24 Jun Meet Chef Paul Hajewski at 99 Sea Level
Chef Paul Hajewski sits down casually with an interesting blend of authority and laid-back sensibility. He may be new to Sussex County, but he’s a well-seasoned veteran in the kitchen, and his classic style often yields to creativity, making him a worthy captain at 99 Sea Level. Hajewski is poised to lead his staff, and the menu, in a new direction, but it all starts, he says, with a strong foundation of trust.
“I lead by example,” he says, “and I am a hands-on chef. Walking into a well-established kitchen like we have here at 99 Sea Level can be a challenge, so I begin by working the line, sweeping the floors, and washing the dishes.”
A clear leader, Hajewski will not ask anyone on his team to do anything he is not willing to do himself, a technique he picked up early from his first kitchen mentor, Chef Rudy Speckamp, a German Chef and a certified MasterChef from the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Hajewski graduated from the Baltimore International Culinary College in 1997, and landed in Speckamp’s restaurant, Rudy’s 2900, that same year. “That was where I learned all the fundamentals that have propelled me in my career today. Rudy was strict, and had a lot of old school techniques, and that informed my philosophy that I use to this day.”
Hajewski explains that before anyone can truly blossom into their creativity, he feels they must first learn solid technique, for example, how to make the perfect hollandaise sauce, or veal stock. In coming into the kitchen at 99 Sea Level, the focus is on foundational techniques and guidance with his staff. Hajewski said it all starts very simply, with mise en place, meaning “everything in it’s place,” in French. “We start with mise en place, getting everything laid out, and then from there, we start building building flavor. I began with a focus on soups.”
He has enjoyed building a natural rapport with his kitchen staff, and seeing where their interests lie. “One thing I love is teaching,” he says. “If I have a dishwasher who wants to learn cooking techniques, I’m excited about that.” In Hajewski’s kitchen, the competition is turned off. There is room for everyone, and the value is immediately raised as a result.
As for evolving the menu at 99 Sea Level, Hajewski plans to roll out a simplified, accessible menu that incorporates weekly specials to keep things fresh. “My culinary philosophy has evolved as I have gotten older, and I always like to consider trending dietary needs. I love dishes that have five or six ingredients that showcases the protein.” Hajewski also has a strong focus on using healthy fats like avocado, grapeseed, and coconut oils, and spicing with well-balanced vinaigrettes. Hajewski says to expect lots of seafood items that emphasize local flavors, as well as great cuts of meat.
99 Sea Level, located on the boardwalk in Bethany Beach, has a new operational team in place with Chef Paul Hajweski and General Manager Nicole Van Niekerk. Both are highly experienced and qualified to bring a new dining experience, with excellent service, to 99 Sea Level. For more information visit them on Facebook or on the web at www.99sealevel.com