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Executive Chef Len Mitchell: A New Direction for Drumlins’ Bistro 1926
“From the land and sea, to your heart and mind, to the table.” For Len Mitchell, the newly-appointed executive chef of Drumlins’ Bistro 1926, that is the essence of cuisine. Mitchell, a Syracuse native, has spent the last 25 years working, traveling and collecting the experience needed to introduce his globally inspired plant-forward menu for Bistro 1926.
“Our culinary mission at Drumlins is to provide world-class quality food with a healthy emphasis,” says Chris Myslow, director of Drumlins Country Club. “Chef Len enables us to be a market leader in Syracuse and we look forward to proving it to our guests every day.”
Mitchell received his restaurant management/culinary arts training at SUNY Delhi, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from SUNY New Paltz. To further his involvement in education, Mitchell has taught credit culinary courses and has delivered more than 50 culinary demonstrations in five different cities. Additionally, he created a culinary arts job training program for alternative school youth, alongside a community kitchen, which received the Frist Foundation award for “Innovation in Action” in 2001.
Mitchell’s global perspective, commitment to education and love for the culinary industry will create an exceptional experience at Bistro 1926 for both the Syracuse University and local communities.
In this Q&A, Mitchell explains his influences and shares the bistro’s signature dish.
Q: Who or what inspired you to enter the culinary profession?
A: My brother and I would come home from school in Camillus and say, “Hey mom, what’s for dinner?” Mom would say, “Let’s go out into the garden and see what’s available.” So we would gather whatever we had grown in the garden and she’d show us what to do with it. She taught us everything to think about when preparing a meal, which starts outdoors. It starts with what’s available. From there I developed what I consider to be the essence of cuisine, which is “from the land and sea, to your heart and mind, to the table.” That’s how it was developed. It’s the original farm-to-fork. True cooking is always farm-to-fork. I’ve always cooked that way.
Q: Where has your cuisine been most heavily influenced?
A: I’ve traveled all over the country working as a chef. I went out to Arizona to learn about the cuisine by spending time with many ethnic groups represented in the area. I worked with Native Americans, Latinos, and spent quality time directly in the neighborhoods with locals. I also spent time in New Mexico. I just wanted to learn how to work with traditional southwestern cuisine because by the time that trend reached the east coast in the early 90’s it had changed already, and I just decided to go straight to the source. For about 25 years I traveled all around the country – Tennessee, South Carolina, Chicago, and so on.
Q: How has your career evolved over the years and through your travels?
A: A friend of mine in Chicago, chef Charlie Trotter, said, “beyond love, there is only cuisine.” He influenced me heavily. I’ve done several interesting things trying to get out of the restaurant business, but every single time it would be short-lived. I would end up taking a part-time job in a restaurant somewhere. Finally, about 15 years ago, I decided to focus on it. Now, I’ve returned home to Syracuse, and life has never been better. It’s great to be home. It’s where I belong.
Q: As someone with a history of educating youth and upcoming culinary students, what does working at a Syracuse University-affiliated restaurant mean to you?
A: The University context is huge for me. Education has always been very important. I created a culinary arts training program, I serve on advisory boards for my alma mater, SUNY Delhi, and I work with students regularly on projects and research. I’ve always enjoyed helping the next generation be as passionate about food as I am so that we can be successful. In any restaurant I’ve worked in, I take great pride when a kid’s meal comes through on the line. I want to make sure they remember having a great experience with us as kids, so they come back as adults. They’re the chef and customer of tomorrow. Inspiring them is my goal.
Q: Tell me about the book you’re currently writing.
A: The book is called “Mise en Peace” and it focuses on how to transition any business, not just hospitality or cuisine, from a toxic work culture into one of dignity and respect. It’s my goal to transform our industry so that high school graduates actually choose hospitality and choose culinary as a career, not as a fallback. It’s starting to happen, so I’m very happy to be part of that. I’m hoping to release next winter.
Q: That type of work culture sounds amazing.
A: It’s happening right here at Drumlins. I’ve never seen a team coalesce like this. It only took us three weeks to produce a menu – which is record time, and we have seen record success early on. We had a great first night.
Q: Giving back to the communities you serve is an important theme in your previous roles. Do you plan to bring that effort to Drumlins and the University?
A: Always. I always have that at the top of my mind. We will be very involved in cultivating new and continuing relationships with the members of our community beyond SU and Drumlins.
Q: What type of cuisine do you bring to Bistro 1926?
A: The menu is globally inspired plant-forward cuisine. Our customers and members want to eat in a more plant-forward, heart-healthy way. I bring Mediterranean and French influences that cater to our customers.
Q: What is your signature dish on this menu?
A: I think everything on the menu is my signature dish, because it’s all from my heart. It represents all my favorite things. I was handed a blank sheet of paper and was tasked to create a menu. If I had to choose, I would say that my signature dish is the Mediterranean Faroe Island Salmon. It’s seasoned with Za’atar seasoning and served with roasted apples, grapes and a quinoa salad. That’s the signature dish on this menu.
Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way?
A: Everything that we have ever experienced brings us to where we are right now. It’s a good life.
Bistro 1926 is open to the public for lunch and dinner on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.