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STREETSEEN  | Konrad Spitzbart

Photo by Steve Roberts

Konrad Spitzbart: Executive Pastry Chef at The Peabody 

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Konrad Spitzbart was born into a family that was deeply steeped in culinary traditions. He was raised in Gmunden, Austria, about 45 minutes east of Salzburg, on a farm that has been in his family for the last 300 years. The family raised cattle, pigs and geese, and also had their own butcher shop and restaurant on the farm.

“Ours was a restaurant which was basically farm-to-table,” explained Spitzbart. “I learned to cook by working side-by-side with my mother. One of my favorite childhood dishes was Nudelauflauf, a pasta and potato dish with sour cream and fresh eggs that is like a noodle casserole. And on Fridays we ate pastries, crepes with homemade jam, for lunch.”

All of that fresh, homemade food not only influenced Spitzbart, but two of his sisters also now make their living in the culinary arena. Both live near where they grew up; one is a head chef at a college and the other is a pastry chef at a coffee shop.

“I went to school and completed a traditional European apprenticeship for cooking in my hometown,” explained Spitzbart. “Then I went on to complete a second two-year apprenticeship as a baker. I found work in a traditional kitchen as a chef at a local ski resort. It was there that I learned from other chefs about the opportunity to go to the United States to work.”

Spitzbart landed a position as a pastry chef at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. The historic property welcomed guests with old world hospitality and charm, part of which could be attributed to the European chefs, including Spitzbart, the hotel hired for its summer seasons. Spitzbart worked there for four summer seasons, returning home to Gmunden to work in ski resorts during the off-season in Michigan.

During his final season at The Grand Hotel, Spitzbart met the woman who would become his wife, Angie. The couple married and decided to stay state-side. Spitzbart found his next position at the Ritz-Carleton in Dearborn, Michigan, as an assistant pastry chef. During his tenure there, he moved up to pastry chef. After three-and-a-half years, he got a call from a recruiter looking to place an executive pastry chef at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Spitzbart accepted the job and worked there for six-and-a-half years before being asked by the head chef to go with him to the Beverly Hilton. Another two years went by, then Spitzbart learned of a position at a “grand hotel in Memphis.” That was 13 years ago.

“I came to Memphis to accept the executive pastry chef position at The Peabody,” recalled Spitzbart. “My culinary responsibilities involve anything that has to do with sweets — and a lot of sugar. That includes all desserts, even ice cream, made for the hotel.”

Spitzbart has instigated some changes. He has streamlined desserts from  the hotel’s former all-slice cakes to individual, bite-sized desserts. Also he has added another shift (afternoon) to give The Peabody almost 24-hour coverage in the pastry department and has overseen the replacement of some of the ovens. 

When asked what he likes about his work, Spitzbart said he enjoys the creativity and challenges of working in a fast-paced kitchen that has to meet deadlines for banquets, a deli and individual guest orders. And he is very proud of his signature “ducks,” mousse-filled chocolates in the shape of The Peabody’s famous feathered entourage.

This holiday season, Spitzbart’s culinary talents will be on display (until December 26) in the form of a gingerbread village in the hotel’s lobby. The colossal creation was made by Spitzbart and his pastry department staff and took between 200 and 250 hours to make.

“The village, measuring 18 feet by 7 feet, is made entirely of sugar and gingerbread,” said Spitzbart, “It even incorporates some moving parts, like rotating snowmen. I hope people will include a stop by the lobby of The Peabody as part of their holiday plans — who knows, like so many holidays treats, it may be a tradition in the making.” 

 

STREETSEEN  |  Kameron Whalum

Photo by Steve Roberts

Kameron Whalum: Music is in His Blood

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

As the fourth generation of a family that is considered to be a musical dynasty, Kameron Whalum knew early on what direction his future would mostly likely take — and he was correct. His musical pedigree reads like a Who’s Who. His great uncle, Dr. Wendell Whalum, was the Music Chair at Morehouse College and another, H. D. Whalum, was a saxophonist, singer and pianist who played with musical greats such as Miles Davis. His grandfather, Kenneth Whalum, Sr. and his father, Kenneth Whalum, Jr. are both talented singers. Uncle Kirk Whalum is a touring jazz saxophone player and uncle Kevin is also singer. Kameron’s brothers are in the musical arena; Kenneth is a singer and plays the sax, and Kortland is a singer, actor and vocal instructor at Stax Music Academy. Influences from Kameron’s mother’s side of the family include his grandmother, Margaret White Lee, a jazz singer who performed in Memphis clubs, and his mother, Sheila Lee Whalum, who sings, too.

Kameron, 30, remembers having his first solo performance at age 4, singing in the Christmas program at Mt. Pisgah Daycare in Orange Mound.

“From then on I was into music,” recalled Whalum. “I sang in the choir at Olivet Baptist Church, but I didn’t do anything musical in school until fifth grade. I was 10 years old, a student at Sea Isle Elementary, when I picked up a trombone. I continued to play in the band at Colonial Middle School and by the time I started at Overton High School, I had already made up my mind to make music my profession.”

Whalum’s talent stood out at a young age. He was one of the only ninth-graders in his school’s marching band and was consistently named to All-West and All-State. After graduating in 2007, he started college at Morehouse College in Atlanta and performed with the school’s marching band and jazz band. He started singing in the Glee Club. It was all part of the same music department his great uncle had chaired years before.

“Then I broke my jaw and couldn’t play my horn for six weeks,” said Whalum. “I decided to return to Memphis, transferring to the University of Memphis as an undeclared major. Ultimately, I joined the school’s jazz band. At the encouragement of my family, I sent an audition tape to The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music where my oldest brother, Kenneth, had attended. I was accepted, and after a year at the U of M, I moved to New York City.”

That move proved to be a pivotal one. While still a student, Whalum worked as a sessions musician and played gigs around NYC with his brother Kenneth. In March 2011, Whalum got a call to play for Jessie J on Saturday Night Live.

“That SNL performance launched things into orbit,” said Whalum. “Two weeks later I got a call to go see Bruno Mars in Los Angeles for ‘American Idol.’  He needed a horn section for the show. I rehearsed with him, did that show, then went back to school. In April, Bruno asked me to join the band — and that it is still an ongoing gig for me today.”

Since joining Bruno Mars’ band, Whalum has traveled the United States and played in South America, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Philippines. For several years, he spent most of his time in Los Angeles and on the road. This last year has given him more time in his hometown.

“This is always what I wanted to do,” said Whalum. “Performing here and taking a place on the world’s bigger musical stage. My parents and my brother Kortland still live in Memphis, so I continue to deepen my roots here. Last year I served as artist-in-residence at Stax Music Academy. Now I want to offer music clinics and master classes across the city. Also, I volunteer as the Youth Director at New Olivet Worship Center at Woodland Hills and teach the youth choir.”

For the near future, Whalum says he sees his life continuing on the same path — taking part, helping out and playing with the Bruno Mars band.