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A true ‘Blu’ Norwegian: Food and family top priorities for Lost Lake chef

Lost Lake Lodge executive chef Bob Stenerson displays a culinary creation Wednesday, July 2, in the dining room at the resort in Lake Shore, Minn. Stenerson received his culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis. (Photo by Steve Kohls/Forum News Service)

For a family resort looking for a family-oriented chef, the marriage of Lost Lake Lodge and executive chef Bob Stenerson might just be perfect.

Stenerson is true to his family’s Norwegian heritage. He understands the importance of family meals and knows firsthand how important family time is.

Stenerson hails from Moorhead, where his family runs Stenerson Bros. Lumber Co. (which also has a Detroit Lakes branch). While wood and tools were what made the family house, food is what made the home.

“Probably when I was 15 or 16 I started helping out with Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner,” Stenerson said. “Just the whole family sitting down and eating. I enjoy cooking for other people. Just seeing the smile on their faces is the best part about it.”

He honed his craft at Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis and later in his career ran into a familiar face in Lost Lake Lodge history, which almost makes Stenerson a second-generation chef.

“I worked with executive chef Tim Fischer at the Hotel Donaldson in Fargo and moved with him to New Jersey and worked with him at Crystal Springs Resort,” Stenerson said. “He is who I found out about this place from. When I left to go out to New Jersey, I was planning on being out there for three or four years before I came back, but I missed Minnesota too much. I needed to come back to my home state.”

While in New Jersey, Stenerson discovered the importance of being with family. It’s not something he enjoys talking about, but he knows it’s what makes him who he is today.

“I went out to New Jersey right after my brother had back surgery,” Stenerson said. “I was living with him at the time. I didn’t want to go because he was bedridden at my mom’s house for two or three weeks. I felt like I was leaving him behind. He talked about moving out to New Jersey with me. He forced me to leave. When I was out there he passed away. He was just a few years older than I am. That’s been my biggest push. He’s the reason why I cook every day. The reason I get up every day is to make him happy.”

Bonding with co-workers Every day at 4 p.m. the staff at Lost Lake Lodge tries to sit together for a family meal. While not unique to the small Lake Shore resort, it’s an important ritual for Stenerson, who likes to try new dishes out on his co-workers. More important, it creates a family-like bond.

“We try and actually sit down together for a half-hour or 20 minutes before we open for dinner service so we can all eat,” he said. “That’s what we do for everyone else. It’s nice for us to be able to do the same thing.”

While he studied the French classics, Stenerson’s style focuses on regional American cuisine with Scandinavian and Mediterranean influences.

One example of Stenerson’s heritage is the house-cured gravlax, a lox and bagel dish found on the breakfast menu, using the resort’s spruce trees. Stenerson said the European style is with dill and then cured with salt and sugar. Stenerson replaced the dill with new spruce buds.

On the lunch menu, the walley banh mi is a mix of things Stenerson enjoys eating and new flavors. He enjoys changing the flavor profile of this lunch dish every so often.

Also on the lunch menu is the nutty bird, a turkey breast sandwich with herbed cream cheese, sprouts and sunflower seeds. It’s a sandwich Stenerson’s mom would make him for school.

New twist on classic dish When crafting a dinner dish, Stenerson said the first thing he does is taste all the raw ingredients.

“Then I start flipping back to any past dishes I’ve ever made,” he said. “Then I compare the flavor profiles of the ingredients. Then you try to create a dish that has flavors that work well together, but hasn’t been done over and over again.”

One example on the Lost Lake Lodge menu Stenerson said is the steak frites, which is steak and fried potatoes, but the addition of a few sauces and a unique seasoning on the fries change it from the classic dish.

“I would love to be more established with the local farmers,” said Stenerson. “Right about now I’m getting 10 to 20 percent of my stuff locally. I would like to bring that up to 50 to 60 percent or more than that. It is extremely hard to do. In order to get as much as I can from the farmers, I need to be at the farmers market at 8 a.m. before everyone else. Plus, if I’m going to go I’m going to buy everything they have, and that’s not going to make their other customers happy. I have to share.”

Building relationships is one of the most important aspects of being an executive chef, Stenerson said. It’s what he hopes to do over the years as he establishes himself at Lost Lake Lodge.

“I was looking for a place where I could carve out a spot for myself, and this is just the perfect area for it,” he said. “It’s a small restaurant because the resort is small, but we do big numbers on the weekends. We do close to 150 people a night on the weekends. And being so close to all the local farmers and things like that, it was just kind of the perfect fit for me.”

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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