Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series of profiles of local restaurant chefs.
Dieter Blosel doesn't mind hard work. As executive chef and owner at Schmankerl Stube, it goes with the turf — long hours on his feet; preparing customers' favorite dishes consistently; the difficulty of serving as many as 200 customers in a kitchen barely big enough for three cooks. Blosel accepts all this.
"That's just the way it is. That's how I grew up. This needs to get done. You better get up there and do it," he said. "I never saw it as any different."
The work gets even harder this week, as Blosel and his staff prepare food for Augustoberfest, Hagerstown's celebration of its German heritage.
"When Augustoberfest comes up, that is really tough. Because we are basically (busy to) the max for the restaurant," he said. "And then we have to produce for Augustoberfest, which is quite a bit as well. So that is really a nightmare."
Blosel, 42, of Hagerstown, sat down with The Herald-Mail just before Augustoberfest prep time kicked in. He talked about chef school, Bavarian beer and why he doesn't ever plan to offer customer seating in his restaurant kitchen.
Tell me about cooking for Augustoberfest.
I basically start three weeks ahead of time to line things up. So the last two weeks, we start Thursday, Friday, Saturday the week before, we start marinating stuff. Pork roast comes in. Cabbage comes in. We start marinating.
Then Monday (before Augustoberfest), when the restaurant is closed, I come in early in the morning and we cook all day, only for Augustoberfest. Then from Tuesday through Saturday, we start in the kitchen from 5 a.m. to get everything done, because that's when we have time to get things done. Because from 8:30 (a.m.) to 10 o'clock (p.m.), that's when the restaurant business comes again. So it's a challenging thing to do.
Are you German?
Yes, I am. I grew up near Nuremburg in Bavaria. Moved all my life a little bit around. The town I grew up in was Lauf, (Bavaria). That was the town I spent the important time, from 9 or 10 years to 15. It's about the size of Hagerstown. Maybe smaller in land, but the same number of people.
When you were younger, what did you do for Oktoberfest?
We have in Germany these festivals in small towns. (They) had rides for children, then you have your beer tent, like we have on Augustoberfest. And then food, of course.
Oktoberfest started Friday and ended Tuesday. Like here, where you have the Mummers Parade, in Lauf you have a parade going from school through town up to a hill. We did this Sunday and Monday. There was an old, old church there with a grassy area, and there we had to perform a routine. Then kids go down to the rides. Parents go and (drink a beer).
Are there traditional foods served during Oktoberfest?
Yeah, simple stuff. If you go into the beer tents, they have chicken and beef. And bratwurst. Don't forget about the bratwurst. And then you have fish or stands with herring rolls — rolls with herring and onions. And for sweets, you have roasted almonds or cotton candies.
Some people think it is silly to celebrate Oktoberfest in August, like we do in Hagerstown.
Well, there was a reason behind the timing. When they started out — a lot smaller than it is now — they had a budget. You need to get bands in. And in October, these German bands are all busy. It made a lot more sense to move it up, and then you get the bands. The drawback is the weather. In general, in August, it's very hot. But it is the end of August, so there you can get lucky.
Where did you get your training as a chef?
In Lake Constanz (in southern Germany). There were four restaurants in two different towns. It was actually quite nice, because you learn different cooking styles. One was a fine dining restaurant. Another one was a hotel. Then another one was more like a diner, and there we had a production kitchen, where we did the main work for the others. And the fourth one was also a hotel, with huge banquet rooms and theater productions from the local theater groups. You had to cook a little bit differently there.
Was it a formal school? An apprenticeship?
It was an apprenticeship. And at the same time, I had to go to (cooking) school. I like that combination, because in school, you learn a lot about how things are done in a perfect world. And you go in a restaurant, there is no perfect world whatever. You have to adjust real quick, or you are going nowhere.
You must have studied different things — wine, meats, fish.
Yes, that is correct. The cooking classes, they split up, (throughout the two years). But wine was mainly in the first year. With the wine, it's not that important. It's a beer country.
Do you match beer to food?
In general, people drink the beer they like. I think with the wine it is fine — red wine with sauerbraten, with fish drink the lighter wine. But with beer, you drink what you like and it works just fine with the food.
Are there different kinds of regional food in Germany? Like, in America, we have Southern cooking, Tex-Mex, country-style ...
I think the regional food is a lot more diverse in Germany than it is here. Like, bratwurst. For me, what we (serve), that's the kind we had where I grew up. I can relate to the taste. But it is a very specific taste.
