This week is Fall Harvest Week, brought to you by SJ Hot Chefs. More than 40 restaurants in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties are participating, inlcuding Mirko’s-A Taste of Europe in Voorhees. Opened earlier this year, Mirko’s presents a number of European cuisines in their pure forms-no fusion cooking going on here. Chef Mirko Loeffler gave us a few moments to talk about his restaurant, and a few other things.
EiSJ: What was the moment when you knew that cooking was going to be your passion?
Check Mirko: As a boy, I traveled through Europe with my parents and stayed in hotels and ate in fine restaurants. I loved table side presentation. At 14, I started my apprenticeship to make a dream to become a chef come true.
EiSJ: What made you decide to try this concept of the pan-European menu?
Chef Mirko: Everyone is connected to Europe in one way or another. I cook traditional ethnic food as you would get it if you were in Europe; no fusion, no fancy sauce painting, just fresh made, ever-changing food. If you have guests who tell you that you “brought back memories” with your food, or” it is just I remember” or “this is better than I just had in Europe”, then you did your job. You can go to many Italian restaurants and get the same [thing] over and over, as you can in a French restaurant. So long it is not Americanized, you will find the first 3-4 visits enjoyable. At my restaurant we change the specials every day, and every week it is a different nation, so my 95% return guests love my place as it offers all the time something new and fresh.
EiSJ: Talk about the Passport program at your restaurant.
Chef Mirko: You buy a passport for $10 and every time you visit and enjoy an entrée you receive a sticker indicating the country you just visited and a stamp – just like you get traveling . If you collect six flags your next meal is on me. You get your birthday meal at Mirko’s on us, and you are invited to a appreciation party in January. As a member of the Mirko’s travel club you get preferred reservation and weekly newsletters with everything what’s happening at Mirko’s for this and the following week.
EiSJ: What European cuisine do you think is underrated?
Chef Mirko: Britain! We celebrate all parts, like Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England together. So often we hear that this cuisine is not very popular, but we put good taste to every plate. We serve individual Beef Wellington, Yorkshire pudding, bangers and Champ, lamb shanks in Guinness, cabbage stew, baked cod with stilton, smoked salmon with pickled beets and mushy peas and they all have never tasted so good.
EiSJ: Having cooked throughout Europe, what do you find truly unique about the fruits and vegetables available in the South Jersey region?
Chef Mirko: It helps to have fresh produce and fruits all the time. For English week we prepare a berry trifle, a queens favor, and it is a hit. For Germany we prepare the famous “Rote Grutze” made with Rhubarb and fruits. Every entrée comes with fresh vegetables changing by country and dish. Fresh Eggplant and peppers as well as tomatoes are the prime items in the Mediterranean cuisine. Fresh vegetables start every paella we serve in Spanish week. 75% of our Spanish week items are the 6 different traditional paellas. You need fresh produce for this concept of fresh, scratch cooking.
EiSJ: How will you marry the cuisine styles with the local fall harvest?
Chef Mirko: Even though I import some proteins from Europe, I choose vegetables and fruits from our local farms. All over the world we find the same vegetables, and even there they taste different due to their soil. This happened to me as I was working in China teaching European cuisine, but you can still make it work. Europe and New Jersey have a lot of in common with their harvests and offerings for any cuisine.
EiSJ: What kind of experience do you want to offer those who come for Fall Harvest Week?
Chef Mirko: Try the different flavors of European ethnic food, prepared fresh and simple as you can’t get anywhere else. This restaurant is a new concept and you will be surprised of our offerings, atmosphere and service fitting to anyone at any age, so come and travel with us to Europe.