The pressure is on
Aaron Staudenmaier’s first culinary crash course happened in the cover of darkness at a North Dakota truck stop.
The Lovers Seafood and Market executive chef landed a dishwashing job at Flying J’s as a teen, where he helped man the kitchen until the early morning.
One night, 15 minutes before bar rush, the frazzled cook quit without warning. Announcing “I don’t want to do this today,” he hurried out of the truck stop.
Staudenmaier panicked. The 14-year-old’s culinary skills didn’t include making much more than a bowl of cereal. With 250 truck drivers impatiently waiting for a quick
meal, “the choice was learn to cook or die,”
Staudenmaier scrambled to feed his temperamental customers, but he thrived in the chaos.
“There’s a piece of that day in every day in the kitchen,” he says. “It’s the same excitement. It’s the same level of can you do this, pushing yourself to get through it.”
Launching Lovers Seafood and Market has been Staudenmaier’s most demanding endeavor to date, he says, even after stints at The Mansion at Turtle Creek and Abacus. Staudenmaier resigned as executive chef of the luxury private club Boot Ranch in the Hill Country to open the eatery with Shinsei founders Lynae Fearing and Tracy Rathbun. The two women are Dallas culinary royalty: Fearing was married to celeb chef Dean Fearing, while Rathbun is the wife of four-time James Beard nominee Kent Rathbun. Along with Staudenmaier, they tagged in Max Heidenreich, another Abacus alumni,
as general manager.
When the celebrated foodies announced their plans to revamp the former Rex’s Seafood Market space in February, their reputations began to precede them.
“One of the challenges of dealing with people at that level is the expectation becomes your greatest enemy,” Staudenmaier says. “You can’t just open a restaurant that’s pretty good. You have to open a restaurant as good or better than anything you’ve ever done.”
Modeled after New England seafood shacks, the Lovers Lane restaurant mixes popular faire — like Maine-style lobster rolls and salmon cakes — with more modern flavors like uni.
“There’s a line between fun and interesting and unique and not wanting to scare the hell out of people,” Staudenmaier says.
He relies on seafood brokers across the globe for its endlessly rotating menu. Fish is shipped to the eatery from Thailand, Norway and New Zealand within 48 hours. Some options only make an appearance once a year. Staudenmaier was so excited when Copper River salmon arrived that he waltzed with one to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
“We eat the hell out of them while they’re here, and then we wait until next year,” he says.
The inconsistency gives Staudenmaier room for creativity, and it adds just the right amount of the pressure he craves.
“When the restaurant’s packed and crazy, and we start questioning if we’re going to make it through, I love that moment.”
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