From dancer to chef

Sunday Star - - BUSINESS - By RICHARD POLK rpolk@ches­pub.com

DEN­TON — When Steve Konopel­ski and Rob Grif­fith first saw the house at 119 Gay St., they were en­chanted by its charm and its views of the Chop­tank River.

“We de­cided we wanted to move to Mary­land be­cause all of Rob’s fam­ily lives in Mary­land and his par­ents re­tired to Cam­bridge,” Konopel­ski said. “The Eastern Shore quickly be­came the place we wanted to be. We de­cided on Den­ton be­cause of the house. Once we saw this house and the prop­erty, the view the prop­erty has of the wa­ter, we fell in love with the house and Den­ton.

The view of the Chop­tank from the house’s back yard in­cludes the old wooden rail­road tres­tle with the cen­ter por­tion turned side­ways so it can’t be used as a cross­ing.

The name of the house was born. Turn­bridge Point Inn is now a fix­ture in down­town Den­ton.

They bought the house in 2013 and de­cided to trans­form it into a bed & break­fast inn.

Be­fore they bought it, the house had been a pri­vate home with oc­ca­sional visi­tors rent­ing out a cou­ple of rooms. The pair de­cided the house

would be­come an ex­cel­lent inn with rooms for guests, a par­lor, din­ing room with cafe ta­bles, a li­brary and screened-in porch with rock­ers for re­lax­ation. Out­side there was room for chair group­ing and a fire pit on the gen­tle slope down to the shore of the Chop­tank.

For Konopel­ski, dance was his first love. He had grown up in Saskatchewan, Canada. Dance and mu­sic filled his house­hold as a young boy.

“My fa­ther was a hobby mu­si­cal and my mother was a teenager in the ‘50s so we grew up in a house where there was a lot of mu­sic and when we had to do our Satur­day morn­ing chores my mother al­ways made it more of a game so mu­sic was al­ways play­ing. We could dance and sort of skip around while we were dust­ing.

“Dance and mu­sic was some­thing that was not for­eign to me, it is ba­si­cally how I grew up.”

So when he got to see a recital and see dance in more of an or­ga­nized form, “it just clicked that there was some­thing to this,” he said.

“As I started grow­ing up I started at­tend­ing a lot of sum­mer school in dance. I started to as­sume that it was es­sen­tial like a pro­fes­sional hobby. I never re­al­ized it was a full-time pro­fes­sion,” he said.

When he was 16, he left Saskatchewan to at­tend the Royal Win­nipeg Bal­let School in the Pro­fes­sional Divi­sion, grad­u­at­ing in 1997. He per­formed in a num­ber of roles in pro­duc­tions like “Cats,” “West Side Story” and “Beauty and the Beast.” In “Beauty and the Beast,” he was cast as the Cheese Grater. Was this a taste of his culi­nary ca­reer to come?

“In my fi­nal year of bal­let school I started to think about what I wanted my per­form­ing ca­reer to be,” Konopel­ski said. “I wanted to broaden my hori­zons a bit more. I felt the bal­let world was go­ing to pi­geon hole me, es­pe­cially be­cause of my height. All through school I only did char­ac­ter roles.”

Be­cause of his height, (he’s 5-feet 7-inches tall) he could never be a prin­ci­pal dancer.

As a re­sult, Konopel­ski started go­ing for roles in mu­si­cal theater. He did sev­eral Broad­way shows and cruise ships and re­gional theater.

“I worked a ton in a bunch of great places with a lot of amaz­ing peo­ple,” he said.

“But I started think­ing about re­tire­ment and think­ing about other things I wanted to do,” he said.

Then he re­mem­bered his time in the fam­ily kitchen with his mother.

“My mom taught me how to cook. She was a very, very good cook. So that was some­thing I grew up know­ing how to do,” he re­called.

“I was think­ing about what my new ca­reer was go­ing to be. I was think­ing about stuff that would al­low me to still ex­press my cre­ativ­ity,” he said.

Be­com­ing a chef seemed to fit the mold. He thought about it for sev­eral years and gath­ered in­for­ma­tion about var­i­ous schools even while he was still danc­ing.

The more he thought about it, the more be­ing a chef be­came ap­peal­ing.

“As a per­former you can’t plan for the fu­ture. You never know what is go­ing to hap­pen to­mor­row. Broad­way shows open and close all the time. There is no sta­bil­ity in that ca­reer,” he said.

“Peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that in the per­form­ing world you are con­stantly jug­gling — when you have a job, you are al­ready look­ing for your next job. I hated liv­ing that way,” he said.

“The time fi­nally came for me to say ‘this is enough,’” he said.

He found him­self drawn to the French Culi­nary In­sti­tute (in Man­hat­tan). It is now called the In­ter­na­tional Culi­nary Cen­ter. Bobby Flay was an early grad­u­ate of that school.

