For lake-area chef Drew Cohen, the phrase mise en place—French for “everything in its place”—is a cooking philosophy he shares with everyone he can. It’s also become a life mantra.
Cohen made a name for himself in the Twin Cities culinary scene, graduating from Minneapolis’ Cordon Bleu school and spending time in the kitchens of La Belle Vie, Barrio and Edina Grill. In each one, he learned about what it means to manage a kitchen well, approach business with savvy, and infuse unmistakable flavor and character into every dish. At La Belle Vie, the approach was high gourmet. “The technical skill was something I couldn’t even wrap my mind around,” Cohen says. At Edina Grill, “there was a [neighborhood-focused], more cost-driven approach. But you know what? I saw people leaving with the same smiles on their faces. I learned you can make from-scratch, really great food, but in an approachable way.”
Now his career has shifted, and he gave up some prestigious titles in favor of making his own schedule, leaving time for a few more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with his young family.
But Cohen comes from a long line of teachers, and his passion is—and always will be—food. So he built a private catering business, Your Way Gourmet Catering, which has given him a chance to create customized dining experiences for clients while defining a cooking style that’s all his own.
“I’m really finding my voice in cooking—figuring out what my M.O. is, my style is,” Cohen says. “I’ve learned that cooking gourmet food isn’t necessarily about 12 sauces with different viscosities. Sure—it’s about theory and cooking properly, but [it’s also about] making sure people know what they’re eating, creating delicious things they understand and can replicate at home.”
A Your Way Gourmet meal starts with an in-depth consultation to talk about clients’ preferences and dietary needs, the layout of their kitchen, and the “vibe” they want for their dinner party. Then Cohen plans an eight- to nine-course meal, with wine pairings selected by his friend Tony Zezas, a level 3 sommelier. The whole experience costs about the same as dinner in a top local restaurant, but it’s interactive and designed just for those seated around the table (or standing with their wine glasses, peering over Cohen’s shoulder as he cooks, as is often the case).
When Cohen sets up shop in a client’s kitchen—having already shopped and prepped for hours—the mise en place ethos goes into full effect. Vegetables have already been chopped, the meat’s already been marinated, and Cohen’s able to chat with guests as he garnishes plates and pours pinots. There’s no air of pretension. “When people eat my food, they learn something—but probably not what they expected,” Cohen says. Gourmet menu items can be complicated or hard to pronounce, creating as much awkwardness as awe for guests. For Cohen, “it’s important that guests leave satisfied, but that the experience was something they weren’t nervous about. People can get really intimidated, and I just don’t want them to be.”
For clients from Texas, where Cohen is originally from, he recently opted for flavorful empanadas and enchiladas with dipping sauces—familiar home cooking, but elevated and upscale. He sticks to ingredients that are readily available in Minnesota and recognizable to non-foodies. If there are micro-greens or trendy ingredients on the plate, he doesn’t go overboard. He shows up well in advance of the meal and doesn’t leave until everyone’s satisfied and the kitchen’s spotless. That way, clients are left focusing on the great experience—and lingering with their guests—instead of the pile of dishes in the sink.
“I tell my kids, ‘I added a special ingredient this time,’ and they always roll their eyes and say, ‘Love?’ I’m not some crazy hippie, but that PB&J your mom makes always tastes better than the one you make yourself. Why is that?” Cohen asks. “Cooking for someone is a gift. It’s an expression of who you are. It’s a great way to say, ‘I love you,’ or just, ‘Thanks for being you.’ And simple is sometimes best.”
Chef Drew’s Potato Leek Soup
“I always tell people—in the nicest way possible—that ‘if you can read, you can cook,’” says Andrew Cohen. Here’s your chance to test that adage with a tried-and-true Chef Drew favorite. “This delicious soup is simple yet sublime. It’s extremely easy to make and is a favorite among my friends and family,” he says.
3 medium leeks, cleaned well
1 white onion, chopped
3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
64 oz. chicken stock
1 c. heavy cream
1-2 oz. (per serving) king
or blue crab meat
4 oz. Gruyère cheese
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to broil and heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium stockpot. Add leeks and onions, and cook until translucent, about 5-8 minutes over medium heat. Add garlic and make sure not to brown. “Part of what makes the soup wonderful is the bright white color,” Cohen says. Remove from heat, adding potatoes and enough stock to cover. Simmer on medium heat until tender, about 18-22 minutes. Remove from heat and add heavy cream. “I like to let things cool down a bit at this point, just in case I splatter or make a little mess while blending,” Cohen says. Use an immersion blender or food processor to purée vegetables and stock together. “You really want the soup to have a velvety smooth texture—it’s part of what makes the soup so delicious. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon but not clumpy,” Cohen says. “If it’s clumpy or too thick, now is a good time to add a little more stock to thin it out.” Return soup to the stockpot and maintain temperature over low heat.
For the croutons, remove baguette crust and cut soft insides into 1-inch cubes. Toss with 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil—coated but not drenched—and salt and pepper to taste. Toast until golden brown under the broiler, turning halfway through toasting to get a nice, even color. Return croutons to a baking sheet, arranged in groups of three or four. Add a piece of sliced cheese to each cluster and broil. The melted cheese should hold each grouping of croutons together in a neat square. “It’s best to do this step while simultaneously prepping the crab,” says Cohen. “Nothing is better than warm croutons covered in melted cheese.”
For the crab, remove cooked leg meat from shells and give it a rough chop. In a small pan, sauté in melted butter just until warm.
To plate, spoon 1-2 oz. of cooked crab meat into each bowl and then ladle soup over the top. Place a grouping of cheesy croutons in the center and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately.
Learn from Chef Drew
Andrew Cohen is a regular in the Minnetonka Community Education class lineup, giving local residents an inexpensive and accessible way to up their cooking game. Whether you’re a culinary newbie or a seasoned home cook, take advantage of these courses being plated up for fall semester.
September: Intro to Latin Cuisine
Participants will learn about regional dishes from Latin America, from street food to ceviche. “In all my classes, participants prepare items that can be taken home and shared with their families,” says Cohen. He doles out his own demo dishes to eager takers.
October: Thanksgiving Essentials
This is a three-hour crash course that’ll cover everything from brining the turkey to dessert. You’ll walk through roasting and preparing a bird, plus easy-but-elegant takes on stuffing, roux gravy, fresh cranberry sauce and all the other Thanksgiving must-haves.
November: Fabulous Finger Food
“This class is geared towards hosting an awesome Christmas gathering,” Cohen says. “We’ll cover canapés, toast points, mouthwatering dips like spinach artichoke and Parmesan, and an array of other easy-to-make gourmet party favorites.”
January: Heart-Healthy Cooking
Get back on the post-holiday healthy-eating train with delicious alternatives to not-so-doctor-approved meals. Create a turkey burger or meatballs to take the place of beef, try tofu lettuce wraps, plus explore lighter soup and salad recipes that are favorites in the Cohen household.
Check out details and register for classes at the website here.