March 15, 2012Who says you can't go home again? Certainly not Robert Scherer, executive chef of the newly reopened London Chop House in Detroit.
Like the lead character in Thomas Wolfe's book, Scherer left home and found success. Unlike the character, Scherer has returned home to what he hopes will be even greater success.
When a recruiter, knowing Scherer's connection to Michigan, called about the job at the London Chop House, he didn't have to give it much thought. "This is home," he said.
Grosse Pointe Woods resident Robert Scherer, executive chef of the newly reopened London Chop House. photo by Karen Fontanive.
The Grosse Pointe Woods resident's culinary career began while he was a freshman at Grosse Pointe North High School. It was then he started working as a dishwasher at the former Antonio's restaurant in the Woods, eventually becoming the sole cook. One of the restaurant's regular customers suggested he look into the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He did and upon graduation from North in 2003, headed to New York. He graduated from CIA in 2005.
Wanting a bachelor's degree in hospitality management, Scherer then headed to the University of Nevada Las Vegas. While in school, he began working as a line cook at Emeril's New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"Within two years, I was a sous chef and less than two years later, the executive sous chef," he said.
His ascent to the London Chop House was equally rapid. "I interviewed in early October," and after a 2,300-mile, 38-hour road trip, "arrived Oct. 29, and began work Nov. 1.
"I was about done with Vegas," Scherer said. "The first few years were a lot of fun – then it gets to be too much," referring to among other things the Vegas Strip lifestyle and the summer heat.
"I had a lot of great experiences. I enjoyed the experience I had in Vegas, being part of running the restaurant (there)."
As executive chef at LCH, Scherer is responsible for the entire kitchen operations from menu to budget to staffing. He spent more than three months creating a menu — every item on the menu ,from appetizers to desserts, is his recipe — hiring staff and training them for the restaurant's Feb. 20 opening. In addition to dinner service, last week the restaurant began lunch service as well.
All of this means long days for Scherer. He arrives at work between 9 and 10 in the morning and finishes about 11:30 p.m. "It's what I signed up for. I have to be willing to sacrifice," he said.
"I don't have a sauté pan or tongs in my hand," but he oversees everything that happens in the kitchen. "I manage the time and temperature, calling tickets, expediting, traying up the food, garnishing, overseeing production."
Just 6 years old when the London Chop House closed its doors 20 years ago, he is well aware of the restaurant's legacy, its importance to many metro Detroiters and the responsibility bestowed him by the restaurant's owner, Nico Gatzaros.
"It's hard to let it sink in. It's a mile a minute. It means so much to a lot of people – memories, business deals. The reputation is intimidating."
Yet Scherer, once described by an Emeril's director as "confidently humble," seems anything but intimidated as he helps resurrect the legendary restaurant.
"The business can chew you up and spit you out or you can get a lot of pride from it. Be humble, be willing to take criticism," Scherer said.