New chef in town
Chef Mark Chmielewski began his illustrious cooking career at home, preparing dinner for the family once a week. Despite the fact he went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, he doesn’t recall what his 12-year-old self preferred to make.
“I remember my brother made pancakes,” he said.
Chmielewski is the executive chef for one of the valley’s newest eateries, RiverHouse Restaurant in Edwards. Located in the old Zino location, the space has been completely redone. Impossibly large globes of glass have replaced the light fixtures, and a long, skinny table in the bar area has been dubbed the community table.
RiverHouse is making its name with seasonal cuisine and world flavors.
“Cooking in the restaurant industry has been my only job,” said Chmielewski. “I love the rush on a Friday or Saturday night – I love making people happy, inviting people into your home and feeding them.”
Chmielewski had ties with Vail long before he made the move from Chicago. His wife, Shane Kubby, is a Vail Mountain School grad, and her mother still has a house in Vail.
Chmielewski found the way to his wife’s heart was through her stomach.
“You have to woo them with food,” he said. “It’s not from my good looks.”
Kubby had wanted to return to Vail for years, and he had had a love affair with the mountains since his externship at Copper Mountain in 1987. Unfortunately, this season, he probably won’t match the 102 ski days he logged that year.
“Finding Mark was somewhat serendipitous,” said David Dowell, managing owner of RiverHouse. “It was just one of those deals that come together. We got lucky.”
RiverHouse is Dowell’s second restaurant in the valley, and heaps different than Grouse Mountain Grill in Beaver Creek. Whereas Grouse is built on signature dishes and feels like a high-end living room, RiverHouse has more of an urban feel, and the menu changes often.
“From the very beginning, I wanted to leave the door open for creativity, and not lock us into one ethnicity,” said Dowell. “Because we’re food-driven, we’re season-driven, too. We’re not looking for a signature dish – though I think you’ll see signature dishes for the seasons.”
“Signature dishes aren’t something you create,” said Chmielewski. “It’s something you develop.”
That said, Chef Chmielewski is committed to featuring a plethora of fish dishes. With piscivorous leanings himself, there’s always variety. He’s always pressing the wood-burning oven and grill into service. His classical background complements that of Sous Chef Chris MacGillivray’s, who has a penchant for world flavors, especially those of Asia.
“I’d been looking for another restaurant opportunity for a long time,” said Dowell. “I jut felt like I had another restaurant in me, felt like it was time to do something else.”
Though he’s been involved in every aspect of the creation of RiverHouse, he’s especially proud of the wine list.
“Since we’re focusing on world cuisine, I wanted to experiment with different wine styles,” said Dowell. “Right now I’m trying to learn as much as I can about Australia, and we’re just starting to delve into France and Argentina. By and large, we’re not looking for the most expensive products out there. It’s been a blast.”
According to Chmielewski, there’s a team atmosphere in the kitchen. Though he has the final word, he’s found it’s best to encourage dialogue on the line.
“It makes my life easier,” he admitted. “And I want people to tell me, “Chef, this really sucks,’ if it does. You spend too much time together to make it uncomfortable.”
RiverHouse is substantially different than his previous job – cheffing at Chicago’s Signature Room. They sold between 14 to 16 million plates a year.
“I’m just waiting for the season to begin so we can have some fun,” he said.
RiverHouse opens nightly at 5 p.m. Call 926-0444 for more information.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.
World flavors, seasonal cuisine
what: RiverHouse Restaurant
when: Open nightly at 5
where Riverwalk Center, Edwards
more info: 926-0444