LAKE SHORE — P.J. Severson has come full circle.
The executive chef at the renovated Bar Harbor in Lake Shore traveled both coasts to refine his cooking talents. He hopes customers find his food tasteful and well prepared, but not overbearing with gimmick. He also hopes patrons find consistency in both presentation and taste. It’s a motto that runs throughout the remodeled establishment that has seen its share of changes in recent history.
The 1995 Brainerd High School graduate began his culinary career at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md., got his brow beaten by an ornery French chef at La Miche in Bethesda, Md., and broadened his scope with stops at The Whitney in Detroit and Rainwater’s On Kettner in San Diego before landing in Las Vegas. There he learned from internationally acclaimed and James Beard winning French chef Jean Joho at Eiffel Tower Restaurant at the Paris Casino.
“I did all their ordering, did all their morning prep,” said Severson. “I worked the line when I started there and just worked my way through the ranks. But I always had Minnesota calling me back. I had some young children and I figured, why not give them the opportunity that I had and so I moved back to Brainerd.”
Stops at Cragun’s, Ernie’s on Gull and Sherwood Forest at Grand View Lodge gave Severson the insight into what tourists and locals crave in fine dining. So foams, frills and fondues are absent from Severson’s menu, which he described as classically French highlighting basic ingredients.
“A lot of my recipes base off all these things I’ve seen chefs do in front of me,” Severson said. “When you travel around and work with different chefs you just get a little bit of everybody. I’m like this megatron of cooks. There are things I’ve seen other people do and I do my own little tweak on it. All my food is very classic — basic ingredients. I’m not using a lot of dried spices and dried stuff. A lot of fresh ingredients, with classic presentations.”
Yet, Severson intertwines influences from both coasts to create many of his dishes. An example is found in his east shore blue crab cake that features big chunks of crab customary for Maryland style crab cakes paired with a pineapple salsa and roasted red pepper aioli.
New to Severson’s repertoire is his brining process, which is how the 36-year-old is prepping all of his meats.
“I’m even brining my scallops,” he said. “I’m brining my pork chops, my chicken wings and we have a rotisserie in the back so I house brine my own chickens. What that means is we take all the chemicals out of the process and we just do it with salt, water and sugar.”
Despite his classic, traditional approach, Severson said he loves the explosion of the chef stars on the Food Network and other cooking reality shows. He said customers are coming in more informed about ingredients, cooking processes and preparation styles. He likes that people aren’t intimidated by different ingredients like truffles.
He added what people see on how-to cooking shows is how he trains his staff, which he emphasized he is lucky to have.
“My kitchen staff is very talented back there,” Severson said. “I really lucked out with hiring local people and my key guys really know how to train like I do. “
Severson’s passion for the business began in his mother’s kitchen. He said his mother and his grandmother were his inspiration. Now like Severson’s trip around the United States, he’s come full circle in the family kitchen as well.
“I used to ask my mom a lot about food and now she’s always calling me,” Severson said. “It reminds me a lot about being young.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.