ANSWER: Coming down here, seeing chef and what he needed here, and the fact it's a small place. The last place I was at it had 5,000 members and four clubhouses. I worked with Chef Timmins for 16 years. The attraction was just being on a team with the same focus. It brought me back to Chef Timmins. And just having a good staff. Whatever skill levels my staff here did or did not have they always had the desire to be there. I can't say the island wasn't an attraction.
Q: Were you dissatisfied with the Savannah job?
A: It was very large and I wasn't making any headway. You go from one club to another club and don't feel as if you're getting any traction. I was there for almost two years. It was just a large, large property. We had staffing problems. I felt I was not succeeding due to lack of employees or qualities. It was hard. Savannah was hard. I missed the quality.
Q: In the meantime, you were having great success in your personal life. You're a newlywed coming up on a 1-year-anniversary in August. How did you meet your wife, Lisa?
A: I'm at the Greenbrier cafeteria and here comes this beautiful blonde through the doors and caught my eye. I did a couple double-takes. A couple months later, with trying to smooth her with some strawberry milkshakes ,we got onto a date and a year-and-a-half later I proposed to her and we got married. She knows about hard work and what it takes. She understands my profession and what I do. I think that's very important for her to support me. She knows I'll be working long hours and holidays.
Q: Your profession is so demanding. What drew you to it?
A: My family, every time we go together, it was all about the food, you know? I'm Polish and Croatian so we grew up on stuffed cabbage and perogies, things like that. I was in the kitchen a lot with my grandparents and aunts and uncles. My late teens, I left home and got an apartment at 19 and started cooking for my friends and entertaining. People said you might want to take a look at this for a living.
Q: You credit your sister with lighting a fire under you and helping you get into the Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh and your first job after graduation was the prestigious Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. What happened then?
A: As soon as I got to Greenbrier, I went into the apprenticeship program there and they had two European chefs that were pretty hard core and striving to get the best out of you. One of them happened to be Chef Peter Timmins and the other one was Chef John Johnstone. It was some hard times trying to understand what they wanted to do.
Q: What Chef Timmins' teaching still rings in your ears?
A: Discipline in everything. From the way you walk, to the way you treat your station, to the way you treat people, to the way you care about your food. It was very important to learn the hard way sometime. For example, instead of having a food processor to puree your tomatoes we had to grind it in a food mill. He's a classical cuisine chef. It's his heart.
Q: What kind of schedule you you set?
A: It's not that I'm set on a schedule. I'm on six days and usually try to get here around 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and usually will stay until close.
Q: What are your plans for the Pink's menu? Will we see any of your Polish-Croation creations?
A: I'm not sure about that. Definitely, we'll have simple comfort food. It's a small kitchen with a staff around 14 normally covering lunch and dinner shifts so we'll just stay consistent every day in quality. Out of a clean kitchen comes clean food.
Q: How do you maintain that quality level?
A: It all starts in the back with trying to keep it organized and clean. Once everybody starts getting that mentality it starts applying to their food and their stations. Those people that really enjoy doing that part of it, they succeed. I'm not saying we had a smooth ride this past season. We had our bumps and glitches but for the most part it worked.
Q: What is the Pink's signature dish?
A: Everybody asks me what's my groove, what's my thing? My groove is comfort food. I really like comfort food. Simple dishes that work well for doing 250 covers in a night. And doing them in an hour-and-a-half.
Q: What sort of dishes fit that mold?
A: Shepherd's pie. Really simple to do, braise shanks, do some nice root vegetables, a nice potato puree and you're golden. People will enjoy that. There's no molecular cooking on that. People love it.
Q: Other dishes?
A: The roasted grouper, the trawler stew with shrimp, clams and nice andouille sausage in a cream stew. Simple, easy to do. And keeping good steaks.
Q: Your favorite place to eat?
A: Grammercy Tavern in New York was a good favorite years ago, Maestro's at the Ritz-Carlton in D.C., I had a really, great experience. I'm very critical on food and service. I'm probably harder than most people. And my wife. I really love her cooking.
Chef Rob Plesh
Fact BoxChef Rob Plesh at a glance
Occupation: Pink Elephant executive chef and manager
Born: Jan. 15, 1963
Career: 16 years at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, where he became executive sous chef at the luxury resort and was mentored by Peter Timmins, now The Gasparilla Inn & Club’s executive chef. Two years at Landings Club in Savannah resort as executive chef.
Education: Graduated from the Institute of Culinary Arts
Family: Married last August to wife, Lisa.
Residence: Boca Grande
Pink Elephant hours: Open for lunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and open nightly for dinner through July 31. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 12, will be open for dinner Thursday through Sunday and for lunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Contact: (941) 964-4540.
You should know: Has a soft spot for his grandmother’s perogies, which he still loves to make.