Growing up in a Cuban-Jewish family in Miami, Steve Peljovich had a lot of flavor to bring to Boston. Having been introduced to the Hub of the Universe by way of the legendary (and lately late) Durgin Park, Peljovich liked the family way of the place, but knew that there could be more to Boston fare than prime rib and Boston’s famed baked beans.
Eager to capitalize on his background and familial feel, Peljovich did stints at John Harvard’s Brewhouse in the misnomered Harvard Square and the Hard Rock Café in downtown Boston before heading out to the semi-preserved Brookline neighborhood known as Coolidge Corner. There, he took over a legendary deli that was known far and wide for its corned beef and has since not only reigned as the new “Corned Beef King” but supported the community with food, familial fun, and financial support to organizations that range from the American Cancer Society to former Bruin Shawn Thornton’s Foundation.
Santé: How did you get into cooking? Who inspired you?
I was definitely influenced and inspired by my family. Growing up in a Cuban-Jewish home, food was always central in our lives. Aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents were always cooking something up and the recipes were always a mix of cultures.
Santé: Where was your first professional kitchen experience and what lessons did you learn that continue to educate how you work today?
I was a prep and line cook at a Hooters in Miami. It was fast-paced, crazy, and always hot. The biggest lesson I learned was how not to treat staff. I feel like an old-timer saying this, but the management used a demeaning and demoralizing philosophy to motivate staff. Employees were pawns and tools, not people. As I continued in my restaurant career, I knew that I would never treat my teams that way.
Santé: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you handled them?
My biggest challenge was making the leap from a weekly corporate check to running my own business. At the time that I transitioned into my own business, we had three very young children and the risk of being an independent operator scared the life out of me. As they say, “failure was not an option,” so I tackled everyday as a new challenge. I strive everyday to win new faithful customers with great food and a welcoming environment. Being a small business, I make it important to learn who my new guests are and encourage them to make a relationship with the business. I want them to be a part of the experience, not just an end user of my food.
Santé: How has your cooking and business style changed and how has the industry changed?
I would like to think that I haven’t changed much. I learned many lessons in some very different corporate restaurant environments and have worked to mesh those with my own personality. I think folks now are looking for fresh, quality food made with care and I think I provide that daily. I would like to think that the foodservice industry has made a turn to recognizing the independent chef/restaurateur over the corporate chain. Over the last 10-15 years, it has been restaurant personalities driving this change and media that have given an avenue for independents to thrive.
Santé: What are you most looking forward to this year, in terms of your career?
I am looking forward to welcoming folks back in to dine at the tables in my deli and to hang out to chat. Hopefully this will happen in 2021! I miss the connection with our guests and the atmosphere the deli takes on when it is full of guests. It reminds me of going to the great delis of Miami Beach as a child and being with my family, seeing other families getting together over great food that is a huge part of my culture.
AUNTIE BEV’S NOODLE KUGEL
The Hanukkah right before I bought the deli we had a party with some friends and one of them made a noodle kugel. One of the first things I did when I bought the deli was ask for her recipe because I knew I was going to add it to the menu. So “Auntie Bev” is actually one of our really good friends and her kugel was the first item that I added to Michael’s menu!
24 oz. sour cream
24 oz. cottage cheese
8 oz. sugar (by volume)
2 lb. wide egg noodles
1/2 cup granulated sugar / 1/4 cup cinnamon (mixed together)
Whip sour cream and cottage cheese in a large bowl
Blend eggs and sugar in a blender until frothy
Our egg-sugar mix into sour cream-cottage cheese mix and combine by hand
Cook egg noodles (as directed) and allow to cool
Add noodles to sugar-egg-cream mixture
Pour into large baking pan
Sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mix
Cover with foil and cook at 325° for 30 minutes and check on it
Cook an additional 5-7 minutes uncovered