A Fireside Chat at U Emy Destinnové
American chef & owner Steven Trumpfheller says thanks
Maurer’s Selection uses a panel of approximately 7000 restaurant goers who eat anonymously at their own expense at selected restaurants throughout the year. Customers evaluate their dining experience either using a website, mobile application or a printed questionnaire at special events. Ratings are based on overall experience, food, quality of service and interior. Maurer’s Selection is the only independent restaurant rating guide in the country, and each year a new guide can be purchased in bookstores like the Neo Luxor chain.
Having won Maurer’s Prague Food Festival for the past four years, perhaps Steven wasn’t completely surprised by the positive results. However, he was quick to say how appreciative he was, mainly to the customers who’d eaten at his festival stands and those who’d visited his restaurant during the Grand Restaurant Festival at the beginning of the year and had cared enough about the experience to give feedback.
Steven’s story started 15 years ago in an Atlanta, USA restaurant when a petite blond-haired Czech dancer met a young chef from New Jersey. She walked into his restaurant looking for a waitressing job. Although he’d always told his mom that blond wasn’t his type, he knew she was the one, even if she didn’t know it yet. She got the job and, in the end, he got the girl. First, he had to let her see that a hard-working, nice guy lived beneath his macho chef exterior. It probably didn’t hurt his chances that he was an excellent cook, too.
Today, Steven Trumpfheller’s story continues at his cozy restaurant U Emy Destinnové where he’s served Prague’s international and Czech communities for the past eight years. In some ways, it’s a Cinderella success story, if you can remember the part about how hard Cinderella worked before her fairy godmother came to her rescue. Steven is at the restaurant every day performing all the tasks required of a head chef and owner. He rates good quality control along with physically putting in the hours as two key factors in his continued success. Of course, it helps that he loves what he does.
Unlike Cinderella, Steven doesn’t have a fairy godmother, although he admits that his mother-in-law comes pretty close. When Steven and his wife decided to try out living in the Czech Republic for a few months, it was his mother-in-law’s help that tipped the scale in favor of staying. After eight months working in a restaurant in Prague’s center, Steven began to get homesick. He missed the tightknit support system he had back home where his four sisters doted on him and his first boss, a typical boisterous Italian restaurant owner, was like a father figure. His wife suggested that it was time for Steven to open his own restaurant.
She found the space, formerly called JB Club, on her first day of looking. Housed in the building where the legendary Czech opera singer Ema Destinnová was born, the basement restaurant had a story of its own to share. Steven liked the fireplace in the center of the front room, the piano and the intimate couch sitting area. When he was trying to come up with a name that would translate his vision of comfortable, upscale dining without the stuffiness associated with fancy restaurants, his wife suggested that he take advantage of the building’s history.
As the name implies, you are dining “At Ema’s.” While the restaurant accommodates a banquet meal for 60, eating there you feel more as if you’ve been invited over to your grandmother’s for a family meal. If, that is, your grandmother happens to serve up shrimp and crab meat bisque, wild boar carpaccio or grilled Cajun swordfish with homemade sorbet for dessert, just a few of the offerings on the restaurant’s new business lunch menu (offered from M – F 11:00- 14:00, Price: 250 CZK). Over the years, customers have given Steven pictures of the famous soprano or other Ema memorabilia, which he keeps on hand in the restaurant for ambiance.
Steven enjoys cooking for groups, particularly over large flames, and upon request he offers special cooking shows and tableside cooking at the restaurant. He’s a frequent guest at US Embassy events where he’s catered Thanksgiving dinners and given demonstrations on how to cook Angus steaks. His restaurant is also a favorite for private events, like a birthday party held there for the Czech singer Lucie Bílá, holiday parties for international companies, tour group dinners and even wedding receptions. Steven says his restaurant is a place where people can go to relax and be pampered. If you book a table for the evening; he’s not going to ask you to leave at a certain time. His restaurant is highly rated for Valentine’s Day and date nights – to date five different customers have proposed there.
Word about Steven’s innovative kitchen first got out a few years ago when Steven and his staff attended Maurer’s Prague Food Festival for the second time. In an upscale festival event which draws around 20,000 guests, the Prague Food Festival is held annually at the end of May in the garden area of the Prague Castle grounds. Forty-two tents are set up to accommodate the vendors, food is served on real plates and the event feels more like fine dining a la carte than your typical festival. The first year Steven entered on a whim to see what the hype was about.
The second year, he came to the festival with 90 pounds of imported US crab meat to make Maryland-style crab cakes with a spicy corn relish sauce. Lines formed outside his tent (although his staff served customers quickly). He sold out before the festival had finished, and his reputation as a figure in Prague’s restaurant scene was established. Another year, Steven served bison steaks, once again to rave reviews by attendees.
Like Maurer’s Selection, the festival’s awards are based on responses from attendees who have eaten the food. Steven is quick to say that he’s grateful for his growing community of satisfied customers.
As one way of say thank you, Steven is opening his restaurant for the first time ever on Christmas Eve, where guests can experience a five-course meal including deer carpaccio, scallops, sturgeon, New Zealand rack of lamb and gingerbread cake for dessert. For New Year’s Eve dinner expect a different, though no less enticing, five-course offering with Black Angus filet mignon served with blue crab cognac sauce as a highlight. Reservations are recommended.
For those looking to purchase family or friends a dinner out at U Emy Destinnové, tickets are now on sale for the Grand Restaurant Festival which takes place from January 15 – February 26, 2016. Buy a ticket for 250 CZK (a one-course meal and a bottled water), 500 CZK (a two-course meal, 1 glass of wine or beer and a bottled water) or 600 CZK (a three-course meal, 2 glasses of wine or beer and a bottled water).
While the weather outside is cold, come to warm up at U Emy Destinnové. Take a seat near the fireplace, enjoy top-rated cooking and experience a welcoming atmosphere.
Without a doubt, you know Steven will be there.
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