You love eating and drinking outside but are not a fan of dining on a busy city sidewalk while cars speed pass honking their horns. Wish you could find a place in Philadelphia where you could enjoy the sunshine and a glass of vino, while avoiding the street noise? Meet Kyle Beebe, executive chef of M Restaurant, which is part of the historical, boutique Morris House Hotel, just off of Washington Square in Philadelphia. We first visited M Restaurant a couple years ago when foodie/painter Mike Geno organized a large group of us for a private dining experience in the hotel’s library. We recently re-visited this hidden garden restaurant, now with chef Beebe in charge of the kitchen. A jazz trio greeted us with live music, which continued on throughout the late-summer evening, while we dined outside in the gorgeous courtyard. M’s menu demonstrates chef Beebe’s diverse talents and tastes. Seared wahoo was topped with cucumber rolls, fried cilantro, puffed wild rice and a lime creme fraiche sorbet, and confit heirloom tomatoes were arranged around a mozzarella balloon injected with English pea espuma and topped with toasted peanuts. With the courtyard, the boutique hotel, the tiny bar, the live music and — of course — chef Beebe’s culinary talents, M Restaurant truly lives up to its reputation as one of Philadelphia’s best hidden gems — a unique, local, romantic, hidden garden restaurant. We caught up with chef after our recent dinner for a brief chat and are honored to have M Restaurant’s executive chef Kyle Beebe share his (Chocolate Covered) Memories with us …
How did you find yourself in this niche of the food industry?
I just sort of got sucked into this industry. I’ve always enjoyed cooking for myself and my family and never thought of it as a career.
Any child/teenage food industry jobs?
My mother is the CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware, so that’s where all of my summer jobs were. She started a training kitchen program at the Food Bank, which is eventually where I found myself. Now the training kitchen program is a fully-certified program. You can read more about it at: http://www.fbd.org/the-culinary-school/
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
I remember always watching my mother and father cooking. I would help them out, or I would help out my grandmother. It was fun for me, because it always smelled good in the kitchen, and I was always given something to do. I learned a lot about food waste at a young age, too. I can still remember my dad sifting through a bowl of potatoes I had peeled with a paring knife and being shown how much food I was wasting because I cut too deep into the potatoes.
Where does your love of food stem from?
I really love the satisfaction you get from giving people treats, or blowing their mind with something delicious. I don’t have one of those life-long chef ambition stories. My grandparents didn’t own a deli or restaurant. My parents didn’t work in kitchens.
Growing up, I always wanted to be an inventor or a chemist. I liked to build things or take things apart and see what makes them work. As a chef, I get to do a lot of those things. I homogenize ingredients, I break down fish and meats, I create flavor profiles. I get to do a lot of things that I wanted to do as a child. Just within a different media.
What foods remind you of childhood? What were your favorite foods growing up?
Without even having to think about it: Raspberries with sugar on the stove takes me right back to my grandparents house in Wisconsin. The aroma will fill a house within minutes, and it’s undeniable about what it is. My grandparents lived in northern Wisconsin, so wild berries and hunting and fishing were everywhere.
Any specific food memories/stories that you want to share?
When I was really young, my mom would make hard boiled eggs, and she showed me how salt makes them taste a little better. So one day I decided to make myself some hard boiled eggs. I removed the yolk and filled the cavity full of salt. I mean. if a little salt made it taste better, a lot would make it taste amazing, right?! And that was me, learning life’s lessons the hard way.
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any foods you couldn’t stand growing up? Have you overcome those childhood fears or do they still remain to this day? Any stuff you loved eating as a child that you would never eat now?
I’ve never been a picky eater at all. I sort of just eat anything. My only issues with any kind of food is I have some strange food reactions to raw things, like carrots and apple peels. There are many more, too long to list. The only real issues that arose from that as a child was that my parents thought I was just not wanting to eat certain foods because I could eat a cooked carrot, just not raw. This problem still occurs today, but my parents have a better understanding as to why I don’t eat certain things now.
As for foods I loved as a child but couldn’t do now? Definitely sticky, sweet things. My stomach isn’t so much of an iron fortress anymore.
Any childhood cooking accidents in the kitchen? Any as an adult?
Most of my kitchen accidents — at home as a child until the present — usually have to do with sharp things. Knives, meat slicers and mandolins. I’ve been pretty good with fire. I’ve had some cuts, but at least I still have all my fingers!
Growing up, what was your favorite meal/food/snack to eat outside? Did you enjoy eating outside anywhere in particular? How about now as an adult? Any benches you love to eat on?
I’m not really big on eating outside. Growing up, one of my favorite things was getting the standard snow cone after a Little League baseball game. But few people will deny that an awesome BBQ outside is definitely a great thing. Even in the dead of winter. As for a bench I like to sit on, on my days off (If I’m not out trying to catch a fish somewhere), you’ll probably see me sitting on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, chewing down on a bacon, egg and cheese [sandwich] from any street cart vendor.
What do you think of the modern food world (from Whole Foods to franchises like Olive Garden and Starbucks, from the Food Network to Groupon, from Yelp to foodie bloggers and especially the chef-as-celebrity world)?
Today’s modern food world is complex, confusing and sometimes just very sad. With the explosion of the Internet comes the good and the bad. People are able to educate themselves on what we as chefs do, but sometimes you get that guy/girl who has never cooked before but reads a lot. They come in feeling like they could confidently rewrite Escoffier. Even without knowing who (or what) Escoffier is.
I can’t get in to the franchises like Olive Garden, because it is just a different world in the industry than me. I’ve been to an Olive Garden a few times, and I’ve hated every single experience. People on Yelp are relentless, and Groupon is terrible. The Food Network, like any TV network these days, produces a lot of shows with little substance and lots of drama. Now not everything with the mainstream modern food world is negative, but there is plenty to shake your head at.
Celebrity chefs have their place, and most of them are where they are at because of their hard work in the past. It is just unfortunate that as a celebrity they need to be labeled. I get asked all the time by non-industry people if I yell like Gordon Ramsay. Chef Ramsay is an amazing chef but shouldn’t be known for his public TV outbursts. Sure, chefs yell, but understand why they do so.
What family recipes do you want to share with us?
Family recipes are difficult. We have a few, but they are locked away in my mother’s head. By learning as I see, my mother cooks by previous knowledge of dishes she’s made and just cooks from the heart.
One of my favorite quotes:
Once you understand the foundations of cooking – whatever kind you like, whether it’s French or Italian or Japanese – you really don’t need a cookbook anymore.
— Thomas Keller
But for the sake of this question, I have a recipe that I grew up with for brunches. I think the story [behind this recipe] goes: my grandmother heard it on the radio long ago. Enjoy my grandmother’s Finnish Pancakes!
Growing up in Delaware, Kyle Beebe was surrounded by food. His mother is the CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware, and Beebe began cooking there when he was young. It was at the Food Bank where Beebe began to learn the basics of professional cooking, and where he truly developed his passion for feeding others.
After graduating from the Restaurant School in Philadelphia, Beebe held several positions in kitchens throughout Philadelphia, including at Alma de Cuba, LaCroix and The Orchard in Kennett Square.
Beebe has been the head chef at M Restaurant in Philadelphia, the adjacent restaurant to the historic Morris Hotel, since 2012. Today, Beebe and his team at M have developed a ‘Progressive American’ cuisine that involves working with primarily local and seasonal ingredients and sourcing products directly from the farms surrounding Philadelphia and in New Jersey. While Beebe has raised his profile throughout Philadelphia, he still spends most of his time in the kitchen at M.