Executive chef prepares meal for Gourmet Club

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
  • 15th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Chef Andreas Knapp, the Tradewinds Enlisted Club executive chef, really doesn't care about the food.

He doesn't have a favorite dish he likes to prepare. He considers himself the jack of all cooking trades, but the master of none. It's not the food that excites Chef Knapp to slave over a hot stove; it's the satisfaction of the customer.

"If you don't have a customer, it doesn't really matter what you do," he said. "If you don't have a person at the other end that is going to absorb what you are providing, you have nothing."

Chef Knapp hails from Innsbruck, Austria, and started his cooking career in 1970, where he went to a government sponsored culinary trade school. For more than 40 years, he has made it his goal in life to put a smile on his customer's face. He likes to test people's adventurous side with flavors they may not have ever tried.

"Why would I expect my cliental to have a hamburger and hot dog mentality, as if that is all they eat." he said. "Our people deserve better than a hamburger and hot dog promotion."

He has traveled the world learning cooking styles throughout Europe France, Holland, Germany, Canada, U.S. (Chicago and L.A.), China, Thailand, Korea and Japan.

"I have spent much of my adult life, my professional life, traveling with an international hotel company," Chef Knapp said. "By being associated with international hotels, you don't really specialize in one thing, yeah. You have a very multi-cultural customer base."

It's through his eclectic career he has learned the flavor of food is important, but it's the customer's satisfaction at the end of the meal that makes it worth his time and expertise. His newest customer base is not much different from what he has spent a career serving -- a multicultural military force.

Chef Knapp said he can relate to the U.S. military system of moving from place to place and experiencing cultures from around the world. But, after leaving the hotel business, he settled down in Hawaii and opened an authentic German restaurant in Hawaii Kai. After 10 years in business, he felt like the rent for the building was getting too high, so he decided to retire.

That didn't last long. A job as the executive chef for the E-Club was available and he was interested.

"Through dumb luck, someone mentioned to me about the (job at Hickam)," he said. "I couldn't even picture what this could be. I was very surprised, because the Enlisted Club has a really nice, warm resort atmosphere."

Playing off his first impression of the atmosphere, he and a few other of his colleagues put their culinary minds together and created a Gourmet Club, featuring cuisine from around the world.

The Gourmet Club

Chef Knapp and the Gourmet Club popped the inaugural cork on Valentine's Day with a Champagne dinner. The meal featured veal, oysters (served raw and poached in champagne), pheasant and sweet breads. After serving raw oysters to an aaccepting crowd at the Valentine's dinner, Chef Knapp realized he could be adventurous with the food he prepares for the Gourmet Club.

Chef Knapp keeps all the ingredients as authentic as possible, not adding to or taking away spices found or readily available in the themed region.

"The one thing you have to keep in mind when you do cultural things, is you have to keep them as authentic and as basic as they really are," "You don't try to sugar coat the (food) with different ingredients."

The club's focus is food in an intimate setting and the art of dining. Technically speaking, there is no menu to choose the course of the meal. Chef Knapp decides what he is going to prepare in hopes that his patrons walk away with a delightful experience. It doesn't matter what is on the menu the chef said, as long as people try it.

"What you get is what you get," he said. "Either you are adventurous; you tell yourself 'let me try this; is it rabbit, is it frog legs, is it snails,' or you are not."

Chef Knapp feels the club is designed more for an adventurous person who enjoys the thought of trying exotic foods. He feels if a person tries something with an open mind, they are not tasting it with a biased opinion. If the customer knows frog legs have been put in front of them, they may not try it if they have a preconceived notion about frog legs.

"Some may not like it, but that's okay," he said. "My whole thing with the gourmet club is it's not there to please everybody. It's there to expose everybody. Then they can make their own decision whether they like to eat (it) or not."

Anyone can sign up and enjoy the tastes of the themed evenings, but not everyone can go. Sign up is limited on a first come first served basis. If the sign up list was full for the current month's dinner, members can call in and make a reservation for the next month on the day after each meal.

"If you keep numbers small, it becomes exclusive," the chef said. "If people can't get in, then they really want to get in. We have created something different. We had people calling the cashier's cage at 6:30 in the morning to make sure they could get in on the next month's dinner."

The meal

Patrons arrived to a glass of wine and some appetizers to tickle their taste buds before the meal. The lights were dimmed and the candle in the middle of the table gently flickered. The musical clink of glasses and silverware echoed in the banquet style room filled the Hawaiian sunset and Tiki torches glowing from outside.

"It was very romantic," said U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Edward Whitehead. "I had the opportunity to spend the time with my wife. That's the most important thing when you are away a lot as I am."

Traditional Hungarian dishes are based on centuries old traditions in spicing and preparation methods and are said to have a robust flavor of paprika and garlic. Everything on the six-course meal's menu had flavors from Hungary; from the white or red wine to the apple strudel desert.

"The wines are really good," the chef said. "They are not the cheap run of the mill wines. I want the people to experience a good quality situation."

As the youngest in the room, Private 1st Class Daniel Kantorowicz, U.S. Army Reserves, was required to go to the dinner to spend some quality time with his parents. Little did he know the aromas and the tastes he would experience would make the evening worth it.

"Everything from the first dish to the last dish was very good," he said, who only had one message to Chef Knapp. "Teach me how to cook."

The group of 27 people started off with mushroom cups with green beans, goat cheese in tartlets and sweet bell pepper and humus appetizers. For dinner, patrons tasted marinated river trout with coariander roasted bell pepper vinaigrette, goulash soup "gulyas levens," chicken placsinta "paprikash," sour cream and papricaa sabayon, a wild boar roast, mushroom ragout, red wine cabbage and bread dumplings. For the conclusion of the meal, Chef Knapp brought out Hungarian goat cheese in sweet bell pepper and an apple strudel with handmade whipping cream.

"There is no menu to order, only a theme," Chef Knapp said. "The idea is people need to trust that what we are preparing is good."

As each course was brought to the tables, the sultry sounds of a strolling violinist serenaded the guests with songs from Eastern Europe. A character trait, Chef Knapp recognizes the most important thing in the hospitality and service industry is the customer.

"The aroma that permeated through the doors from the kitchen was mesmerizing," said Debby Kantorowicz. "The portions were very generous and the flavors married well with the Hungarian wine. We had marinated trout, goulash soup, my personal favorite, chicken, wild boar and the crème de la crème apple strudel with vanilla scented whipping cream."

She was able to sum up the entire experience in one word: "Bravo!"

The April 19 Gourmet Dinner Club will meet at the Tradewinds Enlisted Club for "Springtime in Paris" featuring a bistro outdoor café style fare.

"Chef Knapp always puts on a fantastic meal," said Chief Master Sgt. Craig Recker, 15th Airlift Wing command chief master sergeant. "Tonight was just another adventure in the course of many. We can't wait until next month. We are looking forward to 'Springtime in Paris.'"

The May theme, "Evening is Vienna" will feature authentic Austria and German fare with classical music. June is scheduled to have flavors of the orient with "An Asian Experience."