Cobble Hill: Innovative Cedar Rapids Chef Andy Schumacher
Over the past four years, chef Andy Schumacher has steadily worked to build the crucial element of trust with his clientele at Cobble Hill Eatery & Dispensary in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with experimental flavors and ingredient combinations.
While the local dining scene has deemed Cobble Hill a special-occasion restaurant, Schumacher and his wife Carrie have also opened a new venue that veers toward the opposite end of the culinary spectrum: a casual Mexican joint called Caucho. At both restaurants, Schumacher’s goal is for guests to enjoy trying something new. He avoids classics on his menus, though he remains confident guests will always find a recognizable point of entry.
Schumacher grew up in Cedar Rapids, and has returned to his hometown after a stint in culinary school and restaurant work in New York City. He’s been featured on the Food Network and has earned culinary-industry accolades, including a James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef: Midwest” finalist run in 2015. When we chatted with Schumacher, he shared his recipe for poached Arctic char, his favorite mescal and his penchant for the unexpected recipe.
Your dishes often feature ingredients customers might not expect to see paired together, like Parmesan churros or sweet potato beignets. Are people more open to those new concepts now that you’ve been open for four years?
When we first opened, it was a real source of stress for us. I know the market, and I know what people are expecting in a meal here. They aren’t used to this style of cuisine. We slowly built our base with the consistency of our food and service, and people started to realize the experience they’d have if they came in. With that came trust in us and what we were serving. You know you’re going to get something different from the usual—our menu doesn’t really give you a choice.
Is the same true at Caucho?
Yeah, I do think that’s the case. I became obsessed with making our own corn tortillas. We grind our own corn, mix our own dough and roll them out. The idea was to bring our approach to Caucho with a different style and price point but still have that same level of service and quality of food. The stressful part of being a restaurant owner is always being prepared to evolve, to not become stagnant.
Do you have a favorite on the Caucho menu?
I was really surprised by all the dried Mexican chiles and how completely different their flavor profiles are. I was experimenting with guajillo chiles, and we made a sauce out of them with some toasted garlic. Then we pureed it all with water and salt. It has this very haunting flavor that was really surprising, because it was born out of two ingredients. It’s cool when simplicity transcends itself and you’re getting into something that’s very complex.
The beverage program is also a strong focus at both restaurants. Do you have a favorite among the mezcals at Caucho?
The Ilegal Mezcal Añejo. I tend to like the mezcals that are aged. I really like bourbon, and they take on a little of that character. It also has this amazing vanilla component. When the liquor order came in, I saw it and thought, “I’ll try this one.” I was sipping it straight when my wife came and said, “Do you know that’s an $80 bottle?” I thought, “Oh, shit!” But then was like, “Wait, I own the place!”
What was the inspiration behind the poached Arctic char recipe you shared with us?
The original concept for it was formulated by my sous chef, Elliot Brown. It was a collaborative recipe between the two of us. One of the hallmarks of our restaurants is that we like to get the cooks involved in the creative process. We have them propose ideas that I help flesh out, often from a technical standpoint.
Dashi is a simple Japanese stock that creates a base flavor for a lot of dishes. We wanted to take that idea and elevate it with fish broth and fish bones, which is a typical foundation for European-style dishes. The goal was to create something that was rich with a real depth of flavor, but achieve that in a light, delicate way. There’s not a lot of fat in it, and it’s very delicately cooked, but it does give the illusion of richness. You can also freeze the broth in individual sealed containers and have it for several different dinners. You’d just pick up some fresh fish at the store and cook it with some vegetables.
Photography by Attilio D’Agostino.