A lot of people come in here after they visit (Europe), and they say, "Yeah, I had this in Germany, but it tasted different." And I ask, "Where have you been?" "It was north Germany." "Yeah, they cook a little bit differently up there." It's just really a bigger difference there than here.
So, you are a Bavarian chef.
Yeah, I'm a mountain man. (Laughs.) Lake Constanz is on the border with Austria and Switzerland. From there, I went into Switzerland, then into Austria, then I went back to Germany, then back again to Switzerland. I moved between the three countries. I was back and forth.
So how did you end up in Hagerstown?
It happened that I met more and more people from over here (in the United States). That got my interest — "I want to check that one out." I tried, but it's hard. There are agencies who would have jobs available in foreign countries, but not in the United States. The problem is the paperwork. It's too long.
Also, they all wanted fluent English, and at this time, I didn't speak English. I had it in school, but I didn't use it and it got lost.
Then, on a cruise ship, I saw an ad in a newspaper Charlie (Sekula, owner of Schmankerl Stube) had (placed).
Charlie was originally Bavarian, so English wouldn't be a problem.
From the beginning, (Charlie and I) had a very good relationship, a good understanding. In many ways, we are similar. What kind of views we have. What we bring to the table. Our ideas and stuff like that. Right from the beginning.
You work five days a week? Six?
Well, I own this place. (Laughs) Charlie's still around, but this is my place now. It wasn't a big deal for us. It was more a generation change. Charlie is up there in age, and he wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of. (The staff) is working hard for this place, and he wanted to make sure this place keeps going.
We have a lot of employees who have been here a long time. In the kitchen, too. Almost since the beginning. One person, 24 years. Another, 20 years. Seventeen years. Stuff like that. We have a certain commitment to these employees. That's their life, too.
How many cooks do you work with?
Two. I have somebody who works as counterpart to me. Diane Collins. She's not a trained chef, but she's worked here for 24 years. She knows what to do. She does an excellent job.
And you've got one other person? You, Diane and just one other person? Wow.
Yes. The kitchen is small. And it is streamlined. We have that one down to a science. But you can only do so much. Especially if the biergarten is open, and the front. You have a seating capacity of a little bit more than 200. And if we are busy, and we have those days when we are packed, you can only do so much.
You just have ticket after ticket after ticket after ticket. It's sad, and I'm sorry, but we can only do so much. We do tell people when they come in, "We are very busy in the kitchen. There is seating available, but it will be a long time until you will get your food." Ninety percent of the people are OK with that.
It would be neat to have seats in the kitchen so patrons could watch you cook.
I'm not a fan of that one at all. For different reasons. Because, I am back there in the kitchen. And sometimes, it doesn't go down easily. An hour at lunch time and two hours at dinner time are our busy times. Those are our crunch times. Everything is tense. If something goes wrong, well, sometimes it's not really pretty. It's not mean or anything, but you react, and later you think, "I shouldn't really have done that."
I just don't want that one to be exposed to the customers. I'd rather have that one to myself. If it really gets down and dirty, I'd rather not have anyone see it.
Do you do things outside work? Like hiking, biking?
I do biking. I do go swimming in the Y. Not as often as I like to. A lot of time, it's a time issue.
I have a few friends I go biking with on the Towpath or up on the (Appalachian) Trail.
I put a lot of hours in here. There are days I don't get out of here. My car is parked in the parking garage over there, you know. And sometimes, I don't see it for a week.
You don't mind blurring work and private life.
Some people say, "You need to have a private life." Well, I have a private life. But it involves the business as well. My life involves the business as well, and it always will. But I made this choice.
Nothing is for free. You have to work. I see pretty much eye to eye with Charlie on that one. Sometimes, I have ideas of things I'd like to do, but this needs to be done first, and this and this and this. It's business. But I knew that, and I don't have a problem with that.
If you go ...
WHAT: 17th annual Augustoberfest
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; Aug. 25, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26; gates open each day at 10:30 a.m.
WHERE: Central Parking Lot in downtown Hagerstown
COST: Tickets cost $5 per day; free for ages 12 and younger.
CONTACT: Call 301.739.8577, ext. 116, or go to www.augustoberfest.org.
Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant
58 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown
Call 301-797-3354 or go to schmankerlstube.com
Open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Reservations strongly recommended.
Looking for something to do this weekend? Find what you need in our Weekend Entertainment Guide newsletter.