Meet Kevin Kielbasa. Head Chef at Aquitaine French Bistro in Dedham.
It's taken a lot of hard work for him to get to where he is today, but if you ask him, he'd definitely tell you it was worth it. His undying passion for the art of cooking has driven him to pursue this career since an early age.
For Kielbasa (pronounced Co-bay-suh), it all began in Pennsylvania at the age of 9. Like many a chef, his earliest cooking experiences came from helping out his mother and grandmother in the kitchen.
"I'd always be really intrigued by what they were doing," says Kielbasa of his mother and grandmother who were the first sources of inspiration for him.
"I just always had a real interest in cooking. I used to cook for my older brothers a lot, making stuff like French fries from scratch."
His first experience in the restaurant business didn't have him serving food on to plates. It had him cleaning it off of them.
"My first job was in a kitchen. I started as a dishwasher, which you'll find a lot of chefs do," says Kielbasa.
But he had his foot in the door, and that was all he needed.
From there he began moving up in the restaurant world, making pastries and salads. But his big break came when he was working as a waiter at a restaurant in Pennsylvania. The sous chef at the restaurant had gotten injured, and that opened up the door for Kielbasa to showcase his culinary craft.
"The (head) chef was in a bind, and I just threw on a coat and jumped back behind the line," says Kielbasa. At the end of the night, the chef thanked him by offering him the job full-time.
A Westfield, N.J., native, Kielbasa moved to Pennsylvania when he was 5, and eventually moved north to Boston in 2001.
"It's a great place to live. My wife and I really enjoy it," says Kielbasa about living in Boston.
Not to mention, the great food as well.
"That was the other reason I came up here. It was still a growing culinary field in this area, whereas in New York it was really competitive. I could see that (Boston) was really going to become a food Mecca," says Kielbasa.
Moving to Boston gave Kielbasa the opportunity to work for Aquitaine, where he's learned plenty about working in the restaurant business.
"I've been with (Aquitaine) for seven years. I came in as a sous chef and I was still learning a lot, especially the managerial aspect of the job," says Kielbasa.
Twenty-three years later, at age 32, the boy who started out cooking home made French fries for his older brothers is man of the house at a French bistro, cooking for hundreds of people every day.
Aquitaine is a perfect fit for Kielbasa, as French cuisine is his favorite style of cooking.
"There's a simplicity to it; just really good ingredients and good technique. It's not overdone which is what I like. I like to be able to taste the original food from the start, you know, what we're actually working with, as opposed to doing a lot of fancy stuff where by the time you get done you really don't know where you began," says Kielbasa.
Being Italian, Kielbasa also has a soft spot for Italian cooking.
"I grew up cooking Italian. I did a lot of Italian cooking before I came to (Aquitaine). It's the same idea (as French cooking). Fresh ingredients, simple technique, and just all about the freshness and the flavor."
Aquitaine has two other locations in Boston and Chestnut Hill. All three of them offer different foods within the realm of French cooking, creating a unique experience at each of them.
Below, Kielbasa has offered to share the recipe for one of his favorite dishes, sea scallops with creamed corn, pea tendrils, and lobster butter.
- 2 ears fresh corn, cornels cut from cob
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup strong lobster stock
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1oz sherry vinegar
- 1 large shallot minced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 bay leave
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1in cubes
- Salt and pepper
- 4ea. U-10 scallops
- Salt pepper
- 1.5 oz canola oil
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 pea tendrils, lightly chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
For the corn: In medium-sized stainless-steel pot melt butter until foamy. Add corn and shallots and cook on low heat while stirring until shallot become transparent (about five minutes). Add cream and place heat to med-low. Bring to simmer and reduce cream by half or until it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and place half of corn mixture into heat resistant blender and blend till smooth. Add blended mixture back into cornels add salt and pepper to taste and reserve.
For the lobster butter: Add first of seven ingredients into small stainless-steel pot and place on med-low heat. Reduce about 80 percent. Lower heat and add cream. While whisking on low heat, add butter one piece at a time until each one is melted before adding another. Strain butter sauce through fine mesh strainer and hold in warm (but not hot) area until ready to serve.
For the scallops: Place oil in medium sauté pan on med-high heat. Once oil is hot, lightly season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper, carefully place scallops in hot oil being careful not to drop them in. sear scallops for about 2 minutes or until golden browned then flip, reduce heat and add butter. Using a large spoon baste the scallops with the butter for about 3-4 minutes or until they are browned even on all sides, remove from pan and let rest 1-2 minutes.
To plate: on oval plate spread corn evenly across middle, place scallops on top of corn in a neat row. Spoon butter sauce around scallops. Toss pea tendrils in olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle over scallops.