Interview for A Mountain Chef
Chef Marcus Lepke has worked in Culinary Arts for 30 years. His journey began in his home country of Germany and has spread all over the world from there. Following graduation from Culinary School, he spent a number of years traveling in Europe. He has learned the art of handmade pasta in the towns of Italy, enjoyed wine in the countryside of Spain and has learned from the Master Chefs of France.
Chef Marcus has trained under many of the world's best Chefs, he worked for Gordon Ramsey for a number of years, made a meal with the incredible Paul Bocuse, and was literally a Chef of Kings (hmmm what did they call Auguste Escoffier…). Today he heads his private catering and is a humble teacher, and his future will be even greater still.
This Chef will go down as my first teacher and I really hope to work with him again, especially after graduation. It was my privilege to interview him and give you a small glance into his incredible journey in our amazing profession. So far all of the Chefs I’ve talked to at the Boulder Culinary School have said similar things, a few which Chef Marcus goes over in his
interview. It is very important to continue to learn, don’t get stuck in your ways, and refuse to open up to new ideas. Chef Marcus is the first Chef I will have for me and for you, I can’t wait to talk with them all!
Why did you decide to get into culinary arts?
I had a silly cousin who loved it and told me I should get into it. So I just
What was your biggest challenge in culinary school?
Hmmm, the physical abuse of so much work and I would say Time Management.
What was the best part about school?
To work with many different people from all walks of life.
What was the first thing you did after graduation? I know you went and trained in Spain, Italy, and France in the years following.
The first thing after culinary school, I went to Frankfurt where I started as a Commis de Cuisine. I was in the Michelin Star Restaurant Francais at the Steigenberger Hof Hotel. After working there for 1 ½ year I wanted to be a Demi-Chef, the next rank, but my Chef didn’t see that position available anytime soon. I decided to go and check around to see what was available, a co-worker mentioned that the Chef at a different hotel was looking for somebody. I contacted him and although he couldn’t hire me in that position, he promised me that if I don’t screw up (Chef used a slightly stronger word) too much, I would be his Demi-Chef in a few
months time. So we had an agreement and I switched hotels to be at the private hotel of the King of Spain.
Who was the most influential Chef you worked for?
Definitely Chef Klaus Peichl, he was the Executive Chef of the private hotel of Kings in Frankfurt. I learned so much from him, under him, with him; it was incredible.
How many years did you work there?
I worked there for 3 ½ years. From a Demi-Chef to a Chef de Partie. From a Chef de Partie to a Sous-Chef.
And I know you mentioned to us in class you had no food budget at the hotel, so you guys really got to do what you wanted.
Yes, it was awesome.
What is your most favorite dish to prepare, both from back in your past and from now?
Definitely being a classically French-trained Chef, you know one of my favorite dishes come from the French. Making a Chateaubriand with a nice demi-glace with some nice sides, for me is a feast of a King. But traveling around the world, I like bouillabaisse, I like paella. You know there are so many dishes from so many areas, so many countries, which are just incredible. A simple pasta made from scratch, tossed in a little bit of olive oil and fresh Parmigiano Reggiano and some fresh cracked pepper is a delight. If you make a perfect egg ravioli with a liquid egg inside, a little brown butter and fried sage it’s mind-blowing, right? Yeah, that sounds incredible! It’s not a lot, it’s just pasta but if it’s done perfectly it’s culinary sin (beyond all doubt amazing). You can have something as elaborate as Coq au Vin, which takes 2-3 days to prepare, and I’m going to lick with my tongue that plate! But fresh pasta, ravioli I can make in 2 hours and it’s still going to be, (fantastic) perfect. That’s definitely one thing that I also enjoy about cooking, that you have that variety. You’re doing every day something different, a different country, a different region, a different culture. It never gets boring. As a Chef, you can live your lifetime, and probably two more lifetimes on top of that (before you get bored). And that is for me something, if I get bored, I’m not happy. And I think that’s why I like my job up to today; because it doesn’t get boring. I mean I come here and I learn from students, yeah so I think that’s incredible.
Along with all of that, what inspired you to become a teacher here at Escoffier, what was your journey here?
I think definitely fortunately enough, or being fortunate enough to learn from great Chefs and to work with great Chefs is definitely something I’m very humble about. I think I can give that back to other students, so I was fortunate enough to learn from great Chef’s so now I have
an opportunity to give that knowledge back.
Yes, I would love to spend years working with you. You definitely know what you are doing.
It is a journey, and to meet other Chefs to talk to other Chefs, to sit down at the Chef’s Table with other Chefs and to talk about a dish. To talk about how you became a Chef, those are incredible moments. To shake a hand of Paul Bocuse, those are things that every Chef is drawing from inspiration and energy. It’s just fun, it’s exciting. I just love it!
