Recipe for success

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Recipe for a long, successful career.

Zane Holmquist

There will always be a place for underdogs in chef Zane Holmquist’s kitchen — because he used to be one, and few people gave him a chance in school, and learning to cook meant avoiding ridicule that came from being dyslexic. Voted in high school the “most likely to go to jail,” Holmquist is now vice president of food and beverage operations for the Stein Eriksen Lodge Management Corp. Not bad for a kid who sported a Mohawk, tattoos and an attitude and, by all appearances, looked like he might be headed down a path of obscurity. On the contrary, he has become a star in his profession.

Despite skipping a lot of class his senior year, Holmquist managed to graduate from Cottonwood High School. His biggest criticism of schools today is that educators don’t often teach to a student’s strengths, a flaw in the system that he says actually pushed him toward cooking. As a student, he had been mocked for his dyslexia, a reading disorder that meant he also had a horrible time spelling even simple words. Now, former classmates say things like, “‘Hey, I saw you on TV,’” he recalls. “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. That’s kind of the dichotomy of my life—don’t judge just what you see, because there’s a whole lot more there.”

Holmquist’s father and grandfather were realtors and property developers, and it was assumed he would follow in their footsteps. But his mother ran restaurants in which Holmquist started his cooking education. “This is literally what I’ve done my entire life,” he says. “In the kitchen, I found solace. One of the things I tell people about this job whether you’re in the front or back of the house is that it’s truly an equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you speak English, if you can read or write, if you’re from the Ukraine, Russia or Mexico, whether your mom and dad were rich, we open our arms to and accept everyone. I grew up working around people from around the world from every economic scale.”

He cooked throughout high school, graduated and inched forward professionally while working multiple jobs, including as a line cook for Melvin Harward, executive chef at Salt Lake Country Club. Harward remembers being hard on Holmquist. But they also talked about Harward’s career path, how much it paid and what Holmquist needed to do if he wanted to become a chef. “He had that raw talent,” says Harward. “And I told him he would do better going to culinary school and getting that piece of paper if he wanted to get his foot in the door. I think he’s extremely talented. He puts his whole heart and soul into it. He has a love for it.”

Holmquist headed back to school, a humbling experience for someone who already had a cache of cooking competition victories. He also had gaping holes in his academic history. “What filled the gap for me was Salt Lake Community College,” Holmquist says. “It got me back in the flow after being out of school for five years.” He took basic math and English and honed his skills and talent in SLCC’s culinary program. “SLCC put me on the path and gave me the skills to go away to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park (New York). And CIA is really the Harvard of culinary schools, the finest in the world in my mind.”

From the finest learning environments to one of the finest ski boutique hotels in the country, Holmquist eventually landed at the Goldener Hirsch Inn in the Deer Valley Resort area. He cooked at the inn for six years before bringing his grandmother’s Swedish meatball recipe to Stein Eriksen’s Lodge, where he has worked for more than 15 years.

Holmquist quips about still not being able to spell the word February, but he has cooked for kings, presidents and celebrities, newlyweds, the very rich and those of more modest means who save up for an experience in Stein’s dining room, where Holmquist often is found roaming, talking to customers about their meal or their stay at the lodge. “I love hearing from guests,” he says. “It means everything. I read every comment card. And I get back to people. I take those things very seriously.” For Holmquist, a good or bad day on the job is determined less by spreadsheets than by making sure customers leave happy. He lives to hear things like, “’You made my anniversary. You made my wedding,’” and so on, he says.