The maximum depth of the Chesapeake Bay is 74 feet but nowhere does it run deeper than within Chef Robert Coleman, Director of Food Services at The Lord’s Place.
Growing up in the heart of Crab Cake Country on the shores of the Chesapeake, Chef Robert started his career early.
“I was 14 when I started as dish washer at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis,” he said. “It was a great job! I got my start in the kitchen and I saved enough money to buy a boombox!”
Chef Robert honed his skills for a decade before moving down to Florida to work as a chef catering service for private jets.
“We covered every airport from Vero to Homestead and it was 24 hours, seven days a week,” he said. “White Plains, New York to Palm Beach is a huge private jet route. Something like 300-400 planes, so we did a lot of breakfast and brunch items – bagels and lox, fresh pastries, that sort of thing.”
His clientele ranged from film stars to captains of industry and Chef Robert worked hard to ensure that they were kept happy.
“We used to have these little silver trays with chopped up filet on them that we served to the passenger’s dogs,” he said with a grin. “People love their pets!”
So, how did Chef Robert go from silver spoons to helping break the cycle of homelessness in Palm Beach County?
After selling the catering business, Chef Robert went into consulting and found himself interviewing for a culinary training position at The Lord’s Place. He hit it off with CEO Diana Stanley and has been with Café Joshua (the non-profit’s culinary enterprise) for the past five years.
“I’ve grown up in the life of helping others. I was a Boy Scout and that was part of our oath, you know? To help other people at all times,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people who are in the position to do what we do. Here, we take pleasure in the success of others.”
For Chef Robert, pride in the success of others is one of his favorite things about working for Café Joshua.
“It’s one of the coolest things,” he said. “We’ve got someone who went through the program and now, he’s a grill cook at Morton’s Steakhouse. Another guy got a job at the Zaxby’s that just opened up and they’re huge supporters of the organization.”
He also appreciates the level of freedom he’s given regarding culinary creativity.
“Chefs are artists,” he said. “They love to create and flex that muscle. That’s why food trucks are doing so well right now. It offers you limitless creativity.”
Chef Robert and his team will be bringing that limitless creativity to this year’s Crab Cake Cook-Off but he’s not about to stray from his Maryland roots.
“Look, I love crabcakes. Love them. Grew up on them in Annapolis. I lived two blocks from the water and we’d go to the butcher. He’d give us chicken necks and backs and wings and we’d used them as bait when we went crabbing. There’s nothing like Maryland crab.”
This unshakable belief in the crustaceans from the Chesapeake is the reason Café Joshua’s team will be providing their own crabmeat at the event.
“We get it from this co-op in Maryland. The husbands go out and catch the crab and the wives pick the meat,” he explained. “I’ve got a buddy who ships it down to me and we use it because Maryland crabmeat is sweeter.”
When it comes to his crab cakes, Chef Robert is a staunch traditionalist.
“I’m an elitist about crab cakes,” he said with a wide grin on his face. “We don’t tolerate calling any old thing a Maryland style crab cake! There are rules. What I want to do is educate. In South Florida, there’s a lot of crazy spices and aiolis and that Floribbean style but it’s important for people to know the history of what their eating; to know their roots. That’s why I’m bringing the real thing!”
However, guests should keep their eyes open for a surprise.
“We’ve done pipettes with remoulade in the past as well as an edible Asian spoon made out of a cracker but this year? I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be great. People are going to see it and go, ‘What?! That’s crazy!’”
You can taste Chef Robert's traditional Maryland Crab Cake at this year’s Crab Cake Cook-Off for Changing The Odds and you can check out Café Joshua here:
2808 N Australian Ave, West Palm Beach, FL 33407