Thursday, November 15, 2018
Chris Koetke Describes Journey From Mumsy to Julia Child
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“Beautiful food—that’s what it’s all about,” said Chef Chris Koetke, culinary dean of the new Sun Valley Culinary Institute.
 
Sunday, October 28, 2018
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Chris Koetke fell in love with food because of his Mumsy’s pies.

But it was a pen pal relationship with Julia Child that sealed the deal for the dean of the new Sun Valley Culinary Institute.

Koetke first wrote to Child when he was 15 at the encouragement of a Hungarian chef who was mentoring him. At that time, Child was the rock star of the food world, he recalled.

 
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Chef Chris plates salmon infused with Asian flavors, bok choy and sweet potato puree in a matter of minutes.
 

“She created an excitement about food that the American public had never considered before,” said Koetke, who hopes to imbue students and food enthusiasts with the same enthusiasm in the classes and workshops he hopes to run at the Sun Valley Culinary Institute.

Amazingly, he said, the woman who introduced French cuisine to American plates wrote back to him and they communicated regularly for a couple of years.

“She never failed to answer a letter,” he said.

The crowning touch came when Child attended a conference at the Drake Hotel in Chicago near Koetke’s boyhood home of Valparaiso, Ind.  He begged his mother to take him to the confab.

 
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Chef Chris Koetke creates a blur in the kitchen.
 

 “I walked into a room in my best corduroy slacks and tried to find her among a couple hundred people,” he recounted. “We made eye contact and she immediately left the group she was talking with and came to me.”

“I know exactly who you are,” Child told Koetke, as he tried to summon the bravado to introduce himself.

The two talked 15 minutes. Then Child introduced him to several of the movers and shakers in the room. And his career in the food industry was cast in sterling silver.

“She was a real person, 100 percent genuine. There was no benefit to her to communicate with a kid from a small Indiana town. But I asked her all kinds of questions about what I should do as I tried to carve out a future in the food world, and she patiently answered all of them.”

 
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The Sun Valley Culinary Institutes plans to set up headquarters in the former Globus Restaurant in downtown Ketchum.
 

Koetke cut his teeth on his mother’s cooking.

“She’s a phenomenal cook—we grew up eating great food,” he said. “The way she shows love for her family is through her baking. We call her Mumsy and all the grandkids know what a ‘Mumsy pie’ is—basically, any pie she makes. In all seriousness, she makes the best pie I’ve ever eaten.”

His attraction to the food profession was only strengthened by the fact that it allowed him to do so many things from starring in the Live Well network’s “Let’s Dish” program to filming videos for Albertson’s, the Idaho Potato Commission and others.

“It’s such a huge profession with so many options, from cooking out of a food truck to writing about food to photographing food,” he said.

In fact, Koetke has a list of positions so long you’d need a five-course dinner to review them all.

He’s worked at a variety of fine restaurants around the world from Les Nomades restaurant in Chicago to Pavillon Elysee in France. He founded www.ChefTalk.com and been a contributing editor to such publications as “Chef” and “Fancy Food.”

He’s received a number of awards, including Chef of the Year bestowed upon him by the Chicago chapter of the International Food and Wine Society and the World Chefs’ Education Award.

He has been serving as executive director of the Culinary School at Kendall College.

 He’s also vice president of World Chefs and Feed the Planet, a Worldchefs Initiative that supports people in need through emergency relief and champions sustainable food consumption by cutting food waste and encouraging the use of ingredients grown with respect for the earth and its oceans.

Koetke said the Sun Valley Culinary Institute, which he hopes to have up and running by April or May, will probably start with six students and grow to 15.

He was attracted to the proposed institute, which was initiated by Sun Valley Economic Development, because of the tight-knit community he’s found here.

He can’t wait to show it off to his wife Ramona, a school teacher, and their 23- and 21-year-old sons Nathanial and Jonah and 16-year-old daughter Madeleine.

“It’s such a beautiful place with a wonderful community of people who have pride in the place they live and the people they share it with, and you don’t find that everywhere.”

And--good news for local sheep growers—when it comes to cooking a favorite dish for his daughter, it’s lamb.

“My 16-year-old daughter loves lamb—and it has to be American lamb,” he said.

The model envisioned for the Sun Valley Culinary Institute includes classes taught by celebrity chefs for locals and visitors whom Koetke hopes to lure to Sun Valley. And it will include an intensive year-long program for students who will have the skills to step into the line of fire upon graduation.

 “Being a chef has become such a respectable calling, or profession. And today’s consumers are so educated and knowledgeable and aware and interested in food and where it comes from.”

And for that today’s chefs owe a big thanks to Julie Child, he said.

Fifteen years ago, Koetke attended another event in Chicago that featured Child on stage answering questions.

“She was elderly by then and hysterically funny,” he recalled. “Someone asked her what she thought about fast food, expecting her to put it down, but she replied, “Every summer I drive from my home in Cambridge to my summer home in Minnesota, and I get hungry. Thank God for fast food!’

Koetke had his own opportunity to ask her a question, asking how she cooked her stock.

“I don’t know, Christopher, How do you cook stock!?” she laughed.

 

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