A Night with Chef Coon.


May 15th the EBD locked up early. We don’t normally do this, but this was a special occasion. Wartburg student Will Coonradt took over the EBD prep-kitchen to host A Knight in Asia – a 5 course tasting menu to benefit the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

This was definitely a unique event for the EBD to take part in, and for the Waverly community to experience in general. When you think of dining in Waverly, couture cuisine may not be what you first think of. Home-cooked, stick-to-your-ribs, breaded, fried – those more likely cross your mind. But, for a night in mid May, Waverly residents had an opportunity to experience a chef’s debut.

Glowing reviews have been coming in for this student chef who says cooking has always been a subtle presence in his life, but that interest “really sprouted when I was a freshman in college. I would go to my moms for breaks and didn’t have much to do since she didn’t have WIFI or a TV and my high school friends were all not on break so I turned to cooking food. I have a very energetic and active brain so reading for more than an hour was a major bore. I definitely have to extend some props to my loving mother, when growing up she would always cook amazing food and eventually started going off recipe and just creating very unique foods. Once I saw her just walk in the kitchen and slap something together that was better than most restaurant could do. I asked for the recipe and she laughed and said “I just grabbed stuff out of the fridge”; I was kind of hooked by that off the cusp and wild style of cooking. It has definitely been a long few years of learning to cook but it’s crazy rewarding when I can now just look in a fridge and make something that is cooked well and that tastes good. It’s a very rewarding art indeed.

The future sounds pretty bright for Will as he heads west for an internship at Lucy’s Restaurant in Denver, CO. There he will also be cooking part-time at a French or Japanese restaurant to hone his craft. Sounds like there are also plans for a cookbook and possibly a restaurant of his own in the future.

The EBD was excited to be host to this event and proud of the work Will put forward and the innovation and idea sharing that was going on in the kitchen between our own kitchen manager, Josh, and Will. In part of our pledge to give back to the community the food for this event was provided to Will on behalf of the diner. A Knight in Asia -featuring a 5-course, Japanese cuisine inspired tasting menu prepared by Chef Coon was able to raise over $1400 for the NEIFB.

After the event Will took some time to reflect on the evening and was kind enough to share that reflection with us. Remember this kid’s name – he’s off to do big things!

I woke up the next morning not feeling like I thought I would after hosting my first pop-up dinner. I imagined I would be glowing with confidence and extremely proud of myself but instead I had a feeling of disappointment and failure. I began to search for why I had these emotions and I realized that it was because it wasn’t perfect. Someone said I should have had a salad, that the chicken could have been marinated with a little more flavor, my brother said I should have put some lime juice in the dumpling fillings (I’m not convinced on that). Regardless it was little things that I didn’t do that somewhat angered the perfectionist in me: a guy who has alluded me in the past. Regardless he was bothered, I began to reflect more and more on these emotions and tried to comfort myself by saying; you are a young chef who has loads to learn and what you did was still cool. And then it sort of dawned upon me that this is only the beginning. I have to take this experience and the food and never forget that feeling of disappointment that I felt on that morning.

After watching and reading cooking/chef memoires many of them after doing events will just say that it was business as usual, that that’s just the nature of the game and if you let yourself be satisfied with what you have just accomplished then you will never be great. You have to always be learning and searching, daring to do the unexpected. You’ll likely never satisfy everyone’s pallet: only fried chicken has the supreme power to do that. You can never become complacent in the culinary world because there are thousands of other chefs out there who are out there testing and pushing the culinary envelope.

Or maybe I have to just learn how to feel emotions more because this whole year after completing projects or realizing that I’m about to graduate I feel this same sort of nothingness. Not nothingness in a sense that I’m depressed because I love life (shits fun) but, in the fact that I’m about to have big life changes in a few weeks and I feel no different. Then again, I’ve never been one to fret over that stuff a ton. . . as long as it something I want to be doing.

Regardless of what happens in the future though I know that I will never forget the opportunity and generosity of Matt Lamos. A man who gave a random college student his restaurant for a night and footed the bill. That sort of trust only comes from a small-town setting and a man with a pure heart. There were times that I would find myself questioning why I went to Wartburg and not a cool school on the coast, but this experience has single handedly answered that question for me. Also, I hope that I have awoken some creativity in Josh (and the rest of the awesome crew at the EBD) and that he will start testing out recipes and find a wild drive to take over the Eastern Iowa culinary scene.  

-Will Coonradt

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