South Jersey has welcomed a new restaurant to its shores: Cooper House, with its stone façade, raw birch accents and other natural décor, doesn’t only celebrate good food and good company.
It complements the natural scenic beauty of the Cooper River, promising a new and impactful experience for its customers: “This will be the perfect place to enjoy a meal along the river, or to have a relaxing dinner with an incredible sunset as a backdrop,” comments Freeholder Jeffrey Nash. Customers can expect a heartwarming experience in celebration of the local area’s natural beauty and great food; the opening will include wine and local craft beer tastings, live music and more. The food operation at Cooper House will be led by Chef Kevin Kaser, who has explained his process for creating a seasonal yet innovative menu.
Kaser explains that his defining value as a successful chef is his dedication to trying new things and pushing boundaries with his food: “there’s always something new to try out and you have to evolve with the times,” Kaser comments. Whether experimenting with the newest trends or sampling various styles native to the urban landscape of Philadelphia, Kaser continues to push the envelope with his food. He was born into a family of great cooks and has taken his background, as well as experiences learning at the Scotland Country Club and the Garces Group, to his newest passion project at Cooper House. Kevin Kaser recently talked with Total Food Service about his excitement for Cooper House and why it will be a great success.
How did you first arrive at the opportunity at Cooper House? What has been your journey to your current position?
Well, both of my parents were good cooks, and Alton Brown from TV was always one of my heroes. So they were my culinary influences. I went to the culinary program at Atlantic City Community College. I then worked at the Scotland Country Club coming out of school, and that’s where I learned to be efficient with my time in prepping food. I then became a very young executive chef at age 25 at the Keg and Kitchen in Westmont, NJ. After that, I learned what it would take to be successful in Philadelphia by going to work for Chef Michael Mina of the Garces Group. I worked there for three years as a sous chef. It gave me a chance to learn the off-site catering business and really develop a management style. I’ve now just been brought in to turn Cooper House around.
What was it like starting out at Cooper House?
It was a rocky start coming in and being the new guy of only 29 years old. There are some employees that are older than me. I knew I had to prove myself to them, and show them that I mean business and I know what I’m doing. Not everybody is going to love you, unfortunately.
How did you succeed at Cooper House?
Well, I’m still young and I’m still learning. I tell all of my employees, everyone I hire, once you stop the will to learn you’ve lost your passion. I really try to enforce that in everyone. As far as I know, you never stop learning – especially in this industry. There’s always something new to try out and you have to evolve with the times. You have to keep learning to keep growing.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I like to do a lot of research by looking at what other places are doing and what the newest trends are, then I try to incorporate them into the new menu. We like to try and stay fresh and relevant with the times right now. We’re always trying to do new specials and try out new things. We want people to come here to get amazing food that you can’t really get around this area. It’s like a little taste of Philadelphia in South Jersey. I guess our cooking style is eclectic. It’s not just one type of thing.
Any changes you plan on making to your newly inherited kitchen?
I’ve been speaking with our investors about redoing our kitchen to get more updated equipment. Getting rid of some of our equipment and making it smaller, as well, will allow us to fit more gas burners so we can pump out our food. Then, with that, we’ll be able to expand our menu and our range even further.
Talk about the wine and spirits on your menu.
This is a question we just recently asked after I’ve been working on our menu. I’ve also been working with one of the bartenders from the house manager as far as coming up with new seasonal cocktails that will pair with our seasonal menu. I do like to go out there and try different cocktails to see what goes. We have a couple of different wine and beer companies that we sample and try to see what goes best with the food we’re doing at the time.
A signature dish of yours?
One of our signature dishes is a Korean-style marinated short rib cake with seasonal vegetables and a soft and saffron risotto. We’re also making a lot of intricate desserts right now. We just added a homemade snickers bar to the menu.
What is the specific customer experience you’re striving for at Cooper House?
First off, the restaurant is beautiful. We have a beautiful view inside and a great view looking out on the water. I want customers to leave the restaurant thinking that they came here, had the best meal they’ve ever had and one you can’t get anywhere else in South Jersey. A great meal for a great price. I just want them to have a great experience overall. I want them to leave and come back with all of their friends and keep coming back because it’s something they can’t get anywhere else.
What advice would you give to other young chefs starting similar operations?
Success in this industry doesn’t happen overnight. What you want is not out of the question, but you need to earn it. You need to dress and act for the job you want, not the job you have. You also definitely need to have the right team to have wonderful food. You can have a great location but if your team that you’re working with isn’t cohesive, it’s not going to win. It’s really in the back and the front of the house. To be successful, you need to bring everyone together and become a team leader, then build on that. Then, you get into aspects of the food and preparation.
To learn more about Kevin Kaser and his cuisine at Cooper House, please visit the website.