DENVER, February, 2012—Keegan Gerhard has done 300 shows of Food Network Challenge in 10 years along with appearances on the Discovery Channel and CNN. He’s turned his focus to running his own restaurant in Denver and opening a second D Bar Desserts in San Diego this April.
“I lived and worked in San Diego for several years and always wanted to go back,” Gerhard says. While working at George’s on the Cove in La Jolla he learned to appreciate easy access to locally grown ingredients.
The menu in San Diego will resemble the one in Denver. A nationally recognized pastry chef and judge, he kept his menu fun and approachable. Open since 2008, D bar has a plated dessert menu that includes cake and shake, milk and cookies, booz-flay! and ch ch ch churro! Some of the menu changes with the season. “Last fall we did five varieties of apples ten different ways. I love desserts with apples,” he says.
Another menu is titled Things we like to eat. That one includes Gerhard’s pizza salad sandwich. An invention he came up with while busy in the kitchen, he took pizza dough, added some olive oil, pesto and mozzarella cheese. After baking, he threw on some greens tossed with vinaigrette and folded it into a sandwich. “I didn’t know if anyone would order it but they are.”
The kobe slider, southernfried belgian chicken and waffle and dates with bacon are other hits. “People like what they know done well. We make it our own, win them over; then next time they might trust me on something crazier,” says Gerhard.
Many of his guests came because they knew the pastry chef from TV.
“My favorite thing is people come because other people told them. We have so many regulars now,” Gerhard says. “One thing we didn’t plan but see, it’s a lot of things to a lot of people. It could be two girls after work, a date or a happy birthday. I dream of it becoming part of people’s lifestyles.”
He enjoys being his own boss but might never have done so without his wife, also a pastry chef. “She always wanted a place of her own and pushed me. As long as I worked at the best place I was fine.”
Denver was an easy choice for Gerhard as an avid cyclist and because High Noon Entertainment, the company that produced his show, is based in Colorado. “My passion is cooking and running a restaurant,” he adds.
Gerhard, 44, grew up in Germany until the age of 11. “I started cooking to support myself as a cyclist.” He worked as a chef and pastry chef, working for and learning from master pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer.
Other positions at high end hotels and restaurants followed: Charlie Trotter’s Restaurant, the Waldorf Astoria, Four Seasons Chicago, the Wynn Las Vegas.
Before joining the Food Network, Gerhard was an emcee for the annual National Pastry Competition, now televised. As he moved among the top pastry chefs creating amazing plated desserts, cakes, chocolates, and artistic sugar and chocolate sculptures.
His ongoing commentary was lively, natural and informative. He made competitions accessible and appealing to a much wider TV audience.
Currently, Gerhard said the show still airs six days a week although no new episodes are being filmed. He was emcee and later judge for the competitions.
His television projects took four to eight days a month but he worked the rest of the time He said he may do more work in the future for television.
Linda Mensinga: From your experiences as a host and judge, what advice would you give aspiring contestants?
KEegan Gerhard: I have three pieces of advice.
The first is the hardest to follow and requires the most discipline. Ask yourself, ‘Am I really ready?’ You have a cake shop and they call you. Everyone wants that shot.
Here’s how TV people see it, whether you succeed or fail, it’s still a compelling TV moment.
The second is you have to make time to practice the specific event. Cake people have the odd idea they can do anything tomorrow. They want a Nemo cake. You’ve never made it but think, ‘I can draw. I can make it happen.’ They never practice. Some professional teams practice for an entire year before a competition.
Often overlooked, the third piece of advice is you need to know the rules. People lost because their piece was one inch too short. In some competitions the difference between first and fourth place is only five points.
LM: Do you have a favorite food related show?
KG: After Hours with Daniel Boulud. He gets chefs together with musicians and food writers. They talk and eat.
LM: What are the next foods trends and what do you think of them?
KG: Trends are media driven. We love to say what’s a trend and there is a decided battle between modern gastronomy and comfort food. What I think is people are more knowledgeable. They know where food comes from. They get grass fed beef and free range chicken.
I see pastry chefs doing modern napoleons or deconstructed baked Alaskas.
It’s interesting to use the whole animal. That increase the chef’s skill set and you get better quality food.
LM: Which food fads are you tired of?
KG: Sick of the cupcake thing, we make cupcakes because people want them but there are shops not putting more effort than you can make at home. At $3.50 it’s a joke.
Overall you’ve got to work to make it your own. A lot of people are getting tired of pork belly and bacon.
LM: Where are your favorite places to dine?
In San Diego, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery. It just opened in Hillcrest. It’s a breakfast and lunch place. Alex Seidel’s Fruition in Denver is brilliant and fun. Butter in New York. Alex Guarnaschelli is the greatest person and hilarious. She’s one of the judges on Chopped.
See recipe for Grandma’s chocolate frosting.
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