Stage Story: Rob Drennan

Rob Drennan

Rob was one of our 2014-15 Grant Recipients, working at qui in Austin, TX, and staged at MAAEMO in May 2015. He returned to Oslo several months after his stage ended and is now Head of Research & Development for MAAEMO.


I had selected MAAEMO for my stage because I knew that it was something special and one that I wanted to be a part of. Even from the video on the website, I could tell that it was going to be a place where focus and attention to detail were prevalent. I wanted to recharge and push myself to be a better chef. I was able to use produce and ingredients that I had only seen on the internet or had read about in books. I was able to open a Mahogany clam that was 250+ years old - how amazing is that? Being able to go out and forage was another interesting experience - from seeing the difference between how sorrels grow in America vs. in Norway, to eating elm leaves that tasted like an apple and a walnut at the same time.

I would arrive at MAAEMO by 9am every day, change into whites, climb five flights of stairs, enter the kitchen and say hello to all the chefs. I would get situated on the prep list for the day, go over the reservations so I knew the appropriate amounts to prep, and see if there were any “TOPGUNS” (their word for someone special). Then I would clean the oyster bowls and the presentation plates for the cornet snack and the salsify. Once the presentation plates were finished I would jump straight into opening the 250+ year old Mahogany Clams, carefully slicing them with exactly 16 pieces per person. Twice a week we would get langoustines and would have to process these and save the claw and knuckle meat for a later use. Everyday we would stop at 2:30 in the afternoon and deep clean - this meant ceilings, windows, stations, equipment, and floors. After we would clean, it was time to set up our stations and mise en place. Tasting trays went up at 4:45 and then it was time to polish and do the floors again before service. I mostly worked on the snack station, but everyone helps everyone, so if one station is getting crushed, people would move over to help plate or run food. Once service started coming to an end it was like a domino affect to break down the kitchen. Snacks would break down and set up for petit fours, one would move to desserts and the other would help the hot line break down so when pastry was getting busy, it was all hands on deck. Beautiful to see!

The grant experience helped me to learn a lot about myself. Traveling by myself across the world to a place that I had never been to was scary but worth it. Figuring out a new language, which way was up and down, how to get to the grocery store… all of these things were frightening. So I found myself alone in Oslo, way outside of my comfort zone with the full intentions of exploring everything. I would take the train to a random stop and find my way back to my apartment, not only to see if I could do it, but to also to wander around admiring Oslo. Gorgeous.

MAAEMO certainly allowed me to learn new and interesting techniques, but what I took mostly from this experience was everything else - sense of urgency, discipline, respect, fun, attention to detail, focus, precision, skill, ingredients, camaraderie and humility. It's easy to lose sight of these things in your everyday environment. 

What stood out most to me was the quality time spent with such an amazing team. This opportunity helped me return to the States with a fresh outlook - approaching food, staff, family meal, product, everything with a new or even different lens. I would say that I am much more skilled than I was before, but for me it was the small things… How they deep cleaned, how they flowed during service, describing an ingredient as if it were a rare jewel, the conversations between everyone - these small things that may get overlooked is what I put under a microscope and dissected. Also understanding the whys of how everything is done. It is easy to say “that’s just how we do it” but knowing “this is why we do it” is what separates a good kitchen from a great one… in my opinion.