Written by  ,     July 3, 2024     Posted in Uncategorized

As we celebrate 30 years throughout summer, during a recent conversation about The Bear TV series, (more on that later!) someone asked me;

“What are chefs really like?” 

Here’s a synopsis of a question that’s answer is really complex.  You must start with, what’s a Chef?  But for now, for those who succeed, I would offer this; Successful chefs are a rare breed of super-human. They are strong and tough.  They are committed and impassioned.  Resilient, able to tolerate pain, stress, exhaustion, constant scrutiny and critique, The list goes on. The vast majority of folks out there have no true idea of what chefs endure, if they endure, and very few could ever do it–the relentless pounding under extreme conditions, while delivering precision, excellence and consistency, when they are great. We have been very fortunate to have five “long term” Chefs in our 30 years, and another five who were valuable for a shorter time. And, of course, a couple misses! But we will stay on the high road, discussing only the Chefs that contributed to our 30 years of success for a minimum of one year.

1994-2001       Ed Z    (RIP)              

Cobblestones co founder, Ed was a tireless, meticulous, incredible palate, leader by example. One morning I opened the doors at 8AM to find Ed asleep on the toilet after pulling a kitchen all nighter! I met Eddie in New York after college, and we decided over post-shift Beck’s beers that we would start a business together.  Sometimes buzzed banter comes true! Eight years later we opened Cobblestones and Ed set the culinary expectations at Cobblestones well beyond anything that existed in Lowell in 1994. His Chicken Marsala and Clam Chowder are still tops! Ed lasted 7 great but grueling years and we would never have survived without his tenacious work and incredible skills. In the end, with body and mind wearing down, Ed was unable to transition to a more hands off, preservation-oriented position of kitchen management as Cobblestones was making money. Ed sought family, more free time, found love, got married, worked at a school for the blind, had two sons, and sadly passed away way too early at age 49.

2001-2002       Marc Spooner            
A huge presence from Florida’s panhandle with equally as huge shoes to fill,  Marc muscled us through re opening following the fire of 2001 and created one of the very best dishes Cobblestones ever had—A honey-soy glazed Sea Bass over basmati rice with coconut ginger butter—and maybe a personal Top 10 regret that we never got that permanently menu’d!  Marc went on to win CHOPPED, before becoming Chef to multiple professional sports franchises.

2002-2003       Old Phil

Lasted (6) months.  Loved wine and, according to one staff member, “smelling mirrors”…but his Chocolate Silk Pie was ridiculously good and it’s base recipe endures on both Stones menus.

2003-2004       Young Phil

The first episode in our 30-year career of, “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”  Young Phil got promoted when we needed to move away from Old Phil.  We both hoped he could handle the job and he had great potential but just wasn’t ready to learn about all that this big job entailed.  He went on to open his own restaurant and found out.

2004-2008       Manny Besana

Very much a “country gentleman”, I was certain after the first interview that Manny wouldn’t be “tough” enough.  But being from my hometown in New York (what’s the odds?!), a 2nd interview made me think, just maybe.  Never judge a book by it’s cover! Slight and quiet, Manny proved to be a lightening fast cook, cerebral, calm under pressure and a great team leader.  He went on to open moonstones and execute the higher-jlevel culinary level that we sought there—setting the table for the next 16 years of success.

2008-2013       Paul Dubuque

Paul Dubuque was there the very first year we opened, as a teenager with no experience, while training under Chef Ed Z with Matt Sorenson.  Those 3 guys anchored Cobblestones kitchen for the 1st couple of years before Paul moved out west to continue his training (and have two beautiful daughters!).  He returned years later “just in time” to take the reins from Manny and provided us (me) with a trustworthy, impassioned, stout and ever-more skilled Chef and leader—and to this day remains involved and available to counsel on recipes or, provide us with musical talent as alter ego, Hal Holiday.  (Paulie also represents the latest of a dozen couples who all met while working at Cobblestones before going on and getting married!)  Maybe Paul’s greatest Cobblestones claim to fame is suggesting we offer our Buffalo Wings as Buffalo Tenders—the #1 selling menu item every year since!!

2013-2014       Rob Jean RIP

Chef Rob Jean.  A paragraph is not nearly enough space to chronicle this guy. We met when he opened his own restaurant in Lowell, a year after Cobblestones opened, 1995.  He was culinarily ahead of his time but would come to Cobblestones after they closed at night and he and I would drink tequila and discuss the business, and possibilities.  He spent years after, honing his craft in some of Boston’s top restaurants and we continued to “joke” about an alliance.  It finally happened many years later, as his Boston tenure termed out at a time that our restaurants were ironically struggling to maintain consistent excellence, “handcuffed” by bad habits and my lack of better oversight and direction.  Rob became head Chef at moonstones, made swift and effective changes before turning to Cobblestones to help solidify kitchen operations there.  The most quotable Chef I have ever met, I regret that we were never able to strike a collaboration deal fro growth.  Rob went on to open his own quaint, delicious PigTale restaurant before he too passed away too early, at age 51;

2014-2015       Tiffany Natinsky
Really, really good people–I will remember forever, as Tiffany fought against the toxic male kitchen mentality of disregard and disrespect, how great she was as pushing a plate in the window back to the cook who plated it, and demanding that they do it “the right way!? High standards, incredible grit and an excellent Chef while she was with us.

2015-2016       Kaeo Yuen
Poised to bring us to a 3rd, then 4th restaurant, the cleanest, calmest Chef we ever knew. Zen like. “Everybody lies” was his response to management’s claim that his sous chef lies. So simple and prescient. I was told after he departed that while we struggled with payroll cost, he liked playing video games on his phone in an empty dining room. Hotel chefs….different breed and perhaps a discussion for another day.

2018-2020       Soren Christiansen
Back with us following COVID! Late for an airport run! To be continued….

2021                Covid and very bad decisions by us!

2022-2024       Enx Dadulas
Maybe the best phone call I ever made. To be continued…

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