599 South Collier Boulevard, Marco
They’re survivors! No, I’m not praising pantywaists playing heroes on television’s so-called reality shows.
This week my attention is focused on one of Marco Island’s Chef/ Restaurant Owners who have survived (for 10 years or more) in a capricious Marco Island tourist-driven or affluent retiree (take your pick, I’m easy) economy.
These extraordinary chefs came to the island and loved what they saw. They decided to settle and stayed to open a restaurant because they loved what they do — continue to cook for an appreciative clientele in their thriving and popular restaurants.
These committed, classic European chefs were barely teenagers when they decided they wanted to learn to cook in a restaurant kitchen and then signed on as apprentices to veritable “Chefs from Hell” who ruled like gods in the kitchens of grand European hotels.
A minor error gave these “gods” just cause to terrorize their hapless minions — beat them with sticks, hurl raw eggs like footballs or even really large dinner plates.
“Yes, I remember the time,” Konrad Mayerhofer, the Executive Chef/ owner of Konrad’s Seafood and Grille recalled. “This one chef — when he got mad he would throw these really large dinner plates at the wall across the kitchen. Picture a line of cooks on the right and others to the left with everyone busy and suddenly you’d hear: ‘Get down!’
“I’ve been on the island 26 years. In 1982, they (the Marriott) asked me to come down as executive chef. In ’84 I opened up the Bavarian Inn and operated it until 2000, but earlier on Jan. 2, 1992 I opened Konrad’s.”
End of story?
Not quite, because every story has a beginning and this one begins after Konrad finishes high school.
“I was an apprentice about 10 years — I worked two years in Stuttgart and three years in Bavaria, Germany’s premier tourist state. I was young, I liked seeing what the world was like.”
Then Konrad worked five years in Switzerland and a year in England.
“They didn’t pay well but it was good to learn the language, and neither did the Swiss — I made 560 Swiss francs ($120 American) out of that I had to pay income tax and health insurance, but at least in those big hotels you learned something.
“Here, nobody cares about how you trained under famous European chefs. The European apprenticeship, that very basic knowledge is missing with the ones that graduate from culinary schools — three months later you know everything,” Chef Konrad said disdainfully. “Do you know my executive chef cooked for King Farouk? I still cook every morning until 2 — I bone and filet all the fish — everything from scratch even our salad dressing and our salad bar is the best on the island — they (culinary grads) don’t know how to make mayonnaise from scratch!”
Back to 1974, Chef Konrad began working on cruise ship that could accommodate 550 passengers and employed 300 people, but carried no more than 450 passengers when it made around-the-world cruises in 116 days.
“I was on it seven years and was in charge of the cold kitchen — the garde manager — which requires a great deal of training because you’re responsible for preparing many of the cold foods served on the ship. Then I was promoted to sous chef, the executive chef’s right hand, and then, of course, executive chef — but during the time I was on the ship I saw a lot in the countries we visited.”
The sly inquire if it was smooth sailing, inexplicably reminded Chef Konrad of the aforementioned “plate incident,” and the conversation sailed over to New York and the famous Essex House located on Central Park South (where Chef Konrad was the Executive Chef after the cruise ship) and a block or two west of the prestigious Plaza Hotel (where this columnist enjoyed afternoon cocktails in the Palm Court). At the time, the Marriott’s owned and operated the Essex House, Chef Konrad explained, adding that he worked there up until January 1982 when the Marriott brass asked if he would like to be interviewed for the executive chef position at the Marco Island Marriott Resort.
“I came over the Jolley Bridge — it was a very cold winter in New York that year — I saw the sunset and said ‘this is for me!’ Anyway, I interviewed and on Feb. 4 I was back here (Marco Island) and working at the Marriott.”
Chef Konrad related, “I loved working at the Marriott.”
However, at that time Marriott was putting up big hotels in major metropolitan areas like New York and Atlanta and they wanted to send Chef Konrad there to get their restaurants off to a good start.
“I didn’t want to go back to New York or Westchester — I wanted to stay on the island!” he said emphatically, noting that in 1983 land was relatively cheap and he decided to leave the Marriott and started building what was to become the Bavarian Inn on Winterberry Drive. Things went well in the beginning but partnership problems plagued the venture.
“I finally got out in 2002, and everything fell apart shortly after due to the inexperience of the management.”
Meanwhile, what is now Marco Walk was in the developmental stages on the corner of Winterberry Drive and Collier Boulevard.
“I saw the possibilities and took the opportunity in 1991 to start building Konrad’s from scratch and I was the first business to open there on Jan. 2, 1992.
“I was the first tenant but others have come and gone,” Chef Konrad stated. “I’ve been here the longest and I’m the one that will last!”