Who is Steve Peterson? An Up Close and Personal View of Hai’s Top Ranking Chef
Episode 1: The Early Years
You might not expect it from our reserved leader within the Hai-ranks but don’t be fooled, we are working shoulder to shoulder with a Chef who has cooked all over the world and helped build some of the most well-respected culinary & hospitality empires that still exist today.
In this first interview with Chef Steven Roy Peterson, it was clear we have merely scratched the surface of the experience and stories our highest-level Chef has to share. Here is a brief timeline and summary detailing how Chef Steve Peterson or ‘Captain Crunch’ (a nick-name given to him due to his nature as a hard-hitting-red-headed-mullet-rocking hockey defenseman) from St. Paul, Minnesota, who caddied his way into a kitchen to become a breakfast short-order cook and eventually made his way into America’s Culinary Revolution.
Growing up in a blue-collar household with his brother Tom and sister Kelly, Steve was raised by his mother Carol who worked in accounting and billing for 3M; his father Roy passed away at a young age. Sometimes known as ‘Red’ or ‘Petey’, Steve loved being outside, riding bikes with friends and enjoyed sports, particularly golf and hockey.
His favorite memories involved going to Bridgeman’s Dairy Store for a malt or ice cream. Usually topping it off with the classic adolescent finale of the ‘dine-and-dash’ (statute of limitations applicable here). His first job was as a caddy during his summers at the affluent Hillcrest Country Club. He had the opportunity to caddy during the LPGA Patty Berg Tournament for Michelle Walker when the LPGA Tour came through town.
Eventually as a caddy, he would gaze into the window of the high-class, air-conditioned restaurant to the kitchen and see all the hustle & bustle of country club operations. He eventually moved inside after earning his tenure outside. On the inside of the club, he immediately struggled (based on his size and age) with the busser duties of carrying the large trays. Eventually he found his way into basic kitchen prep. Prep was short lived as one day. Steve showed up to work to find the normal breakfast cook was a “no-call, no-show” and his boss tossed him onto the line as a breakfast short-order line cook without substitution. It was the “rush, struggle, and high-demand multi-tasking” that hooked future chef Steve Peterson to the culinary whale that would soon swallow his future.
The book “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton (also made into a movie) had a great influence on Steve and his identity as a youth. He recalls an early drive, comparable to that of a workaholic, and became adamant in the pursuit of his career as a teen. His high school allowed him to complete a vocational culinary program in conjunction with his high school diploma and upon graduation, he had the experience needed to move into a high level culinary position right out of the gate.
The timing of his entry could not have been any better. He was joining the culinary and hospitality industry during the dawn of what would be later referred to as “The Culinary Revolution” and “The Big 5 Movement” with Chefs like Dean Fearing, George Geary, and Alice Waters. Next came cooking in Key Largo at the Ocean Reef Club for Richard Nixon. Then the Fairmont’s first hotel in Chicago before James Brown and Tony Bennett shows would follow. However, we’ll get into this during the next episode.