What is your most favorite part about teaching here, what is your biggest challenge?
Umm, my biggest struggle here may be that I’m trying to be too much of a perfectionist. That
maybe I’m setting my expectations too high. When
I was hired here I was told I should raise the bar a little bit. But I don’t necessarily think that’s a negative thing, it’s just an adjustment. Everywhere
you live, where you work you have to adjust based on culture and people. That’s what life is about. The best thing about here is being a classical
French-trained Chef and working for Escoffier, I
think that’s a pretty good fit. And Boulder is a pretty
nice place too. Yeah, I definitely want to get down here for sure, that’s definitely my plan. That definitely makes life easier, if you live around
Boulder, in Colorado. It’s very much like my country, in Siegen with all the mountains, the four seasons and beautiful winter. But it’s not like the
Alaskan winter, or even Massachusetts/New England right, (yes it’s way too cold and windy there). It’s very decent and I think a great advantage of a Chef being here is also that the people appreciate the food and can also afford good food. That's, you have sometimes places where people appreciate good food but they can’t afford it because the demography doesn’t really give it to them. I mean the average median income here is quite high.
Do you have any plans for the future?
Umm, no. So far I think I enjoy what I’m doing. Definitely, in the future I would like to go back more into the management, something I did more before I came to the U.S. I was the Dean of a Culinary School, so this is definitely something which I see myself in for the long term before I get to retirement age. So I’m still involved here, I could technically still teach as in instructor even if I’m running a school. I would never make a difference between that, I would love to put on my Chef coat from my office and step into the kitchen, something I have done in the past. So that would definitely be something I could and want to envision for myself.
What is the best advice you have for new students coming into Escoffier?
It would probably be difficult to pinpoint it to one kind of advice, but the most important advice is to take notes. There is such an overwhelming amount of information pouring onto you. There is literally no way to keep this memorized. And that’s, by the way, the reason we give out little notebooks to the students. I haven’t looked enough at the cookbook
myself, but it is nice having that to look at. It has some really good information in there. Yeah, I mean making notes every day during
the lecture, during the Chef demos. I think it’s everybody’s individual judgment on how many notes you have to make. Yes, I have written
some stuff down in the mine. But that booklet should definitely contain a lot of information, and then you transfer it maybe into a culinary diary
or something. Yeah, the one day that we made the Spatzle, seeing the cookbook that you have was pretty awesome. Yes, it’s over 25 years old and has collected information from Chefs all over the world. In the beginning, it seemed silly to write these things down, but now it’s like gold. It has a value that goes beyond paper.
What is your advice to graduating students? People who are starting out into the New World?
I certainly say that being a graduate from a Culinary School does not entitle you to be an Executive Chef. There’s maybe one exception, maybe when you are the only one in the kitchen. Then you can call yourself the Executive Chef because you are the Commis de Cuisine, the Demi Chef, Chef de Partie, Sous-Chef, your Executive Chef. You are the only Chef in the kitchen then that would be fine. But be humble, the culinary school here takes 8-9 months maybe a year at the most, and then your apprenticeship takes 3 years. Then you are Commis de Cuisine, which means you’re just somebody but you're still nothing. You’re still learning, and I think this is the way to go. You’re just beginning to learn, I think you have a very good foundation but that doesn’t mean that you can cook; that you KNOW how to cook. You’ve had too little exposure and I think that if you can keep that in the back of your mind that certainly will
bring you much further, much faster than you think. I think being humble is a part of being a good Chef. Absolutely, I know some people who aren’t and you can see it. They need to find that part. I have not met any great Chefs who don’t possess that attribute. Yes, I mean even all the Chefs who are on Chef’s Table on Netflix, the Michelin Stars, the top 10
Restaurants in the World. Even they are very humble. Chef Massimo Bottura is probably one of the nicest guys ever and he’s #1 right now. It is very important because it’s not just how you reflect on yourself to the public, to your employees. It’s a growing process, if you are humble to yourself I think you have more room and potential to grow even further than displaying your wisdom and saying, “I know it all, I’ve seen it all”. I think if you do that you get stuck easily somewhere and your learning process stops. Again, this is one of the greatest benefits of being a Chef is that there’s unlimited learning. Unlimited exposure. So if you set
yourself a border there because of how you behave, how you see yourself… Yeah, you just get stuck. Yes.
Well, thank you so much, Chef! I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with you, you have done so much, I really wish I could have some of those experiences. I very much look forward to working with you in the future!
Absolutely! Thank you! Please let me know if you need anything else, I am here for you, for you guys to learn and become great Chefs!