U Emy Destinnové celebrates 10 years

The chef originally didn't intend to stay so long at one spot

The restaurant U Emy Destinnové will soon celebratingits10th anniversary. The first meal was served Nov. 1, 2007. When chef Steven Trumpfheller came here a short time before opening the small eatery, he intended only to stay for a little while.

“When I first moved here, I didn't think I would stay here as long as I have. I thought it would be a little trial. I was in my mid-30s. I thought I would come for a couple of years and try it out. I wasn't planning on opening my own restaurant. Then the opportunity arrived. I thought it would be a good adventure because I was young. I never imagined it would be 10 years later and I would be here, still working at the same restaurant. I can't believe it,” he said.He still takes a hands-on role every day the restaurant is open. “It still has a good reputation, and I am still the one cooking. I don't have a second guy cooking. It is me all the time,” he said.

The menu has changed over the years, but Trumpfheller has kept to many of the same themes.

“I try to keep the same typical fish, but change the technique and different ways of serving it. The salmon and swordfish have always been staples on my menu because people enjoy them. I get them nice and fresh. I do scallops because I get them from the US. As an American chef it is nice to showcase our scallops,” he said.

“I try to constantly evolve. Over the 10 years, I have made like 15 different menus. The restaurant is a small place, so I just to keep changing it. One thing I always have is Philadelphia cheesecake as a daily offer, because of where I am from, but I am always changing the flavors. The desserts have always been a focus,” he said. Trumpfheller comes from the Northeast of the US.

He likes the mix of clientele that has developed and is especially grateful for all of the help he has gotten from the Czech community. “It's a melting pot of the Czech Republic. Everybody wants to come here. Everybody loves it here,” he said, adding that he has made many good friends through his work.

“I am just very grateful for being able to come to this country, not knowing at all the language, and learning and slowly getting accepted. It was very difficult in the beginning with the translations and really understanding certain aspects of the Czech palate. I'm humbled to say that it has been great to be here for the 10 years and hopefully it is going to keep going,” he said.

He tries to maintain a pleasant atmosphere. “I let the people feel this is a nice friendly environment. I go to the tables and talk to each guest and check up on them myself personally,” he says.

He can also cook at someone's table. “If somebody orders the chef table I can cook in front of them. It is old-style French, but I enjoy doing it. I get to interact with the guest and it is nice for a date night. A lot of people come for this, it is a date night type of thing,” he said.

As for pleasing the Czech palate, he has only made minor changes. “I would probably use more different herbs or dried ingredients. I pretty much try to keep the techniques the same as I learned when I was younger. I just try to play with the sauces and not get out of my comfort zone, not get overly fancy; keep it simple,” he said.

Over the past decade, the food scene has changed considerably. “When I first opened I wasn't used to buying anything that wasn't high quality. It took some time to get certain ingredients that I was comfortable using, comfortable selling and knew that client would be satisfied with,” he said.

“In the last five or six years it has been a lot easier to purchase special fish or meat, and to get stuff from all different parts of the world,” he said.

The guests have also gotten a bit more sophisticated. “It seems now there is such a great mix of people living in the Czech Republic who are used to different products from different parts of the world,” he said.

The culinary scene has expanded drastically. “It has blossomed from what it was when I first came here. There were certain spots that did certain things. Now you can go to different parts of Prague and every place has its things. It is really fantastic,” he said.

Czechs are learning about the different types of foods, and have increased expectations. “There are so many different choices for good restaurants now. Maybe before they didn't have as many good choices. So now you have to keep your standards on a certain level for them because they are expecting it,” he said, estimating that the majority of families go out to eat often. “They enjoy the social life and going out to spend some time with friends or family, or even a business dinner. They go out probably three or four times a week to a restaurant to eat,” he said.

He also says the community of top chefs is very close. “There's good fun competition among us chefs. We all know each other pretty well. One thing I have been grateful for is that if I have any question or I am looking for a special ingredient or any kind of help, the chefs are very friendly and have been helping me out over the years which has been great. So I think it is a friendly competition of who can make this, who can do that,” he said.

The name of the restaurant sometimes intrigues people. It is named for early 20th-century opera star Ema Destinnová, who was born in the house. She was also a key figure in the Czechoslovak independence movement and appears on the current Kč 2,000 banknote.

Trumpfheller said that occasional opera fan does go the restaurant, or that people want to know about the name. He has information about her and some of her music on the restaurant's website. “She is a treasure for the Czech people. She brought a lot of attention onto the country at the time when there was no social media,” he said.

Trumpfheller has also been trying to expand his horizons beyond the restaurant. “I try to do catering events, where I can do cooking at sites where I would be a special guest chef,” he said, adding that he was a special guest chef at the US Embassy for an occasion.

He has also been a guest at hotels and other venues to show the kitchen staff some different techniques or different ways of using ingredients. “I show how to prepare the ingredients a little bit differently as an American chef compared to a Czech- or European-style chef. It's been fun. It's been a way to get my name out there and meet new people. It is also a way to keep innovating myself to something new, pushing myself to new limits,” he said.

U Emy Destinnové is located at Kateřinská 1526/7 in Prague's New Town, near the IP Pavlova metro and tram stops.

Related articles:
A Fireside Chat at U Emy Destinnové - Prague.TV, 10.12.015
Restaurant U Emy Destinnové plans some big changes - Prague.TV, 13.05.2016

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