Michael Dainty needed a refresher.
He recently got one when he visited Bellefonte.
“I grew up here ... When you grow up in a place sometimes you take for granted how beautiful it is,” Dainty said.
Dainty soon got a job as the chef at The Governors’ Pub and put his touch the borough’s food. The sometimes 16-hour days in a hot kitchen are worth it for a few reasons.
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He loves making food. He enjoys the camaraderie of working in a kitchen. And the people he works for? He likes them, too.
Dainty shared what it’s like to be a chef and how a new tavern is in the works for Bellefonte.
Q: How’d you get the job?
A: I came back to the area after being gone for about 16 years. I was in the Poconos for the better part of that time, and I thought this looked like a nice place, so I stopped in. I applied for a job, and I was hired, so that really worked out.
Q: What were you doing before this?
A: I was at Skytop Lodge. I was the executive chef there in the Poconos. I oversaw that operation for about a year and a half, and then my wife and I drove down here for our marriage license and I was blown away. I grew up here and hadn’t been back since. When you grow up in a place sometimes you take for granted how beautiful it is, and I stopped, looked around and was really impressed. I’ve been in Aspen, Colo., and Jackson, Wyo. Those places were beautiful, but I came from a place with majestic, historical beauty. I got homesick and realized how much I missed it here.
Q: How did you get into the food industry?
A: I’ve been around it my whole life. My mom worked two jobs, so you always kind of fended for yourself. I remember cooking mac and cheese one day, and it came out amazing. It clicked, like, “oh, I can make food.” I had odd jobs in my teens, and I was a dishwasher at the Hop before it was the Holiday Inn and the Ramada Inn. Tom, who is still there now, gave me my first job in a kitchen as a prep cook. I just fell in love with it.
Q: What do you enjoy about it?
A: The camaraderie in the kitchen, the intensity. When it goes really smooth it’s like a symphony. I have a love of food and creating it. It’s an endless thing that will never stop as long as you want to keep learning. Food has changed so much in the past eight to 10 years, so there are always new trends. It’s just fun if you have the drive and ambition. If you don’t love it — working 14-, 15-, 16-hour days in a hot kitchen — you’ll find that out real quick. You’ve got to love it.
Q: What are the challenges?
A: Leading a team for some people can be challenging. I think that can be easy for me. The challenge is really always being able to push yourself. You can get overwhelmed with the business aspect of the job. Sometimes you can lose focus of the food, and I’ve been fortunate to stay very hands-on with the food. I know a lot of chefs end up in an office, but then you become hands off. I don’t want to just be in the office punching numbers. I want to be a part of it and be around the people and have fun making food.
We just punched the name. It’s called Talleyrand Tavern.
Q: Business in restaurants is typically slower on Mondays and Tuesdays. Why is that?
A: ... People have had their fun going out over the weekend. We always try to find ways to generate business. Tuesday nights I taught sushi classes downstairs. We had about 18 people for that, so things like that can help. In March, we did a beer pairing, five-course meal. We paired each beer with a meal. There was a great turnout for that. I’m also thinking about doing a cheese and wine class, so those things give people something to do on nights that are slow. Dave and Sue, the owners, are going to turn that into the Talleyrand Tavern. The wheels are in motion on that.
Q: Do you prefer that slower Monday or Tuesday or the busier weekend?
A: Oh, the weekend. It’s the intensity. It’s great having a well-planned, busy day come together. When your timing is on, it’s great. You go from one table to the next table, and it’s beautiful.
Q: What food do you think is most popular here?
A: (It is) pub food, so it’s hard to say. People like to eat with their hands. I’ve also introduced a lot of items for dinner entrees that are a little more upscale. They’ve been very well received, so that’s like pheasant stroganoff, wild mushrooms, rainbow trout. You can’t go wrong coming here during trout season. So, taking those items and putting them on the menu helps to raise the ticket price a little to help the business. People also really enjoy the simple things.
Q: At the end of a long day, do you cook for yourself at home?
A: My wife cooks. She’s an amazing cook. I can’t cook what she cooks at home. If I go to the grocery store, I’ll buy the most expensive ingredients and it’ll be a $100 dinner. She can turn rice and beans into lobster. She’s amazing. The last thing you want to do is go home and cook. Some guys might be able to, but I’m fortunate that my wife enjoys to cook, too.
Q: When you do make something for yourself, what is it?
A: I like Italian food, Mediterranean. If it’s at home, it’s usually to experiment to try something I’ve never done. Sometimes I want to try something that I don’t know 100 percent if it’ll work so, (laughs) I might not want to try it in front of someone else.
Q: What can you say about the tavern?
A: It’s in the beginning stages. We just punched the name. It’s called Talleyrand Tavern. We’re leaning toward local, Pennsylvania beers. I don’t know if it will be strictly that, but that is the concept and focus. We want to keep it upscale, casual. The owners own Maria’s as well. They just keep putting back into the business, back into the community. That’s a great owner. Some owners just want it to be a business and don’t care. Dave and Sue really care.