When Keith Mitchell, executive chef at Caesars and Bally's in Atlantic City, graduated from the Restaurant School in 1989, he already had plenty of culinary experience on his resume. The passionate young culinarian could hardly have dreamed where his career would take him.
Born into a large Irish family, he had grown up eating well, and learned a lot by watching his grandmother's use of seasonal vegetables and fruits, something he practices today in the restaurants he oversees.
Working as a pastry apprentice at the age of 15, Mitchell then went on to work for celebrity chef Michel Richard at his eponymous restaurant in Philadelphia before moving on to Chanterelle's under another nationally famous Frenchman, Chef Phillipe Chin.
It was Chin who later encouraged Mitchell to take the job as chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, then listed as one of the top 10 restaurants in America by Gourmet magazine.
Mitchell, with his wife Marla, went on to open their own restaurant called "Mitchell's American Bistro" in Central Square in Linwood, receiving many "best of" awards from area publications.
After meeting Chef Robert Irvine of Food Network fame at a charity event, Mitchell decided to join Irvine's culinary team at Caesars in 2002. Promoted to executive sous chef by 2005, he became the executive chef at Caesars in 2009.
Mitchell has been able to maintain the cutting-edge cuisine Caesars is famous for by constantly working on his professional development.
During his tenure, Mitchell has work ed with many celebrity chefs including Wolfgang Puck, Giada De Laurentiis, Tom Collicchio and Rachael Ray.
Mitchell is the father of three children and in his spare time likes traveling, fishing and mixed-martial arts. Mitchell has a black belt in Tang Soo Do.
Which foods are your guilty pleasure?
That's hard. Bread and butter and bacon have to be a tie.
What is the best meal you have ever eaten?
Anniversary dinner with my wife, Marla, at Citronelle in Washington, D.C. There is just something magical when your two great passions meet.
Who was your culinary inspiration?
Grandmother and Charlie Trotter are the two people who have had the most influence on me. Grandmother cooked like a pro and made it look easy; Charlie taught me refinement and the world of flavors.
How would you describe your personal cooking style?
Farm to Table/Sustainable. I grew up eating farm to table, it's something very important to me. I insist on organic, non-genetically modified foods for my family and my guests.
Do you cook at home?
Yes, love to… As an executive it's not often I get to cook, so at home I take every opportunity to cook for my family and friends. There's nothing better than the family making dinner together and talking about the day.
What's one kitchen ingredient any home cook shouldn't be without?
Sea Salt. It just makes everything taste better.
What about a kitchen gadget?
A great French knife, or maybe my Pacojet but most people don't have a Pacojet machine in their kitchen.
How about a cookbook?
The first cook book I ever read was "The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking" by James Beard. Suggested to me by my chef at the time, simple food well prepared was its mantra.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
When I was 14, I worked as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant for a friend while he was on vacation. I fell in love with the rush and never looked back.
What do you enjoy cooking most?
I just got a new wood-fired pizza oven, anything I can put in it.
What's your ultimate desert-island meal?
Fresh-caught fish, crab and a case of Taittinger Rose, washed up on shore….
What is a day in the life of a casino chef like?
Hmmmm, LOL … It's always exciting, ever changing, sometimes challenging roller coaster ride… Meetings, line up, food tastings, restaurant reviews, one on one's with my chefs, finding the next thing to make our guests say, "Wow." How could you want it any other way…
Have you ever cooked for any famous celebrities or politicians?
I have had the honor to cook for Julia Child, Gram Kerr, Mike Tyson, Madonna, Tony Bennet and President Bush.
What is the future of culinary in Atlantic City?
There a handful of great young culinary talent in Atlantic City now and some great new restaurants. Atlantic City is seeing a renaissance. As we become more and more family friendly, new products are opening up to meet the demand. Great thing are on the horizon.
Short Rib Stuffed Mushrooms with Fontina cheese
•6 large button mushrooms, stems removed
•Salt and pepper to taste
•Extra virgin olive oil
•2 sprigs of fresh thyme, picked
•1 clove of garlic, chopped
Season mushrooms with salt and pepper, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, top with fresh thyme and garlic. Roast until tender. Reserve mushroom jus.
Short ribs ingredients:
•2 8-ounce short ribs
•Salt and pepper
•2 cloves of garlic
•3 dried dates
•2 sprigs of fresh thyme, picked
•1 bay leaf
•1 cup port wine
•3 cups beef stock
• 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
•1 tablespoon chiffonade of basil
•Grated fontina cheese
Season short ribs with salt and pepper, sear until golden brown on all sides, remove from pan. Add garlic, dates, thyme, bay leaf and deglaze with port wine. Add beef stock. Bring to a simmer, add short ribs and braise until tender, approximately two hours.
Remove short ribs from liquid, allow to cool. Strain the liquid, reduce braising liquid by half. Shred short rib meat, season with chopped parsley, chiffonade of basil, quarter cup of braising liquid and reserved mushroom jus.
Divide short ribs between mushroom caps, top with fontina cheese. Broil until golden brown. Serve with reduced braising liquid and chimichurri (see recipe).
•1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
•1/4 cup cilantro
•1/4 cup oregano
•6 cloves garlic
•1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
•1/2 cup red wine vinegar
•1 cup olive oil
•Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in blender and puree until smooth.