For Mark LeFebvre, becoming the executive chef of a brewery like Cerberus Brewing Company seems like it was practically predestined. We recently caught up with the 31-year-old chef to chat about what he’s bringing to the west side hot spot.
“I was a fry cook in a brew pub,” says LeFebvre. “Then, when I was in culinary school, one of our last projects was to design a restaurant, a menu, a concept, and mine was a brewpub. That’s been my vision for years now but I want to throw that fine dining experience in and up the ante just a little bit.”
After growing up in Montana, LeFebvre moved to New York, attending the Culinary Institute of America, the only location at the time. From there he accepted at internship at the historic Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina focusing on fine dining but felt a “need to learn it all.”
“So I stepped away from that to grow and learn more about the industry,” says LeFebvre, deciding to shift his focus to banquet dining and breakfast operations.
Opting for a change, LeFebvre became the farm to table chef with the Wisconsin Room at the American Club Resort in Kohler, Wisconsin. The five star, five diamond hospitality division of Destination Kohler (like the faucets), is home to Whistling Straights and Black Wolfrun, where the PGA Championship was held.
Moving to Colorado Springs in October 2014, LeFebvre continued to further his career as the chef de cuisine in the main kitchen of The Broadmoor, overseeing banquets, room service, the lake terrace dining room and the hotel bar.
“I was there for two years and it was great experience,” says LeFebvre. “But I thought, I’m losing my culinary passion. I need to get back into a restaurant and need to create food that I want to create.”
Keeping his eyes open for the next big thing, LeFebvre was “browsing” and connected with the owning partners; Tom Halfast, Jerry Morris (former owners of Brewer’s Republic), head brewer Josh Adamski, and Cindy Geiser through Indeed.com. Accepting the position as executive chef at Cerberus gave him “complete creative freedom,” to conceptualize the brewery menu he created while at the CIA.
LeFebvre was so eager, he began helping with construction to get the brewery built. Since opening their doors mid-September, Cerberus has received a warm, and overwhelmingly positive response.
“We’re a pub so we’re doing pub food,” says LeFebvre. “But my concept is to not only make everything in-house, fresh, from scratch, but to add just a little bit of flare to it. To make it ours. But we’re still being so conservative. A lot of things I wanted to open with are getting on the menu now.”
We start with the mainstays. In true brewery fashion the sandwiches and burgers are staying put. “They’re half pound, we pick the meat apart so it’s kind of crumbly,” says LeFebvre. “We lightly pack it together so you have a nice mouthfeel, so it isn’t overworked. Any protein that we’re getting is a Colorado-based product.”
Understanding how to fully engage the brewery side has given LeFebvre room to grow. “Beers are very finicky to cook with,” he says. “I certainly had recipes I had done with beer for years prior to coming into this, but I’ve also extended a lot of my repertoire with things I hadn’t done before. Throw some beer instead of stock or half-and-half and see what we yield. It’s been a learning process.”
“There’s a lot of playful nature thrown into the dishes,” says LeFebvre. “A lot of Southern flare. You can definitely see my time down South in the menu with fried green tomatoes on the B.L.T. We’re going to be putting some braised kale with the flat iron. [With] the smoked brisket grilled cheese, the cheese spread is my rendition of a pimento cheese spread, but we do it with Gruyere cheese.”
It’s a winning combo, seeing as how Cerberus is throwing down upwards of a hundred of the thinly sliced, smokey beef sammies daily. “We’ve been smoking 10 briskets a week and last week we had to finally up it to 15,” says LeFebvre. “So we’re smoking two briskets almost seven days a week, just to keep up with this one sandwich.”
“There are certainly components of dishes throughout my career that have been recreated. I did a grilled cheese with prime rib for a room service item in Wisconsin. Then I decided to smoke a brisket, put some Shishito peppers, fried onions and arugula, for a little fresh, spicy note. So when we opened this just kind of came together.”
“After two-and-a-half months we’ve done pretty good and now it’s time to open it up and push a little harder,” says LeFebvre. “The last thing I wanted to do was be a brewpub doing over-the-top fancy food and then people just want a good burger and a beer, so I tried to do a good mix of offering both.”
Starting with subtle changes, LeFebvre is making a few fall/winter additions to the menu and optimizing seasonality, such as adding a few new appetizers like the walnut baked Camembert. “A fall take on a baked brie.”
Or take the brand-new Reuben Rolls: corned beef, chunks of homemade sauerkraut, wrapped up egg roll-style and served with house dressing. “This is not like the kraut you’re used to,” says LeFebvre. “It may or may not get braised with bacon on top. It makes a difference.”
Just in time for the colder weather to blow through, “we’re going to do our play on a vegetarian chili with a five-onion bisque recipe I have,” says LeFebvre. “It has a lot of Southwest flavors to it. It’s got coffee in it, tomatoes, cherry wine, white wine, lots of levels of flavor. We’re going to put our chive cream down at the bottom, our beans and our chiles mixed together at the bottom of the bowl with fried chickpeas and pickled jalapeños, some spent-grain lavash and then pour the base of the chili, the soup, table-side and you get to mix it all in.”