“it was a fan­tas­tic school. It had a very rep­utable name. That was one of the rea­sons I chose it. Skills and tech­niques are what is go­ing to get you the job but a good pedigree is what is go­ing to get you into the door,” he said.

So he be­came a pas­try chef and graduated at the top of his class.

Konopel­ski cred­its his dance train­ing as a ma­jor fac­tor in his suc­cess.

“The thing that prob­a­bly pre­pared me a lot for culi­nary school was my dance train­ing be­cause as a dancer I had in­stilled in me spa­cial aware­ness — be­ing aware of your sur­round­ings at all times.

“When you are in a re­ally cramped kitchen, you need to be able to aware of the fact that there is some­body right next to you. If I take a step back while some is pass­ing be­hind me, I might run into them.

Spa­cial aware­ness is not some­thing that peo­ple are of­ten aware of.

But in a kitchen and kitchens are of­ten very, very tight, spa­cial aware­ness is of­ten very, very im­por­tant. So as a dancer that is some­thing that sort of comes sec­ond nature to you, he said.

This later came in handy when he com­peted in com­pe­ti­tions in cramped kitchens on tele­vi­sion show.

Mus­cle mem­ory is im­por­tant to a chef as it is to a dancer. Rep­e­ti­tion is the key, he said.

“The chef shows you tech­niques and you prac­tice a mil­lion times so your hand can ba­si­cally do it with­out think­ing.

“Even chop­ping onions is the same thing. It is a mus­cle­based task. The more you do it, the more your body can do it. That is how those guys can chop onions on TV cause they have prac­ticed it so much. That is mus­cle mem­ory. As a dancer, I un­der­stood that you have to do some­thing a half a mil­lion times be­fore it is un­der­stood. Younger kids in my class would ask why do we have to do this again. Why the rep­e­ti­tion? The rep­e­ti­tion is fun­da­men­tal. As a dancer I al­ready un­der­stood that,” he said.

Pas­try be­came his pas­sion as dance had ear­lier in his ca­reer.

“I have a very artis­tic mind and at the same time I need to have things very or­ga­nized and pre­cise, he said.

“Pas­try is very pre­cise with all the chem­i­cal re­ac­tions that we are deal­ing with. It is artis­tic while at the same time you be­gin to un­der­stand those rules you need to do in or­der to to play,” he said.

When asked about cook­ing steak, he replied: “I re­ally didn’t have any in­ter­est in cook­ing steak.”

Konopel­ski and Grif­fith had joked about start­ing a B&B when they re­tired. That be­came more of a re­al­ity as they started in­ves­ti­gat­ing B&B op­por­tu­ni­ties and dis­cov­ered Turn­bridge Point.

“We de­cided to do it now rather than wait un­til we are 65,” Konopel­ski said.

The house on Gay Street proved to be the right fit for the pair. It was close to shops and restau­rants while the closer you got to the wa­ter on the back­side of the prop­erty, the more coun­try it felt.

Konopel­ski and Grif­fith have di­vided their tal­ents. Grif­fith, a lawyer, han­dles the books for the inn and books lodgers. He also telecom­mutes with his law of­fice in New York. Konopel­ski dis­plays his culi­nary tal­ents with break­fasts, baked goods and daily pas­try specials. This in­cludes his sig­na­ture pastr y Kouign Amonns with his own unique take on the spe­cialty.

They pur­chased the house in Au­gust 2014 and opened it as an inn in May 2015 with an of­fi­cial rib­bon cut­ting cer­e­mony. The his­toric 1860s home fea­tures five bed­rooms with ac­com­mo­da­tions for up to 10 guests.

Konopel­ski graduated from pas­try school in 2012 and it wasn’t long be­fore is tal­ents be­came na­tion­ally rec­og­nized. He ap­plied for and com­peted on a hol­i­day bak­ing cham­pi­onship on the Food Net­work. It had eight episodes that were filmed over three days in Los An­ge­les. He came in sec­ond and his ef­forts have con­tin­ued to re­ceive no­to­ri­ety as the com­pe­ti­tion has been re­broad­cast for the last three years.

“It was great ex­po­sure for us when I went out to film cause I filmed in June and we opened Turn­bridge in May,” he said.

“It was a re­ally great way of get­ting some global ex­po­sure very, very quickly and the fact that I did so well also so the hometown au­di­ence got be­hind us ver y, ver y quickly.”

The inn can be reached at turn­bridge­point.com or call 443-448-4782.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A view of the front of Turn­bridge Point in Den­ton.

An­other view of the Chop­tank River from Turn­bridge Point.

CONTRIBUTED PHO­TOS

Rob Grif­fith and Steve Konopel­ski, co-own­ers and pro­pri­etors of Turn­bridge Point Inn.

The li­brary at Turn­bridge Point.

One of the five bed­rooms at the inn.

View of the Chop­tank River from the back­yard of Turn­bridge Point.

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