Spotlight: Chef's range: Cooking for stars to grilling at tailgates
Kenny G has savored chef Steve Clawson's macrobiotic greens, and film legend Richard Harris his Italian stew. During a 20-year career, the University Catering chef also has shown U-M football players how to prepare food that will boost their energy, and earned the nickname "Pit Boss" for his work behind the grill at football tailgate parties.
Clawson's game day specialties have included chicken chipolte sandwiches, grilled panini, mahi mahi kabobs, potato latkes, Decadent Brioche French Toast, and portabella and goat cheese "burgers," as well as the traditional burgers, brats and hot dogs.
"My very first tailgate was in 1996 at Crisler Arena. There were 1,500 people and I loved the pressure of having to cook for so many people," he says. "(The tailgates) have a great atmosphere and they're the best way to start game day." While he took a break from the tailgate parties this year, in the previous 10 years Clawson could be found grilling somewhere on campus during Saturday football games.
Clawson first found his way into the kitchen at age 15, when he began making homemade pastas. "It just seemed to fit naturally; I was accustomed to the kitchen and just really enjoyed it," he recalls.
He left his hometown of Kalamazoo to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and earned a degree in 1985. He returned to Kalamazoo, where he created a menu of classic Italian dishes at Angelina's Ristorante.
"I think of all my jobs, it was my favorite," says Clawson with a smile. "I really enjoyed what I did and one of the best parts was meeting all the different people."
After and a two-year stint at Marriott University Place in East Lansing, Clawson accepted a chef job at University Catering in 1989. For the next nine years, he catered events all over campus, ranging from formal luncheons at the President's Residence to receptions for 3,000 guests. His jobs included managing the kitchen, creating menus, writing recipes, sanitation, food production, purchasing and overall supervision.
In 1999 Clawson left U-M to pursue executive chef jobs at country clubs and hospitals, but returned in 2003.
He says highlights of his 20-plus year career in the food industry include cooking for the late stage and film actor Richard Harris who starred in "Camelot" and played Albus Dumbledore in the "Harry Potter" films and saxophonist Kenny G.
"Both of these guys had specific tastes," Clawson says. "Kenny G was on a macrobiotic diet at the time so we prepared a lot of greens for him. Richard Harris was diabetic so the food requests were more specific, but he really enjoyed my Italian seafood stew."
When Clawson isn't behind the grill, he's getting U-M students involved with cooking. In 2007 he helped oversee an "Iron Chef" competition that took place between students at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.
"We had six teams of 30 students involved with the event. I was really surprised on how creative and imaginative they were with their dishes," Clawson says. One of the most unique creations that stood out to Clawson was watermelon soup, which was "really very good," he says. Students also worked on a block "M" made of mangoes.
"I also taught University of Michigan football players how to prepare healthy, tasty meals that meet their special needs for extra energy through classes such as 'Grains for Glory,'" he says.
Clawson says there is a growing movement in the food industry to pursue organics. "We want to be a part of that. We've been looking at how the food we order is grown and if there are any antibiotics or steroids used."
Through research, Clawson hopes to get the best quality food. "We don't expect everything to be organic," he says, "We just want our foods to be less produced and more nurtured."
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