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Tony Maws Leads a Rock-Star Team at Boston’s Craigie on Main

Tony Maws Leads a Rock-Star Team at Boston’s Craigie on Main

Hidden from bustle of Massachusetts Avenue is Craigie on Main, chef Tony Maws’ claim to fame. eight years ago. Apart from a small tweak to the name (from Craigie Street Bistro to Craigie on Main) the restaurant’s ethos has remained the same: strict dedication to the freshest New England ingredients with classic French technique. On the Winter Solstice, I sat down with Maws and three of his main players before that evening’s service. The usually atmospheric dining room bustled with staff and was bright with sunlight. It was a perfect opportunity to look into what goes into making Craigie on Main the transformative dining institution it is today.

It’s not easy to stay relevant in our fast-paced day and age, but Maws and his team manage to blend classic French technique with a fresh and accessible mentality. With fantastically creative menus like the Chef’s Whim Night, Maws leads his team to think outside the box, while still maintaining a keen eye for sophistication and elegance on every plate. In addition to having worked ceaselessly to create a brand synonymous with high standards and quality, Maws says his secret lies in placing trust in his team. Luckily for this top chef, he has managed to attract a very young and talented front- and back-of-house crew. Maws aims to provide each of them with an individualized framework, allowing for enough space to grow and explore. Mostly, he looks for employees with an individual sensibility about food and creation but also, and most importantly, an ability to learn, adapt, and accept feedback.

All of these qualities, and more, can be found in chef de cuisine Chris McMullan. McMullan has been in and out of the Craigie kitchen over the past few years, exploring and refining his chops and palate. After spending a couple of years as an extern, McMullan ventured on to flavorful stints at Bouley in New York City and El Celler de Can Roca in Spain. Following a period in Seattle, Chris felt the draw to return to Craigie. McMullan is relentlessly obsessed with not only using the highest-quality ingredients possible but also using all parts of the animal or the plant to promote the highest degree of sustainability. The chefs complement each other: McMullan’s simple elegance balances Maws’ voracious appetite for invention on the plate.

During a meal at Craigie, diners are treated to a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The open kitchen shows off choreographic precision as the cooks and chefs maneuver around one another. If you are lucky enough to snag a couple of seats ringside, ingredients are prepared right before your eyes, artistic finishes are added with a subtle flourish, and dishes ranging from simple to out-of-this-world exotic are escorted to the tables in due course.

All seafood dishes are immediate knockouts. McMullan has a personal passion for seafood and this shows in his ability not only to get his hands on some rare and interesting catches but also the way he creates a symphony of taste in each of his dishes. In one sitting, I enjoyed pickled herring, kampachi sashimi, pastrami-cured sea trout, and lobster tail and octopus served a la plancha. It is rare to find a chef so daring while never losing the high standards of quality. This doesn’t just go for the seafood, either. Indeed, whether you are enjoying a chestnut purée with the roasted Rohan duck prepared two ways or squid ink carmenelli replete with peekytoe crab, lobster, caviar, and razor and manila clams, every element on your plate is deserving of your full attention.

Reigning over the front of the house, Olivia Moravec, formerly of the Legal Seafood enterprise, excels in all things hospitality. As general manager, she trains and provides feedback and opportunity for her team of servers and hosts. After her transition from a big corporation to a small but still high-volume restaurant, she quickly figured out that asking questions is not only the best way to become an expert in a role but also the most efficient way to promote autonomy and responsibility. In addition to her responsibilities as GM, Moravec is in charge of Craigie’s impressive wine selection. Her curious mind has enabled her to unlock the keys to some of the industry’s most complex strongholds.

Such a stellar team wouldn’t be complete without a perfect bar setup, and for this they look to lead bartender Rob Ficks. Having developed a keen cocktail sense in Connecticut, Ficks came to Craigie in 2012 as a busser and worked up to lead bartender in a few short, but strategic, strides. His cocktails mirror the seasons, building on the ingredients Maws brings into the kitchen and complementing the dishes McMullan and the kitchen come up with for their ever-evolving menus. Whether ordering a Ramos gin fizz, a classic daiquiri, or any of his quirks-on-classics craft cocktails, Ficks guarantees you receive exactly what your thirst desires.

