food reflects his passion for what he does. Ver la version espanola del arti­culo.
Chef Schoenburg is from California but went to high school at a New Mexico military institute where he claims to have learned his intense style. After graduation, he began to learn construction. As with all aspects of Chef Schoenburg’s life, he absorbed everything he could. He not only learned how to do his job but also learned how to do everyone else’s around him. This put him in a very advantageous position: If he couldn’t count on someone to do their job, he would jump in and do it for them. So, naturally he got his contractor’s license and went on to run his own construction business for ten years.
After so many years in the construction business, his body started to become weary and he decided to try his hand at culinary school. His mother and grandmother, both great cooks, taught him a few things in the kitchen and he thought this decision would be a good fit. Chef Schoenburg attended Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena where he hoped to hone his skills in class but found that he was well ahead of the average student. In addition to his regular class work, he began to work one-on-one with the chef instructors. He admits that this extra work is where he learned his most valuable lessons of culinary school. They explained the reasons why certain ingredients are used in dishes and at what point during the cooking process to most effectively use them.
Upon graduation of culinary school, Chef Schoenburg entertained the idea of returning to work in construction. This idea was short lived. He worked in a couple of restaurants while in culinary school so he was not completely green upon graduation. This, along with his culinary education, would surely allow him to get a good job working in a kitchen. From here on, Chef Schoenburg’s resume reads more like tour schedule for a rock band. The first stop was Las Vegas. He worked at Gallagher’s Steakhouse where, in typical fashion, he learned not only how to do his job but also how to do everyone else’s around him. During his time at New York, NY, he also worked at the Nine Fine Irishmen, his first Sous Chef position. Altogether he spent about a year and a half at the casino accumulating as much knowledge of the industry as possible.
Schoenburg then spent six month in Lake Havasu, NV, then moved to Mount Dora, FL where he hoped to make his dream of living in the Caribbean a reality. In the meantime he worked at Pisces Rising for about fifteen months and racked up significant accolades, including: Best Restaurant in the Orlando area, Best Entree, and Best Dessert. He left Mount Dora for Key West and with his wife, Pastry Chef Christi Carter, opened his own bakery called the Sugar Plum Fairy Bakery. Chef Schoenburg ran the bakery for about a year until Hurricane Wilma wreaked such havoc on the establishment that he had to cut his losses and leave.
The next stop on the tour was in Long Beach and then on to Tradition by Pascal in Newport Beach as Executive Chef. This was yet another chance for Chef Schoenburg to gain even more knowledge and flex his culinary muscles, earning him an invitation to Leatherby’s, part of the Patina Restaurant Group; a perfect opportunity to showcase his ardent, candid style. Menu selections like the Elk Burger and Braised Rabbit do not belie his passion for the intense and sophisticated while remaining true to his lack of pretense.
Good chefs know what things people like to eat most. They know our guiltiest pleasures and can effectively exploit them in their creations. This is why it is comforting to know that Chef Schoenburg enjoys spicy hot dogs, chili cheese corn chips and nuclear yellow cheese sauce, all from the convenience store. He is a true chef of the people, for the people. This attitude is clear when he discusses how California is missing the boat on old world style techniques such as a chef line drying their own fish or growing their own produce because of all the bureaucratic red tape involved. Judging from past experience, it won’t be long before he has figured out all the bureaucracy and is running things exactly as he sees fit. Chef Schoenburg admits he now feels like he has finally “arrived” and that he has earned his chops (so to speak) in the culinary realm. No doubt he has, but how far will he push it?

Chef Don Schoenburg
WHAT THREE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOUR CULINARY STYLE?: Innovative, Simple, Scrumptious.
AVERAGE WORK HOURS A WEEK: 75
FIRST COOKING OR FOOD RELATED MEMORY: Cleaning calamari with my grandma for dinner.
FIRST HOSPITALITY JOB: Bussing dishes at a small casino in Gardnerville Nevada.
FAVORITE KITCHEN APPLIANCE: Beurre mixer
FAVORITE TYPE OF COOKWARE: Copper
FAVORITE CONDIMENT/SPICE: Fresh herbs
FAVORITE RAW INGREDIENT: Farm fresh radishes
BIGGEST MYTH ABOUT THE KITCHEN: That it is like cooking at your house for your friends.
CULINARY HERO: Thomas Keller
YEARS OF CULINARY EDUCATION: 2, Le Cordon Bleu

Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge
Rene and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
615 Town Center Drive
COSTA MESA CA, 92626
714.429.7640
www.patinagroup.com

Restaurant Hours:
TUES-SAT: 5pm-1pm
SUN: 4pm-10pm

Average Cover Including Beverage:
Dinner: $46

Lemongrass Grouper with Caribbean Vegetable Stew (Recipe)

8 stalksLemongrass – cleaned
48oz Grouper Filets -cleaned
2Limes – juiced
1. Cut lemongrass stalks into thin circles and spread over the fish
2. Squeeze lime juice over fish
3. Turn fish over and repeat
4. Marinate for 15 minutes
5. Heat pan with olive oil
6. Sear fish to give nice color
7. Turn fish and place in 450 degree oven for 5 minutes till opaque
8. Do not overcook

Vegetable Stew:
1/4 C Olive Oil
1/4 C Red Onion – diced
1 C White Corn Kernels – Fresh
1 Large Green Bell Pepper – medium dice (to match size of corn)
1 lb Fresh Haricot Vert
1 C Coconut Milk
3 Large Tomatoes – peeled, seeded and diced
Salt & Pepper – to taste
1. Add oil to medium sauce pan over medium heat
2. Add onions and cook for 1 minute. Add kernels and cook for 30 sec.
3. Add bell pepper and 2 tbsp of coconut milk. Cook for 1 minute
4. Add haricot vert and the rest of the coconut milk. Cook for 1 minute
5. Season with salt and pepper
6. Stir in tomatoes and take off heat

1 Large Plantain – (brown)
2 T Olive Oil
1. Peel the plantain and cut on a bias
2. Heat oil in small saute pan
3. Cook plantains till golden brown
4. Season with salt and pepper

12Tarragon Flowers
1. Place stew in center of plate
2. Place fish on top
3. Garnish with plantains and tarragon flowers