By Sally Deering
A foodie with a gutsy attitude, Chef Rob Burmeister of Staten Island won the competition on a recent episode of CUTTHROAT KITCHEN on the Food Network when he made New England clam chowder with whipped cream and cognac. Not many chefs could stand up to the challenge, but Chef Rob’s signature cooking style – “international fusion with a hint of American comfort” suggests his versatility as a chef and now with a taste of stardom on his lips, Chef Rob hungers for his own reality TV food show.
No side dish, Chef Rob has been featured on CHOPPED, RESTAURANT STAKEOUT, THE NEXT PORK PERSONALITY with GUY FIERI, and STATEN ISLAND CAKES. He also does the Tuesday night podcast CHEWING THE FAT WITH BIG AND BEEFY with co-host Clemenza Caserta, Jr. who was featured on Season 10 of HELL’S KITCHEN with Chef Gordon Ramsey. (Tuesday nights on Blogtalkradio.com/thewackonetwork, 7-9 pm.)
Chef Rob is also executive chef for Harvest Café in Staten Island, a training facility/restaurant for adults with mental disabilities to learn restaurant skills to obtain work in the community.
Let’s meet Chef Rob and ask him the Ten Ingredients to his success.
RVO: Chef Rob, where you were born & raised and who introduced you to cooking?
RB: I was born and raised in State Island, and I learned to cook sitting in front of the TV watching Channel 13 Chefs Martin Yan, Jeff Smith who is “The Frugal Gourmet,” and Julia Child. I remember my first dish, it was a recipe called Harvest Stew. Everyone loved it. My second big thing, someone gave me the Betty Crocker cookbook and I made Egg Drop soup with snow peas. That’s when I really got hooked. After high school, I wanted to go to culinary school, but I couldn’t pay for it myself, so I got a job washing dishes and being a prep cook at the Lake Café in Staten Island. It was a beautiful place. I started at 18 and grew up there. I wound up being a line cook, sous chef, and later the executive chef.
RVO: Can you describe your signature style?
RB: My personal style is international fusion with a hint of American comfort. I’ve been doing it for years, like Mac & Cheese Eggrolls; Meatloaf and Mashed Potato Eggrolls. Different Calzones. I had a gourmet deli BURMEISTER’S CHOW in Staten Island for four years and we’d make gourmet take out. I used to deep fry Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches.
RVO: What was it like being on CUTTHROAT KITCHEN?
RB: I was originally cast for a show on ABC, THE TASTE. Last year, my friend came in second place. She said you gotta try out for this. She mentioned my name to the directors so when the casting came up this year they called me and I went in for the audition, I had to cook something, and they told me I’m on the show. They picked 60 people to fly out to California. An hour later I got a call and they told me I got cut because they’re not going with 60 contestants. But the casting director said they were casting CUTTHROAT KITCHEN and flew me out to California. I filmed the end of October and they just aired it in February. The show is like an obstacle course – there are auctions and you can switch things around with your opponents. There are four chefs and three rounds and when we had to make New England clam chowder, I didn’t have water to steam the clams and all I had was whipped cream and cognac, so I steamed them with cognac which made a boozy clam broth and used a little whipped cream. I won after the third round when we had to make Chicken Fried Steak.
RVO: How did you get on THE NEXT PORK PERSONALITY?
RB: THE NEXT PORK PERSONALITY was being held at the Food Network’s food festival in Manhattan, so I sent in a tape of some of my appearances. They called me and said you’re in. Guy Fieri was the host. It was a big thing. I got there and I was up against two ladies from California. I came in second. Before I met Guy Fieri, I always loved his TV show DINERS, DRIVE-INS AND DIVES, and I hoped he was not full of himself and standoffish. After the first two minutes I met him, we were like brothers. We were out the night before the show until 5:30 in the morning.
RVO; Have reality TV shows helped your career?
RB: Yes, definitely. It’s hard to get a job if you don’t have a diploma. If you’re going to get a loan to open a restaurant, they’re looking for a diploma. I never had one, but being on TV they don’t care if I have a diploma.
RVO: Would you do HELL’S KITCHEN?
RB: I put in my application six or seven years back, but now they don’t want me because I have too much experience. Now I have different ideas for my own show. I put up videos on YouTube. I’d love my own road show, like DINERS, DRIVE–INS AND DIVES. That’s what I want, a nice cool road show where I’m hanging out with other cooks. I love being before the camera.
RVO: What’s your podcast CHEWING THE FAT WITH BIG AND BEEFY with Clemenza Caserta from HELL’S KITCHEN all about?
RB: Clem and I were freshmen at St. Peter’s high school on Staten Island. I saw him on HELL’S KITCHEN and my jaw dropped; so I reached out to him. I was doing a little thing SLINGING THE HASH, a YouTube show I was trying to start. We’d cook together. Clemenza reached out to the Wacko Network for advice and they said, why don’t you be on our network? We started CHEWING THE FAT WITH BIG AND BEEFY – I’m ‘Big’ and Clem is ‘Beefy’ We talk about what we ate, food trends all over the world, one week we talked about our top five snack cakes. From the first show, we’ve had 1,000-1,500 listeners. We get calls from Australia, U.K. Canada, Texas, Virginia.
RVO: What is the work you’re doing at Harvest Cafe?
RB: It’s a non-profit restaurant where high-functioning adults are trained to wash dishes, do maintenance, prep food, cook food, wait tables and take drink orders. We teach them skills they need to work at neighboring restaurants. I’m the executive chef and lead culinary trainer.
RVO: What is your favorite seasoning to cook with?
RB: I always have to have bacon fat. Bacon fat is universal. I’ll add it if I’m searing a piece of fish and I use it in my barbecue sauces, soups, and instead of butter or olive oil. Now I’m making bacon soap and bacon candles.
RVO: At the end of the day, what is the food that you order at the diner?
RB: If I go to a diner, I have to get a side of corned beef hash with syrup and ketchup. I’m always getting breakfast, a hungry man platter that comes with eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, toast and pancakes, with a chocolate milk, a root beer and a coffee. I never order Eggs Benedict because I know what a pain it is.
For more info on Chef Rob Burmeister, go to www.chefsroll.com/chefrob.