People have come to expect new culinary feats of excitement every time they head in to enjoy dinner here. Each meal at this Boston stalwart is a knockout experience. The staff’s ability to cater to a diverse crowd and satisfy a high level of expectation is refreshing and largely unparalleled throughout the city. Whether saddling up to the bar for a couple of cocktails or sitting down to a six-course Chef’s Whim dinner — Craigie serves it all.

Between classic and inventive, the team at Craigie is well-knit and well-balanced. It could be one of the closer aspirations to what McMullan calls the “happy cook.” Exuding a calm ethos but quick-footed intensity, this culinary talent is a leader in the making. Ficks makes each bar patron feel like they are at home, and for Moravec, she strives for having “one team.” Of course, none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for Maws’ visionary leadership. He may say he feels lucky to work with them (and he does, often), but we’re all lucky that Maws decided to push through the countless barriers restaurateurs have to face so these individuals could have a Craigie to get behind.


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


Culinary Creativity: Chef Steve Zimei

Chef Steve Zimei is the Executive Chef at Chopps American Bar & Grill, which is located at the Marriott Burlington. Steve is a native of Massachusetts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1995. He then began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce, eventually becoming a sous chef at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille. Steve would also work on the opening teams for spots including Aquitaine, Harvest and XV Beacon Hotel. In addition, Steve moved onto executive chef positions at places including Gallia, Hotel MIT, The Worcester Restaurant Group, the Papa Razzi Group, and most recently Trails End Café in Concord.

Most recently, Steve returned to work with Chef Bruce at Chopps, introducing new flavors to rejuvenate the American chophouse. Outside of the kitchen you can find Zimei, an avid runner and cyclist, racing for the local cycling team Optimum Performance and serving his community through various charitable organizations. Zimei currently resides in Leominster with his wife and three young sons.

Chopps American Bar & Grill is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2017, and I've enjoyed numerous lunches and dinners at this spot. Chef Zimei is helping to ensure the consistent quality of this restaurant and it's great to see the new dishes he creates.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
"Culinary Creativity plays a vital role in being a chef. I am constantly thinking of what's coming in-season and new ways for my staff to learn and grow as culinary professionals. Being creative with menu design, technique, and presentation are all essential in this industry. The best part of my day is when I see a dish come to life. We have a vast array of clientele from all over the world that dine with us at Chopps, so we like to showcase our talents with weekly features that, if a fan-favorite, have the potential of going on our menu."

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
"I find that a lot of my inspiration stems from visiting local farms where I can feel, eat, and smell the freshest produce at the time. I like to utilize new ingredients to compliment dishes. Traveling to other restaurants to try different cuisines is also important to me to stay current in the culinary world. Not only is it fun, but experiencing new dishes really helps with flavor combinations that I can use to develop into my own style."

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"A lot of my menu items develop from foods that I love to eat. I often go out and have dinner and say, “man I need to have a variation of this on the menu.” I will then experiment with flavors that are true to my style and build from there. Often seeking advice from my sous chefs is the best way to get a true feeling of whether the dish works or how to tweak it if needs be."

What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
"Creating a dish for me always starts by using the highest quality of ingredients that is in-season. We change our menu quarterly, so a menu change isn't just a few items but 10-15 dishes. I typically focus in on an idea and then run it as a feature on a tasting menu. Eating a dish a few times helps me navigate textures and flavor profiles until it is at the standard we want to serve guests. With the chef’s tasting menus, we can really play around with off-menu items and those tend to be the most fun for us!"

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
"My sous chef and I are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Most times, we will bring ingredients into the kitchen and cook until we are happy with the end result. This is a time when we can be totally honest and also allow for our staff to give feedback."

What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
"The hardest part of culinary creativity is not letting yourself fall back into your "old stand bys". I try to not repeat dishes that I have crafted in the past and continue using different products. Staying focused when in the restaurant is a different challenge in itself when so many things are happening simultaneously."

Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
"Absolutely. I don’t usually tend to have writer’s block in terms of creativity, but I often overthink dishes, which can prevent me from letting the simplicity of natural flavors shine. To overcome this, I take a step back from my pad, and go for a long bike ride to clear my head. I’ve also found it’s helpful for me to think of food pairings late at night before I head to bed…when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Usually this is when I’m not stressing over why I just put watermelon and sea beans together!"


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