From dancer to chef
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.
A view of the front of Turnbridge Point in Denton.
Another view of the Choptank River from Turnbridge Point.
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.