It took Dr. Colby Chamberlain just one meal to fall in love with Adam Lemieux’s cooking.
About four months ago, Lemieux’s wife — Dr. Sarah Arnold — brought some of his dishes in for a group of 28 doctors and nurse practitioners at UPMC Shadyside Hospital. Lemieux, an aspiring chef who lives in Point Breeze, was looking to grow his customer base.
“He made smoked beef over couscous — that was really good,” said Chamberlain, a North Hills native whose 12-hour shifts are broken up whenever she can grab a few minutes for lunch. “He’s really good with salads and he’s great with dressings. His salad dressings have really unique flavors.”
“The very first time she brought his stuff in,” she said, “we were hooked.”
Lemieux, who is Jewish and a Community Day School parent, launched his catering company, Chef In Pittsburgh, a few months ago. This summer, he started cooking in the professional kitchen at Temple Sinai, where his family attends services.
But that’s only part of Lemieux’s story.
Though he majored in business management at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, Lemieux found his knack for cooking early.
Raised Christian in Chicago’s northern suburbs, Lemieux worked summers from junior high school through college at a country club about 30 miles north of downtown Chicago. After graduating college in 2005, Lemieux worked in dining services; by 2008, he was enrolled in culinary school and taking gigs at places like the Tower Club, a Chicago venue popular with attorneys.
After culinary school, he dove into the world of Jewish cooking while leading a 1,200-meal-a-day kosher kitchen as executive chef of a Skokie, Illinois, rehabilitation center. Though he already loved Jewish staples like corned beef, brisket and matzo ball soup, in Skokie he became masterful at preparing dishes like potato kugel. (He prefers his kugels savory.)
“The weirdest thing for me was the gefilte fish,” Lemieux laughed. “I mean, I knew about it. But, opening a 10-pound can, that was a little weird.”
In 2011, he moved to Michigan, where he handled special-diet dishes — mostly halal and vegetarian — at the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus. He then worked at Wayne State University, where he met his future wife. They wed in 2014 and settled in Pittsburgh, where their son, now a second grader at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill, was born nearly two years later.
While Arnold completed her residency and later worked in internal medicine at UPMC Shadyside, Lemieux led another rehabilitation center’s kitchen — this time in Renfrew, Butler County. While diets often were restrictive, he started to finesse ways to cook or roast vegetables that strove to retrain original flavors and textures.
Lemieux, who converted to Judaism during the pandemic, also became a holiday cooking hit among his wife’s family, some of whom have Pittsburgh roots dating back three and four generations.
“When I met Adam, it was funny because he was already a much better Jewish chef than anyone in my family,” Arnold said. “His chicken noodle soup is the best chicken noodle soup you’ll ever have. His broths are insane.”
Lemieux, who left the Butler County job in January and became his own boss, has worked wonders with Arnold’s brisket recipe. Though not elaborate — it employs both Heinz ketchup and chili sauce — Lemieux carefully picks the right brisket cut, trims all the fat and cooks the meat slowly, often for 12 hours overnight.
He later cuts the brisket cold and reheats it, creating a dish that almost literally melts on the tongue. Lemieux often pairs brisket with mushroom farro, a source of plant-based protein cooked with lemons, green beans and roasted carrots.
“See, it’s nice and tender,” said Lemieux, as he sampled the dish at the Temple Sinai kitchen. “I’d say cooking it early and cutting it well, those are the secrets I’ve got.”
It’s easy to see why Lemieux is turning heads among doctors, Jewish families and those looking for well-cooked, ready-to-eat meals. In addition to making butter, which he prepares in several flavors, Lemieux even pickles daikon radishes.
“Things like that really make the difference,” he said. “I work to cook from scratch.”
When he cooks flank steak, Lemieux says he doesn’t grill or broil it. He keeps it tender and juicy by preparing it sous vide, placing it in a temperature-controlled water bath in a vacuum-sealed bag, for two hours at just 120 F. He lines the meat with organic date syrup — he finds it’s less bitter than molasses.
His pairings also are key. He puts tabouli — made fresh from kale, parsley, celery, sweet peppers and more — with quinoa instead of bulgur wheat. He marinates olives and capers for his roasted cauliflower. His carrots, carefully cooked, are bathed in a lime-chili glaze.
“Hot or cold, I end up selling a lot of vegetables to people,” he laughed.
Dr. Priyanka Jagar knows why.
Jagar grew up vegetarian in India and lived in Chicago for three years before taking a UPMC Shadyside residency about nine years ago. She’s a big fan of Lemieux’s quiches and Indian friend rice.
But Jagar, who has Lemieux cook her ready-to-eat meals regularly, said she also has a sweet tooth.
“His desserts are my favorite,” said Jagar, who lives in Highland Park. “He made this strawberry thing, a cake. It was one of the best things I’ve had in my life.”
Lemieux’s son also has gotten into the action; the two like to cook latkes together for Chanukah. And Lemieux’s son loves his dad’s soup.
Arnold said she’s impressed by Lemieux’s tenacity as he launches his cooking operation.
“I think it’s bold of him, and I think it’s more rewarding for him,” she said. “He’s excellent at what he does. And it’s nice to see him doing what he does best — on his own terms.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.