October launches the best season of feasts for Deupree House Chef Sam Gillivan, starting with the annual Halloween cocktail party.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Gillivan said of the Halloween event, where all the residents and Deupree team members wear costumes. “It’s a really great night.”
It’s party time
There will be appetizers and team members volunteering as bartenders.
After that, "they come down to the prime rib, steakhouse mac-and-cheese, and all sorts of great stuff,” said Gillivan, who has a devoted following among residents, as he did at other Greater Cincinnati restaurants earlier in his career.
He thrives on the holiday festivities that start with Halloween and crescendo with the Christmas Eve meal.
“Since the day I walked in here, I’m the one who prepares Thanksgiving dinner. I roast birds, I make stuffing, I make the green bean casserole,” he said.
It’s not that he doesn’t trust others on his staff to do those honors – they are involved. But he takes ownership of such an important meal, which includes a dozen 20-pound turkeys.
Gillivan, who has worked at Deupree House for 7½ years, wants the Thanksgiving celebration to reflect his love for the holiday and for the residents.
The Deupree House Dining Room.
Dedication to cooking
Gillivan’s enthusiasm in describing the festivities is almost as savory as the meals themselves.
There's another cocktail party on Christmas Eve, he said, with poached lobster tails and tenderloins.
"The holidays are fun. We spare no expense; we go all in. And we make it a really good time for everybody.”
When Gillivan interviewed for the Deupree House job, he promised, “I’ll make whatever you guys want, but I promise you, it’ll be homemade. It’ll be from scratch.”
He concentrates on homemade "comfort food" that feels like home, which is appropriate because it is home.
His dream restaurant, in fact, would serve upscale comfort food, he said – something that, in a way, he has achieved, although he doesn’t own the establishment. Under his dream concept, he said, “You take something that Grandma would make on Sunday and elevate it to the highest level.”
Chef Sam prepares a made-to-order salad in Grille 39.
Residents enjoy their meals
Gillivan’s kitchen wins raves from residents like Mary Austin.
“I can’t tell you what a wonderful job these people do,” Austin said. “Our meals are wonderful and a wide variety, and I feel healthy.”
“I love his pork,” she said. “Periodically, he’ll do wonderful pork. His black bass is to die for, and his salmon.”
“I don’t know anybody who complains,” Austin said. “And if you don’t want quite what’s on the menu, you can always get a hamburger, you can always get an omelet.”
She also appreciates the attentive waitstaff: “They know that I usually like a little extra ice, and so they’ll say, ‘More ice, Mrs. Austin?’ ‘Yep, more ice.’ Little things like that make a heck of a difference.”
Building a staff with top talent
Gillivan earned his degree from Cincinnati State’s well-regarded culinary arts program and was promoted to the executive chef by the company that operated DeSha’s American Tavern and Nicholson’s Tavern & Pub downtown, two places he worked during the more than two decades of experience he had before Deupree House, along with Jeff Ruby’s The Precinct and the former Tropicana nightclub that was at Newport on the Levee.
Absolutely everything leaving his kitchen is made from scratch, except for desserts. Those are handled by Servatii, that world-class purveyor of pastries and other baked goods.
Gillivan was pleased to hire cook Michelle Barnes, who started this month.
“She’s a wonderful person, first and foremost, and she’s got great experience,” he said. “She’s very eager to learn, and when you have someone who’s been around and has been doing it for a long time and wants to learn, it’s exciting.”
He’s looking to hire a few more to bring the dining services team to full strength.
Pete Juszczyk, who began his career at ERS as a Deupree House chef and is now its dining services director, is always tremendously helpful. The two bounce ideas off each other while they work.
Service Coordinator Michelle Cole with resident Mary Austin.
Gillivan said he hates the word perfectionist, but it’s important to strive for one’s best.
“I always just want it to be done correctly because it’s going to turn out great if you do. I think it just means that you care.”
He praises the Service Coordinator Michelle Cole and Juszczyk, for their attention to quality and for doing things right.
"We care about every detail because we all have the vision of serving really good food, and that’s the bottom line.”