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Compliments of the chef — Nick Weimer of Chardonnay

By Holly Ebel

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Like father, like son? So it would seem.

If you stop by the kitchen at Chardonnay these days, you will find Nick Weimer — son of Mark, owner/chef of this longtime restaurant — busy prepping ingredients for dinner, making soups and otherwise getting organized for the evening’s customers.

Nick grew up with a spoon in his mouth. "I was just 10 when my Dad and Lisa (Michel) bought and opened this place in 1991, so from an early age I was hanging around in the kitchen, watching, asking questions, tasting," Nick says. "It has always been a special place for me."

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Raised in Rochester, he moved to La Crosse after high school and worked at several restaurants there, including Piggy’s. "We did a lot of catering for the boats cruising the Mississippi so that was a busy time," he says.

Returning home, he cooked at Chin’s Asia Fresh at Apache Mall, and when that closed was hired by Macaroni Grill.

"I was there for several years, which was fine and very good experience, but it was mainly corporate cooking," he says. "I wanted to get into the more high-end of things coming out of the kitchen. So here I am."

Nick was hired in June and has been busy ever since.

"I am re-learning Chardonnay," he says, laughing.

He’s working on the cycle of menus, getting to know the vendors and the ordering system and doing everything else involved in running a first-class place. Most important he is also having to educate himself about the many wines available at Chardonnay. "Fortunately, Dad is an excellent teacher," Nick says.

Nick has also been trying out new items which may appear as regulars. A recent effort he helped create was lobster cannelloni. Offered as a special a few nights ago, it was a hit and will likely find its place on an upcoming menu. He also has become very proficient at soups. Recent ones included a clam chowder and scallop bisque with smoked corn.

The long-term plan is that, possibly next summer, Nick will become a part-owner. Does this mean the elder Weimer is hanging up his chef’s hat?

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"Never," Nick says. "He just wants to step back a little. He also has two little kids, 8 months and 41⁄2, and wants to spend more time with them."

Chardonnay is at 723 2nd St. S.W.

Holly Ebel of Rochester is a freelance writer.

Q&A with Nick Weimer

Q: Is it hard working so closely with your Dad? I’d think there would be all kinds of pressure, especially if he is looking over your shoulder.

A: No, not at all. He is really letting me learn at my own pace and giving me plenty of space. No, he is just great.

Q: What’s your favorite kitchen tool?

A: I have a great set of knives but I really like the mandoline we have. It is incredibly sharp and slices perfectly.

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Q: When you have spare time what do you do?

A: One thing I do is go to Andy’s on Saturday mornings and do the wine tastings as part of getting to know wines. I go to the movies when I can, I used to bike a lot, and sometimes I go roller-blading.

Q: Mark also has a 41⁄2-year-old son. In about 10 years he might be here too. Do you have a chef dynasty thing going on here?

A: Maybe. Ben is going to be a chef at Halloween, so we might have (laughs).

Recipe

A recipe for lobster cannelloni from Nick Weimer of Chardonnay.

Lobster cannelloni

Filling:

4 5-oz. lobster tails, shells removed and roughly chopped

5 oz. fresh spinach, cleaned, stemmed, blanched, squeezed dry and chopped

8 oz. ricotta cheese

1 egg

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients together in a mixing bowl.

Tomato sauce:

1/2 cup diced onion

1 teaspoon each salt, pepper and sugar

1 can tomato paste

1 can diced tomatoes

Saute onion in olive oil, add remaining ingredients and simmer 30 minutes. Push through a fine mesh strainer and adjust seasonings.

Bechamel sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Using a wire whisk, whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Then whisk in 1 cup fish stock and 1 cup heavy cream.

Assembly using 8 eggroll wrappers:

Divide the lobster filling evenly and roll into cigar-shaped pastas. Coat the bottom of a 9x12-inch baking dish with some of the bechamel sauce, place the cannelloni in the pan, top with the bechamel, then dollop the tomato sauce over the top. Cover and bake at 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover and cook 10 more minutes until bubbly. Serve with your favorite big-bodied white or a light red wine..

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