Chef Nate- Who is He?

Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to interview the head of Holy Family’s new food program. Chef Nate Ottum is the spearhead of the school’s in-house meal program that is new this year. Instead of outsourcing Holy Family’s food program to an external company, the school now manages all of its own culinary needs. But who is the man behind the sushi, the chicken alfredo, and the sweet potato waffle fries?

Chef Nate’s first kitchen job was washing dishes at the now-defunct Minnetonka Country Club when he was just 13 years old. He told me that he learned a lot about the restaurant industry at his first job. Although he started by just washing dishes, he soon began to learn lessons of the culinary arts from the experienced chef that was running the restaurant. As he grew older, his interest in the world of cooking continued to grow. He applied to and was accepted into the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Ultimately, he chose not to attend the CIA and instead chose to remain at home in Minnesota with his fledgling family and receive a culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights.

Chef Nate told me that for cooking, experience is the best educator. He said, “To be honest, the majority of everything I’ve learned and perfecting my craft has been living it day to day and doing the job and being in the industry.” At this point, he has been a chef for 27 years. He’s worked at the Minnetonka Country Club, Maynards, Redstone, Malone’s, the Medina Entertainment Center, and more. Chef Nate also said that the job isn’t as appealing as it appears on TV: “Being a chef and being in the restaurant industry especially is a really tough job… behind the scenes it’s a lot different… the TV chefs that make it look all glamorous.” Chefs are also on their feet a lot, leading to frequent injuries that one may not expect from a job in the culinary field. Chef Nate has already undergone one knee surgery and is anticipating another soon.

When I asked what his favorite dish to eat was, I was met with a confident reply of ribeye steak and a close second place awarded to a burger from Lion’s Tap. On the other hand, his favorite dish to cook is anything involving grilling or barbeque. “Grilling is more than just the food, it’s almost like the experience sitting out there, the smells and the environment.” He believes that the social and natural aspect of grilling and barbeque enhances the cooking experience.

So how did Chef Nate end up at Holy Family? He was introduced to Mr. Dols through a chain of acquaintances, and decided the job was perfect for him. Chef Nate and his wife recently had another child, and he decided that he wanted to work a job that enabled him to spend more time with his family. He enjoys the honesty that comes from being in the environment of young people. He feels that good feedback comes from young students who are less likely to unneededly filter themselves. When asked about bringing the meal program in-house as opposed to outsourcing it to another company, he said that there’s no longer a “middleman” and the meal program can focus on providing the best food to Holy Family students as opposed to making money. Chef Nate would like to remind the students that the meals are only going to continue to improve. Students should especially look out for sushi on the horizon.

Chef Nate is also looking to create a group of organized students to give him feedback on the meal program and their thoughts on what they’ve been eating. Some kind of dining committee, if you will. It would not be a super high-commitment activity. If you would be interested in participating, contact myself ([email protected]) or Chef Nate Ottum ([email protected]).