Early in my hotel career, I worked with an Executive Chef named Peter Koenig at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe.  Peter initially hired me as a cook at the gourmet restaurant Hugos Rotisserie on the lake, and then brought me up to the main hotel restaurant.   Peter was an exacting and demanding chef – but not in the temperamental and egotistical manner that seems so fashionable today.  Peter just expected things to be done the right way.  He took the time to teach and show you how to do it and how he wanted it done and then expected you to do it correctly every time you did it.  I was a quick learn.  I just knew it wouldn’t be wise to piss him off.

It paid off.  Peter actually hired me twice.  First as a cook and then after a brief interlude back in San Francisco, to run the short-lived Ponderosa Buffet off the hotel casino.  It was from the Ponderosa that I went to Alpine Jack’s and started managing the restaurant I once cooked for.

I learned a lot from Peter from cooking and technique to presentation and management.  How to nit-pick on the seemingly minor details because the minor details were what were actually important. Or when to come down heavy on an employee for screwing up and when to create a “learning experience.”   We butted heads now and again but it always was a learning experience…..

He was good.

Really good to be remembered 35 years after that initial hire!

But I remembered him today because of a ham.  A Cure 81 Ham.  I really don’t recall the exact scenario, but it basically had to do with us getting the wrong ham.  I think that at one time Cure 81’s were pretty much only available to the industry and they were the top “deli ham” of the day.  They could be shaved thin for sandwiches or sliced thick for ham steaks.  For whatever reason, we got the wrong ham and Peter was not amused.

Fast-forward 30-whatever years and I’m at the grocery store, look down, and see a Cure 81 ham.

It’s amazing how something as simple as a ham can trigger such a flood of memories.   It was (still) not cheap but I had to buy it.

A dozen recipe ideas were running through my mind.  But the first one was the simplest and most appealing. Fried Ham Steak.

The ham steaks tonight were simply fried in a pat of butter.  And fried ham needs potatoes and peas.  But not just any potato…  A thin-sliced-soft-in-the-center-and-crispy-on-the-outside potato.

I sliced the potatoes nice and thin using a mandoline  (go buy one – they’re fantastic!) and layered them in a small skillet.  I drizzled a bit of butter on them as I built the layers and added a pinch of salt and pepper now and again, as well.

When I got to the top I sprinkled them with dill.

They went onto the stovetop for about 5 minutes and then covered, into a 375° oven for 45 minutes.

The last three or so minutes were under the broiler to crisp the top.

I inverted the pan onto a cutting board and sliced in half.  They came out just as I wanted – crispy on the outside and nice and soft and buttery on the inside.

I think Peter would have approved.