Take a bite out of contributor Kerry Brown’s Chef Spotlight on Robert Bennett, Executive Chef and Director of Operations of Classic Cake in Cherry Hill and Washington Township (Sewell).
JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?
CHEF ROBERT BENNETT: My mother’s chocolate pudding. I tasted it again serendipitously many years later when the famous chef Michel Richard suggested I put chocolate mousse on top of a half-filled crème brulee and then caramelize it as usual. I almost cried!
When did you first realize you wanted to make cooking a career?
When I asked my mother to let me cook in order to get out of doing the dishes. She gleefully let me take over the duties and my family encouraged me. It was then I decided to give up dreams of being a doctor and go to cooking school. I went to the New England Culinary Institute and graduated top of my class. Julia Child spoke at my graduation.
How did you get your start in the business?
I started off as a dishwasher at a high-end retirement home in Lynchburg. Even though I despised washing dishes, it was the only position available to get me in the door. Working nights and weekends during school, I talked the chef into letting me help prep. From there, I was promoted to prep cook then dietary assistant and eventually sous chef after I graduated high school. I took one year off after high school to save up for culinary school.
How would you define your cooking style?
Traditional American-Classical French. It doesn’t matter what cuisine you enjoy at the moment. As long as you are passionate about it, everything will taste delicious!
Have you had a unique opportunity that came from cooking?
Yes! I was in the right place at the right time. I had just finished my first semester of teaching at N.E.C.I. and was promoted to Executive Pastry Chef Instructor. One month later, we got the call from the White House requesting a cake for President Reagan’s second inauguration. It was handed to me, and my staff of five students. They said to just make a fake one, but we went all the way! We created a cake for 44,000 people with a sugar replica of the Capitol Building on top. We transported the cake to D.C. and assembled it with only hours remaining before the inauguration. The cake was a big hit!
Describe a most memorable meal: What did you have and where was it served?
My dinner at Guy Savoy in Paris. It was six hours long, with countless courses. The bill was over $2,000 for two and we were given a private tour of the kitchen. Being at Le Bec Fin at the time, I truly appreciated how much work went into that meal.
Last day on earth: What do you want your last meal to be?
My last meal? ALL dessert! Wouldn’t care about stepping on the scale the next day… because there wouldn’t be one!
What advice you share with younger people who express an interest in becoming a chef?
Get a good education! It’s expensive but you will learn the basics and get them mastered much quicker and be able to learn more once you’re out in the world. I’ve hired too many people who say they have 20 years experience when actually they have one year of experience, 20 times!
If you could be any food item what would it be? Why?
Chocolate! I would be loved by all!
One staple you always have on hand at home?
What is your beverage of choice?
Coffee. Good coffee!
What’s your favorite comfort food?
My cinnamon pecan coffee cake.
What NJ restaurant do you enjoy dining at (not including your own)?
Fin at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. Chef Demetris and his staff are amazing!
If you could have dinner with any person living, deceased or fictional who would it be and why?
Auguste Escoffier. He was one of the greatest chefs of all time. I would cook and ask for his honest critique. Of course I would invite Chef Georges Perrier to join us! He’s been like a father to me all these years!
Any upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
We are expanding Classic Cake in Cherry Hill. That is my main focus right now. We will have plated desserts, an array of new chocolates and continue my monthly baking demos.
Short Hills Towne Center
480 Evesham Rd.
100 Hurffville Cross-Keys Rd.
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Kerry Brown Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Burlington County, is a freelance writer who reports on local happenings in education, food, business, features and the arts for several media outlets including South Jersey Local News and Newsworks. At home she enjoys sharing simple but flavor-packed meals, especially from the grill, with her family and friends. Dessert has never been her calling but she recently discovered what could be a signature dish: Meyer lemon icebox pie. When out and about, she’s happy to find herself seated at the bar in some rustic and cozy tavern featuring craft food, craft beer, an amazing selection of wine by the glass and live music.