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October 5, 2009 Q&A

Culinary Crusader | Mike Kelley, executive chef, Marquee Catering

Mike Kelley

The restaurant business has struggled recently in this down economy with even top restaurants finding it necessary to offer prix fixe menus and other specials. Would you tell somebody just starting out to become a chef?

I would always encourage someone to follow their passion, whether it be cooking or anything else. And a good chef is always in demand, in any economy. The only thing I might advise when considering a culinary career is the time commitment involved. There are few other industries out there that demand so much from one’s personal and family life. It’s not only the hours involved but nights, weekends and holidays; it’s not easy and you have to love what you’re doing. In terms of schooling, I think a formal culinary education is important. I’m a bit biased but I would always recommend my alma mater, CIA — The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.


Why is life as a chef so transitory?

Most young chefs move from restaurant to restaurant to build a resume, which includes working under other great chefs and gaining experience with different cuisines. Cooking is an art, and every good chef is looking to expand their experience and take on new challenges.


You are now the executive chef at Marquee Catering, home of The Gershon Fox Ballroom. What makes you want to oversee the cooking of rubber chicken for catering events?

Yes, I suppose that is the perception out there — if not the “rubber chicken,” then at least the “boring chicken.” I have been fortunate in that I have had the opportunity to create cuisine from many cultures in various restaurants over the years. This is something new for me: the chance to create fine dining cuisine — not just for a table of four or six, but for one or two hundred, and not just for a night out, but for a celebration. I love the feeling I get when I see how we’ve impacted a family at a wedding or a company and their employees. What we do is a big deal. The food and service we deliver here at Marquee impacts people and the milestones in their lives — it’s a very rewarding feeling. Not to mention that I’m a Hartford resident and the chance to work in one of the most prominent landmarks in the city was a huge draw for me. The G.Fox building and the refurbished Gershon Fox Ballroom is one of the most beautiful venues around. I take pride in being the executive chef here.”


You are active in S.O.S. Share our Strength Food Bank Charity. What is this charity and what has been your role in it?

I have been doing S.O.S for over 15 years. Marquee has hosted the event in the past and will be doing so again this coming spring. The charity is dedicated to stopping hunger for children in America. The reality is that every night there are children in this country that go to bed hungry. We are the richest country in the world — it is a shame.


Do chefs get asked this question a lot — “What’s your favorite meal?”

I love a bone-in ribeye, smothered in stinky blue cheese and accompanied by an ice cold Manhattan.”


What is the newest trend in food going to be? The Big E had a CrazE burger that was a bacon cheeseburger served on a glazed donut. Any exciting cuisine like that coming to Hartford soon?

The newest trend is the farm-to-table movement — buying local and serving fresh. Farmer’s markets, artesian breads and cheeses … fresh fish and local poultry. “Going Green” is definitely the wave of the future: everything from bottling your own water to recycling glassware and other materials.

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