Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

Wheels Up to New Cuisine: How Chef Deke Reichardt is Writing His Next Culinary Chapter

Apr 20, 2020 01:25PM ● By Carrielle Sedersten

Chef Deke Reichardt started working in restaurants when he was a teenager. More than 35 years later, in the summer of 2016, he found himself at a turning point in his culinary career after selling his Old Market restaurant, Jackson Street Tavern. Now four years into his next chapter as a full-time culinary arts instructor at Metro Community College’s Institute for Culinary Arts, he’s still having a hard time adjusting.

“The hours actually have made me a little bit of a lunatic because my schedule is 7 [a.m.] to 3 [p.m.] Monday through Thursday,” Reichardt said. It’s quite a difference from the 16-plus hours he worked nearly every day at the restaurant.

Having an abundance of free time feels foreign to Reichardt, but the change of pace made space for new experiences. “I start climbing the walls a little bit, and so I have to find something constructive [to do],” he said. 

He stays busy by challenging himself educationally. Last February, he traveled to his alma mater, Johnson & Wales University in Miami, and took the test to become an American Culinary Federation (ACF) Certified Executive Chef.

He’s also gone to the New York City Wine & Food Festival as a culinary lead volunteer the last few years and worked with Emeril Lagasse and in the kitchen at Cafe Boulud, a one-star Michelin restaurant owned by French celebrity chef and restaurateur Daniel Bouludin 2018.

As an instructor at MCC, he’s had the opportunity to go on culinary trips with his students across the country and abroad. He attended the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago multiple times, and has visited San Antonio; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and New Orleans. His favorite trip so far was a 14-day venture to Peru in July 2018.

Located in western South America on the Pacific Ocean, Peru is wildly famous for its sky-high ancient Inca site Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains. The central Andes span Peru from the north to the southeast, with the highest peaks reaching more than four miles above sea level. It’s a destination that leaves travelers breathless in more ways than one.

Much like Nebraskans acclimate to the higher altitude in Denver before heading into the Rocky Mountains, Reichardt’s Peru trip started in Lima for that reason. Parts of the capital city sit along the Pacific Ocean at sea level, while its highest points have an elevation of 5,090 feet, similar to Denver’s.

Most Peruvian cities rest between 6,000 and 12,000 feet and, for visitors, living at such heights requires time to acclimate to prevent altitude sickness. Over the centuries, Peruvians learned other ways to adapt to highland living, and it is reflected in their culture, especially culinarily. Reichardt and his students learned more about how they adapt on the second leg of their trip in the mountain city of Cusco.

When they got off the plane in Cusco, 11,200 feet above sea level, the unusualness of locals selling baskets of coca leaves caused an uproar with Reichardt’s students, largely because of the product’s association with the illegal drug cocaine.

“That [coca leaves] was something they used actually in some of the cooking we had,” said Kara Ruocco, a pastry chef at Le Bouillon and former student who went on the Peru trip with Reichardt. “We went to this really nice restaurant, and they accented a lot of their dishes with it.”

Raw coca leaves do not possess any mind-altering properties. They do, however, help with the altitude. Locals roll the leaves into a ball and keep it in their mouth or chew on them throughout the day.

“They drink a lot of coca tea,” Reichardt said. Coca leaf tea (made from coca leaves ground into tea) is a natural remedy for altitude sickness, and it’s also something many locals have for breakfast.

He adds that another thing that helps with the altitude is lots of carbs. “They’re really big on carbs [in Peru],” he said. “You’ll get a lot of plates that have both potatoes and rice on there.” Like the classic Peruvian dish lomo saltado.

“Lomo saltado is kind of like a stir fry and, again, it has rice and potatoes,” Reichardt said. “Usually, a beef that’s been marinated with some soy sauce and more Asian flavors and some peppers and onions, tomatoes. It typically has french fries that get thrown in right at the tail end of the stir fry. It’s this mesh of craziness.”

In Peru, like in most countries, cuisines vary from region to region. In warmer climates closer to the coast, the fare is lighter, and in the cooler mountainous regions, foods are heartier. It happens even moreso in Peru because the mountains isolate communities, requiring them to be self-sustainable.

“They really, with all of their food, everything came from the land,” Ruocco said. “Nothing was store bought. They had fresh markets. You can see where everything was coming from. Everything was so flavorful. I haven’t had seafood as good as I can get in Peru.”

Regionally sourced ingredients are most noticeable in a dish called ceviche. On the coast, it’s generally made using fresh white fish that’s not too fatty, such as sea bass and corvina. In higher altitudes, ceviche is made with fresh trout caught from the rivers.

What separates Peruvian ceviche from Mexican ceviche—well-known in the states—is the curing liquid used. Peruvian ceviche uses leche de tiger (tiger’s milk), a spicy citrus-based marinade made with lime juice, fish, a little lemon, onion, celery roots, garlic, ginger, and cilantro. The ingredients change slightly depending on region, but as Reichardt said, “One thing in Peru, whatever part of the country you’re in, they’re still doing ceviche.”

Reichardt had a full travel calendar to start his summer. He was headed to Cuba in May for a five-day non-credit culinary trip through MCC. Then he was going to Providence, Rhode Island, in June for a continuing education class, and then to Italy for 12 days on another MCC culinary study abroad trip. Those plans are now canceled due to COVID-19.

When asked if he would ever open another restaurant, Reichardt said, “Every couple of minutes I start looking [for restaurant spots] and I don’t get much further than that.” Knowing all the gas he has left in the tank, don’t rule him out. 

Visit mccneb.edu for more information about future continuing education culinary trips open to the public.

This article was printed in the May 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.