Executive Chef Stephen DeMarco
Q&A with Executive Chef Stephen DeMarco of The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center
Executive Chef Stephen DeMarco brings more than 28 years of experience to the region following his most recent work as owner of his own restaurant consulting firm and serving as a private chef in the New York Metropolitan area. You can see Executive Chef DeMarco teaching his culinary knowledge on WDBJ7, WSLS and WFXR on a regular basis.
Q: Where did you grow up?
Chef: I was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I was raised and grew up in Sparta, New Jersey and Clearwater, Florida.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Chef: I have always been in the kitchen since I was a kid and a professional kitchen since the age of 14. It really wasn’t until I was around 22 or 23 when I really thought I could make a living at doing what I loved to do. It was actually a chef/owner that I worked with that told me that I should get a formal culinary education at his alma mater - Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island.
Q: What is your favorite food/culinary memory?
Chef: It would have to be working at the James Beard House in NYC side by side with Alain Ducasse, Jean Georges, Marcus Samuelsson, Daniel Boulud and more.
Q: Where were you trained and how difficult was your training?
Chef: The most influential training was my time spent at The Hilton Short Hills under the guidance of Chef Luis Spost. This was a real kitchen with several outlets, 5 diamond property. He was and still is a great leader, teacher and disciplinarian. My first day on the job I cleaned 15 cases of Spinach, 20 cases of mushrooms and 50 tenderloins. I think it was a test of my patience and my attitude. I just put my head down, did it and kept my mouth shut. It is never difficult if you love what you do.
Q: Where do you find your inspiration?
Chef: Tough question - my grandmother and mother were my first inspirations - I would see them just grab leftovers out of the fridge and throw a meal together and have it taste and look great. My first chef inspiration was Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill in Manhattan. My inspiration now are my fellow team mates and their energy level and seeing them be as eager as I was at their age. Being a little longer in the tooth, I have to be inspired to keep up with them, mentor them, teach and just talk food.
Q: What is your favorite kitchen equipment or gadget?
Chef: Emulsion Blender - My cleaver - Mandoline
Q: Best piece of advice you would give a home enthusiast?
Chef: Find a good recipe - follow it - the next time you make it, tweak it and make it your own. Don’t be afraid to veer away from a recipe. Recipe is a guideline. Experiment!!!
Q: What is one of your Funniest kitchen incident?
Chef: There are many and most I cannot share - Think Anthony Bourdain - Kitchen Confidentials. Ones I can share are... We always had a special way to say good bye to people who were moving on - We would basically surround them, hit them with cream pies, yogurt, and syrup - anything sticky and messy - Our way of saying we will miss you. Unfortunately, I was not familiar with butter cream. Our pastry chef made some to smear in the face of one of our guys that was leaving. Well I hide the pies in the fridge. Not smart - butter hardens when it’s cold. So I proceeded to grab them and attempt to hit him in the face. Well the butter set up and I didn’t know until I tried to smack him in the face with it. Epic Fail!!! I almost broke his nose!! Another would be when I had a bad cut, we were in the weeds and had no time to stop. My sous chef heated up a knife till it glowed. Sealed my cut, wrapped it in duct tape and kept cooking.
Q: Who in the food world do you most admire?
Chef: Tom Colicchio, Alfred Portale, Louis Spost and any Chef/Owner for that matter.
Q: What are some of your favorite foods to cook with?
Chef: Just fresh ingredients, local foods, fresh seafood
Q: What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with?
Chef: Sea Urchin - probably because I just don’t like it. Every item can be a challenge depending on what you are doing with it. Never underestimate the food or take it for granted. Treat it with love and respect and it will return the favor.
Q: What do you do for fun outside of Chef Life?
Chef: Golf, Road Trips, be with my family, landscaping
Q: What’s your ‘Last Supper’ meal?
Chef: Has to include...
- Foie Gras
- French Onion “Potato Leek type soups - classics
- An awesome garden salad with simple oil and vinegar
- Risotto is a must
- Game meat
- Squash of any kind
- Classic desserts - strawberry short cake, tiramisu, carrot cake
Q: With the hotel’s rich heritage and being an icon of the area with signature dishes, what will your approach be as Executive Chef of The Hotel Roanoke?
Chef: I will focus on including the past into the present. Never forget the rich history and try to immortalize it in a contemporary way through food. Be highly involved in the community through fund raisers, volunteer work and my family.
Q: What do you look to bring to the Roanoke/southwest Virginia Culinary world?
Chef: Just my varied background. A touch of the big city. A straight forward approach to food. Embrace the southern heritage with some northern touches.
Q: In your opinion, what is going to be the next big thing in the food world?
Chef: I think the farm to table approach will get bigger and bigger. I think there could be partnerships with local farmers to grow specifically for restaurants through zoning out their farm to restaurants etc. More comfort food focus. Finding uses of less common used proteins. Ten years ago you never heard about flat irons or terres major and restaurants learning that it isn’t just about the service or food but the whole package. People want the money they are spending to be appreciated.
Q: What do you most love about your job?
Chef: The different challenges of every hour and every day
Q: Besides the opportunity as Executive Chef, what drew you to the Roanoke Area?
Chef: I fell in love with Roanoke from the moment I drove into the city - The land, the people, and the community. We wanted a change of life style and find a place to raise our girls. The rat race of the northeast had gotten the best of us long enough.