Ken Gladysz was born in Pawpaw, Michigan. His parents owned a local bar and restaurant. The area was mostly agricultural, known for fresh fruits and vegetables. He graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in accounting. Summers Ken made good money working for a construction company. As he tells the story his employers bid on and got a contract to do bridge repair in Florida. It was Ken’s first real opportunity to travel so he went to Florida to work on the bridge project. When the company he worked for was terminated he was left with the choice of returning home to the family business or get a job.
“I had $13 to my name,” Ken Gladysz recalled. He landed a job washing dishes at the Schooner Inn on Longboat Key on Florida’s west coast. He washed dishes hoping for an opportunity to cook. When it never came his way he left and went to work for Chef Joe Mele at ‘Incredibles.’ Thus began a wonderful working relationship with a mentoring chef that encouraged Ken to go to the Culinary Institute of America. It took him 3 1/2 years to save up enough money working two jobs, one six days a week the other four nights a week, until he could pay his CIA tuition in cash.
Of his studies at the CIA Ken says, “I had an incredible experience. I took my externship at an independent restaurant in Dallas working with chef-owner Victor Giellise originally from the Netherlands. Victor is now number three at the CIA, a certified Master Chef and has a PhD. I had a great externship and graduated in 1988.”
Chef Ken Gladysz went to work after graduation for a restaurant that was rated in the top 50 by Conde Nast and featured on the cover of Bon Appetit Magazine. “Anyone who was anyone ate at ‘Acteulle’ in Dallas. Chef Ken had now been cooking for 13 years and was told he should get a job with a hotel. That way he would have a wider breath of experience in many more areas and gain different insights. He took the advice and began a fourteen year long career with Four Seasons. He worked in Tokyo, Bali, Houston, Riaid and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“Four Seasons is built on hitting a standard. Jackson Hole is very seasonal. My mentor Chef Mele told me that there was an opening at The Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania. I’d been cooking for 25 years. I was married, we had our first child so I came up here and looked at the property. I liked it. I liked the management. I liked the idea of working for a foundation that benefited a school endowed by Milton Hershey, the Hotel’s founder. I liked the area. It is only 3 1/2 hours from New York and 2 1/2 hours from Washington, DC.”
Ken Gladysz started work as Executive Chef at The Hotel Hershey in February 2006. His masterpiece is creating options for diners at the hotel. “The Circular Dining Room Restaurant is our flagship. It is one of Milton Hershey’s seven golden eggs. When he was alive he took a personal involvement in the restaurant. The Circular is our most upscale restaurant but it is not snobby or sophisticated. A guest can feel comfortable wearing suit and tie and evening dress or slacks and polo shirt. I’d put The Circular up against any restaurant in the state,” Ken declared.
It is a magnificent setting. The Mediterranean style is grand yet not foreboding. The circular room has large, tall picture windows that look out onto two ponds and majestic gardens. Wrought iron lamps, akin to Moorish-Spanish style, provide lighting. The carpeting is subdued in color and pattern. A large circular bar is centerpiece. Spanish tile steps lead down from the hotel’s Fountain Lobby to the restaurant. A mahogany cased wine storage facility graces one entire wall with walk around access to the array of bottles, each tagged and numbered.
Leather covered chairs are comfortable set at bare blonde wood tables with dark wood borders. There are real flowers on every table and a flickering candle. Place mats resemble woven reeds in subdued brown set with modern stainless service. Our server Michael brought a tablet to the table. This ultra-modern convenience offers pictorial glimpses of menu and drink items. The China is Stelite made in England.
Michael brought pretzel sticks and rosemary chipotle bread with fresh creamery butter shaped as a tube to table. The bread was hot and savory. The Circular’s wine list offers classic and contemporary cocktails for about $12. For those that want to try Hershey’s Kisses Signature chocolate cocktail, it is made with chocolate Vodka, vanilla Vodka and white creme de cacao. There is also a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup martini made with peanut butter rum, chocolate Vodka and chocolate liqueur. Wines run about $8 a glass for Dark Horse Chardonnay and $13 for Sea Glass Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara.
