At age 14, Helmut Kaschitz received the most basic lesson in cooking—cleanliness. And he instills that philosophy in his employees at Pepi’s Restaurant, where he works as the executive chef.
Kaschitz grew up in Austria, and after completing nine years of primary school, he began a cooking apprenticeship. An after-school program had introduced him to cooking and from the moment he stewed his first soup, he fell in love.
“I got such a kick out of it, how to slice the vegetables and dice the vegetables and cook,” Kaschitz says, reflectively. However, like any 14-year-old, when his Austrian supervisor ordered him to clean a storage pantry early in his apprenticeship, Kaschitz only wiped down the front of the canned foods. But, when his supervisor saw his superficial effort she was outraged. She removed every can from the shelves, completely clearing the edges before scrubbing down each one and neatly rearranging the wiped-down items. “She was tough! I was so afraid of her,” Kaschitz says. “But, I think she is part of the reason I became what I became.”
The supervisor’s “cleaning lesson” underscored what his dad had taught him: whatever task, big or small, do it 100 percent, and begin from step one–don’t take shortcuts. “If that means peeling 20 pounds of onions to make stocks, you do it,” says Kaschitz.
After a mandatory eight months in the Austrian military, Kaschitz accepted a job at a family-owned restaurant. He credits the family for one of the most unique practices he learned, which is to reuse rather than waste anything.
“Literally, nothing was thrown away,” he says, explaining how a “tiny thing” like the skin of onions would help flavor vegetable stock. “You can use everything from the whole animal.”
Two years later, Kaschitz moved to Germany to take a job at a restaurant, as he knew the the owner who hailed from his hometown. “It was extremely busy, especially in the summer,” he remembers. “You had to move fast and work fast. It was a great learning experience.”
After seven years, he partnered with the owner, Hans Sattlegger, to open Kaltenberg Castle in Lionshead. Now, as executive chef at Pepi’s, Kaschitz is particularly known for his variety of distinctive recipes for the Antlers Room, internationally known for its wild game dinners like rack of venison, steak tartar, elk steak and buffalo, to name a few. Although Kaschitz might have lot of paperwork to handle, he never remains in his office very long, partially because he loves working with people and partially because there’s always something to be done, and he’s humble enough to step in and complete any task, however “menial.”
“He’s the only chef I see go to work at 6 a.m. and stay till close,” says Richard Frazer, a longtime sous chef at Pepi’s. “He only takes Tuesdays off. He likes to be hands-on.” And Kaschitz gives associates like Frazer the freedom to create new cuisine and always gives new hires a chance. Once they show dedication, he teaches them how to move up the ranks.
“He works really, really hard, and I think that’s where I got it,” Frazer offers. “He pushes me to be better at what I do; as a chef, there’s a lot you have to know… I can ask him anything and, off the top of his head, he knows the answer. He doesn’t even have to think about it.”
According to Frazer, Kaschitz’s calm, compassionate demeanor rules and on the few occasions he might become upset he’ll call Frazer or another trusted friend aside, vent and move on. “A lot of things he brushes off his shoulders,” Frazer says. “He’s a happy guy.”
So how does a man who has worked nearly 100 hours a week for about 30 years maintain his energy and and happy demeanor? Seeing satisfied customers invigorates Kaschitz. “If you love what you’re doing, you don’t look at what time it is; you just keep doing it,” Kaschitz says. As a chef, he adds, “If you don’t have the heart for the hospitality community, you’re never going to make it.”
Kaschitz’s straightforward communication is just one of the characteristics his staff appreciates. “If you do the job right, you’re going to have a good time with me… then we can go a long way,” he says, “but if you’re slacking off, you’re going to have a hard time.”
And it’s because of his use of simple, quality ingredients with consistency, that Kaschitz excels at European cooking, “If I’m on the line, I see myself as a customer,” he explains, adding that if a dish doesn’t present correctly, he begins again—even on crazy days like Fourth of July, when Pepi’s served nearly 450 lunches.