Chef Profiles_7_Rick Kazmer.jpg

Chef de Cuisine

Cleveland-Heath | Edwardsville, Ill.

On the first day of culinary school, Rick Kazmer, Jenny Cleveland and Ed Heath each arrived to class ahead of the first bell. It was 2008, and the three students would go on to graduate in the same class at The Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) Greystone campus in St. Helena, California.

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“As we started classes, very quickly you could see who was fully engaged, and Rick was… you could tell by his passion and work ethic,” Heath recalls.

Enrolling in culinary school was a long time coming for Kazmer. He recalls wanting to cook for people from a young age, getting lost in the pages of cookbooks and trying to teach himself basic recipes and cooking techniques. (“I’m someone who wants to be learning every day,” he says.) Prior to moving to St. Helena, he earned a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management at Northern Arizona University, and during his off-hours, he threw himself into the restaurant world – in positions in the front of the house and in the kitchen.

After graduating from culinary school and a stint at a farm-to-table restaurant in St. Helena, Kazmer moved back to his hometown of Phoenix and got his foot in the door at Binkley’s Restaurant just outside of the city. He started as a food runner at the restaurant and ended up taking on the role of wine steward.

Then, in 2012, Cleveland and Heath approached him with a new opportunity. The previous November, the pair had opened Cleveland-Heath in Edwardsville, Illinois, a restaurant serving elevated comfort food, and they needed help. They offered him a job as general manager with the hope that he would divide his time evenly between the front of the house and the kitchen. Kazmer came on board in June 2012, but it quickly became clear that he would be in the kitchen full-time, and was made chef de cuisine.

In the beginning, Cleveland, Heath and Kazmer were pulling 100-hour work weeks on the line, trying to keep the kitchen on task and up to their standards. As the restaurant grew, the trio were slowly able to expand the staff and refocus their energies into recipe and menu development.

“I feel like our food is getting better because of that,” Kazmer says. “We’re able to be a little bit more creative.”

This winter, that creativity has been channeled into new menu items, like a grilled romaine salad with tabbouleh, dill-yogurt dressing and Salume Beddu Bolognese sausage. Heath wanted to serve a grilled romaine dish, and Kazmer had been playing around with the idea of tabbouleh salad, so the chefs combined their ideas.

“All three of us sit down and plan pretty much every menu,” Kazmer says. “It’s the three of us tweaking it and making it our own.”

Joining the team at Cleveland-Heath led to another life-changing event for Kazmer: He met his fiancée, Samantha McCulloch, the restaurant’s former front-of-house manager and current general manager at Taste in St. Louis. Together, Kazmer says he and McCulloch would eventually like to open their own restaurant, but for now, they’re content to keep working hard and learning as much as they can.

Cleveland-Heath, 106 N. Main St., Edwardsville, Illinois, 618.307.4830, clevelandheath.com

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