The Circular’s menu items include snacks and appetizers. Their ocean cocktail is $15 and includes scallops, crab, shrimp, avocado with gin cocktail sauce. There is lobster bisque and five onion soup for about $8. Salads also run about $8 and their baby romaine includes confit tomatoes, roasted black olives with truffle brioche croutons.
Entrees feature cedar plank Alaskan salmon served with white bean cassoulet, chorizo and a horseradish buerre blanc, $32. There is Almond crusted Atlantic red snapper and fish of the day. Grilled swordfish is $30 and shrimp and scallops marinated with herb and lemon garlic is $32. Grilled selections include filet mignon in 6 or 8-ounce portions at $34 to $38, their 1855 Cowboy steak of 18 ounces is $49. Berkshire pork tenderloin is $25. Sides run $6 and include salt roasted heirloom carrots, Brussel sprouts, roasted asparagus and salt roasted twice baked potatoes.
The Hotel Hershey’s Executive Pastry Chef Cher Harris works wonders with bread, pasta and sweet treats. A local from nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Cher began making pizzas as a teen. She worked at a family restaurant and learned first hand, when the mother came in to make desserts, the art of making pies and popular sticky buns.
“I took night classes in cooking. I got a job at the Bent Creek Country Club as pastry chef then found a job at a college convention center,” Cher said. Her night classes led to a degree in culinary arts from the Harrisburg Area Community College. Cher joined The Hotel Hershey in 2006 as Assistant Pastry Chef, left and worked three years in another restaurant then returned to work with Executive Chef Ken Gladysz at Hershey.
“We have Chocolate-Covered February. We offer dessert buffets late at night. We do classes in chocolate and include chocolate throughout our menu. It changes day by day. That’s what I like about the hotel business,” the talented pastry chef said.
When asked what she enjoyed baking best she answered wedding cakes. “It is very interesting. A wedding cake has many profiles. It is like pairing wine with food. You can pull out a lot of flavor profiles with chocolate,” she added.
“It can’t be a main seller,” Chef Ken put in. “Chocolate is a side component, not the star. Every dessert menu must include chocolate. We change our menus four times a year for all of the Hotel’s restaurants.”
When asked what they enjoy best in desserts Cher answered quickly that tiramisu is her favorite. Ken returned to his boyhood roots enjoying fresh fruit and berries in his hometown in Michigan. He picked fresh fruit and berry tart as his favorite. Then Chef Ken explained his cooking philosophy when he said, “I don’t like flavors to compete. You need a star. Here at Hershey we have the ability to get the best products…”
“We make our own home made ice cream,” Cher added with a big smile.
“I really like seafood. A chef has to understand fish. Some can go on the grill, some poached. We use only USDA prime beef. It is fun to work on different projects. We try to work on our vegetarian dishes. It’s a coming world of food and we have to educate our staff and serving team to understand guests’ tastes,” Chef Ken said.
The Hotel Hershey serves Sunday brunch in The Circular dining room from 12 to 2:30 PM for $45 for adults and $19.50 for children 3 to 11. Their breakfast buffet at The Circular is served from 7 to 10 AM and costs $20.95 for adults and $10 for children 3 to 11.
Good food, tastefully prepared and served in elegant surroundings is the key to any fine dining experience. The Hotel Hershey offers Italian specialties in their Trevi 5 Restaurant and farm to table products at their Harvest Restaurant sited in another building on property. There is also the Iberian Lounge with its large hearth for lighter fare.
For more information about the Hershey area go to www.visithersheyharrisburg.org or call them toll-free at 1-877-727-8573 or 717-231-7788. For information about The Hotel Hershey and restaurants visit www.thehotelhershey.com or call them at 717-533-2171.