Wander to the serene wooded corner of campus above Blair Lake on a Sunday afternoon, and an unexpected scene greets your eyes: Four tables stand in a clearing, graced with starched white linens, floral centerpieces and gleaming flatware. Around them, eight formally dressed students and/or faculty members—appropriately distanced—are enjoying a delectable, chef-prepared dinner, while a small wait staff, also formally dressed, attends to their guests’ every need.
Welcome to Lords by the Lake, a student-run, pop-up restaurant that has been catering to Blair community members’ hunger for fine dining since mid-March. The concept is the brainchild of Teddy Zinn ’21 and Jack Weber ’21, entrepreneurial seniors who saw a desire among students and teachers for a formal, elevated dining experience this spring and cooked up a way to offer it.
An Inspired Idea
“The idea for a restaurant came to us over winter break,” Jack said, recounting a discussion with Teddy over dinner at a Charleston, South Carolina, eatery. With pandemic protocols firmly in place at Blair, formal dinners were not possible this year and trips to area restaurants had become taboo. “Teddy—perhaps inspired by the duck confit—sparked the idea of starting a restaurant on campus to satisfy the demand for a good dinner, and suddenly, we were bouncing ideas off each other. I offered the name ‘Lords by the Lake,’ and next thing we knew, we had everything!”
Upon returning to campus, Jack and Teddy presented their idea to Teddy’s four-year advisor, Dean of Admission Teddy Wenner ’96, and Dean of Students Carm Mazza. Mr. Wenner and Mr. Mazza offered advice on getting started and steered them to staff members who could help, including Director of Facilities Dave Schmitt and Assistant Director of Dining Services Scott Jordan. Within weeks, chefs George Sigety ’21 and Alex Chung ’22 were onboard, and on March 21, the first guests were enjoying Lords by the Lakes’ inaugural dinner.
Since then, Teddy, who has no previous food service experience, and Jack, who at one time worked as a waiter, have divided the managerial responsibilities for the restaurant’s popular weekly dinners. Jack handles social networking and reservations, posting the dinner menu on Instagram each Thursday and reserving places for the first four people to respond and their guests. He also takes care of accounting and waits tables, while Teddy serves as general manager, ensuring that everything runs smoothly.
Teddy and Jack are quick to acknowledge the vital role that George, Alex and recent chef recruit Jene Vachirapong ’23 play in the restaurant’s success. “We honestly couldn’t do it without them,” Teddy said. “They bring so much to the team, and it’s so important that everyone is on top of everything!”
George, Alex and Jene are responsible for all things food, creating the menus, ordering supplies through Mr. Jordan and Blair’s food service purveyors, and preparing each recipe from scratch. Head chef George comes by his role in the kitchen naturally, having learned how to cook from his father, Trustee Robert G. Sigety ’75, and grandmother, Katharine Sigety, who, he proudly points out, “ran one of the first cooking shows in America.”
“I’ve been cooking my entire life, including at our family’s holiday dinners, where we often enjoy traditional Hungarian dishes,” he said, noting that for one Lords by the Lake dinner he prepared his family’s recipe for chicken paprikash. His favorite Lords by the Lake meal so far, however, has been lobster risotto. “Everything went so smoothly that day, and the quality of the ingredients was great. It’s a treat to use something that you don’t often deal with.”
Alex, an aficionado of culinary videos, articles and books, is a self-trained cook who signed on with Lords by the Lake because he knew it would give him all that he was looking for in the kitchen: practice, experience and fun.
“My favorite meal to prepare so far has been the ragu,” he said, describing how he and Jene flew solo for that service with George away on college tours. “It was a dish I had long wanted to make in the States and in bulk, since some of the ingredients are rather difficult to get back home in Korea. It took me around five hours to complete the ragu, but it was certainly a memorable experience.”
For her part, Jene was delighted to pitch in that evening, her first time cooking with Lords by the Lake. “Cooking has always been a passion of mine, so, of course, I said yes when George, my volleyball team manager, asked me if I wanted to try it out,” she said. “I was really proud of the desserts I made, and I received so many compliments from our guests!”
Lessons Learned & Future Plans
Of course, not every service has gone according to plan. Teddy recalled a mishap involving a dropped container of hollandaise sauce that happened while plating Atlantic eggs benedict during Easter brunch. “Even amongst this tragedy, we found a way to salvage the dish, though,” he said. “This is the type of attitude we constantly activate, to prevail through any hardship.”
“Lords by the Lake has taught me a lot about myself and a lot about the importance of communication and persistence,” Jack said. “I have learned that it is incredibly difficult to run a restaurant, and it is so much more than just cooking and serving food.”
George also emphasized the value of good communication among team members, as well as the importance of being prepared for anything, staying organized while cooking and keeping things clean to make sure the meal runs smoothly. Alex added that trusting one another is a key factor in the restaurant’s success. “It isn’t an easy task for high school students with no prior culinary education to serve a three-course meal for eight people,” he said. “I’ve learned that you can’t pull off such a feat without trusting that your friends and colleagues are doing their jobs properly.”
With Teddy, Jack and George set to graduate in a few weeks, the founding team expressed gratitude to the faculty and staff members, including Mr. Schmitt, Mr. Jordan, Mr. Mazza and Mr. Wenner, who have been a “huge help” throughout the process of establishing and running Lords by the Lake. They hope that Alex and Jene will take the business to new heights next year and beyond—and the two younger chefs are all in with that plan.
Mr. Mazza and Mr. Wenner are impressed not only with everything that the Lords by the Lake team has accomplished since mid-March, but also with the way the founders are training their apprentices to take the reins. “This venture has been incredibly popular, and I love the fact that it is completely student-created and –led,” Mr. Wenner said, noting that the crew devotes about six hours of work to each dinner, in addition to all their other Blair commitments. “I also love that Lords by the Lake has real potential to continue even after Teddy, George and Jack graduate. Franchising should be next on their list!”
(Photos by Annalise Fried ’22.)