Cerberus hopes to expand upon their charcuterie program, currently serving up a platter highlighting their fresh, house-made, hunter sausage.
“The flavor components are mustard seed, coriander and garlic,” says LeFebvre. “It’s a pork butt, we bring it in, break it down, get it in with the spice mix, grind it, case it, smoke it and serve it, fully cooked, cold. I’m hoping to start doing some Lonza, which is a cured pork loin, soon. I want to get to a point where everything on the meat and cheese board is made in-house.”
“It’s really hard when you’re doing this kind of volume to keep it completely local,” says LeFebvre. “We’re certainly trying to stay in Colorado.” Outlets include: Avalanche Cheese Company of Basalt, Co.; Haystack Mountain Cheese from Longmont; Longview Creamery in Windsor; and Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy out of Buena Vista. “I’m hoping to eventually get some of Alex Siedel‘s Bacarra from Fruition Farms.” (Colorado’s first and only sheep’s milk cheese producer.)
“Right now we’re just trying to get as much locality on the menu as we can based off of seasonality and what’s feasible,” says LeFebvre. “I’m really excited for next spring and summer to hit. We’ll get with more of the local farmers and be trying to stock as much as we can across the board. The game will [be] a lot harder, [but] we’ll have a better feel for volume and then it’ll be the new growing season.”
What’s better than local? Retrieving the food from the backyard. Plans are in place to create a growing space right next to the parking lot. “Some squashes, some herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers. We’ll be picking from our own garden.”
If all that veggie talk has you nervous, relax, since the IPA Bacon Bites will hang. This delicious app of cubes of crispy pork with a brown butter sweet potato puree and creamy chèvre, pairs well with signature IPA, Tiny Umbrella. “All the flavors lend well to the pork with the citrus notes.”
Same goes for the Colorado Poutine, a unanimously popular appetizer choice and for good reason: Oversized-potato wedges topped with cheese curds, house-made chorizo and fire roasted peppers with cheddar ale gravy.
LeFebvre isn’t saying goodbye to all the original menu items. Keeping true to his Carolina connection, the Southern Fried Chicken Wings are inspired by “a riff off this chicken shack down in North Carolina,” says LeFebvre. “We use hot sauce and buttermilk, marinade them overnight, and then drain and par-bake them. So not only is your pick-up time quicker but you have that extra element of flavor infused into them. Then we toss them in habanero honey and serve it on top of Texas toast. Sop up some of the juices, holds the wings in place, and then you can eat it. [It’s] served with a little apple blue cheese slaw.”
LeFebvre’s favorite dish is his signature entree that has been on the menu since opening: The Gnocchi “Mac N Cheese.”
“I love fresh pasta,” he says. “I developed my own process so it’s not traditional.” Making the dumpling-like pasta has been “a craft that I’ve been trying to perfect over the last eight or nine years and I’ve got the feel down.”
The gnocchi is seared for lovely outside texture while maintaining a fluffy interior, then tossed with bacon, heirloom tomatoes, and broccoli, in the beer cheese soup. It’s now available with beer brat or brisket added in due to customer requests.
The dessert program is led by fellow chef, Destiny Sorge, who worked with LeFebvre in Wisconsin. A few updates and newbies include adding in some citrus to the creme brûlée and an apricot cheesecake with a gingerbread snap crust comes presented in a cutesy Mason jar.
“We just changed our pumpkin-s’more to spice-apple,” says LeFebvre. “A cinnamon graham cracker, spiced apple marshmallow with bourbon caramel. We’re making the marshmallows, the graham crackers, doing our own sauce. Just like anything on the savory side, it’s all going to be completely handcrafted.”
One sweet treat that won’t be disappearing, is the Pecan Pie Bread Pudding, which “has become our staple.” (RMFR and chef Mark Henry definitely agree.)
LeFebvre intends to keep establishing himself in the Colorado Spring food scene by jumping into the friendly competitions. (Shout out to Sheamus Feeley and Brother Luck!) “I certainly am hoping to get in some knife fights with those guys,” says LeFebvre, and “starting to build those local relationships.”
With an extensive variety of cooking prowess under his belt LeFebvre prides himself on variety and being unique. “One of my biggest things is being different from everyone else. I didn’t want to be a typical brew pub,” says LeFebvre. “We’re ever evolving and just continuing to grow. Its been a fun process to be a part of and the overall experience is really invaluable in itself for whatever is next.”
“I didn’t try to recreate the wheel here,” says LeFebvre. “I just took my knowledge, experience and the style of food I’ve developed over the years and we do it all in-house, we do it well and we do it right. That goes a long way, because it’s real food.”
[Images: Dionne Roberts]