In the beginning, in the tiny town of Tavares, there was a Post Office on Lake Dora.
Time passed, and in 1984 the building became the Town Tavern, owned by Frank O'Keefe. Meanwhile, far to the north, Andrew O'Keefe was attending the New England Culinary Institute. Julia Child was on hand for his graduation.
Drew's first job, catering at the boss's house - his dad, general manager of the Hotel Bethlehem. The chef's coat was tailor made for him by the ladies in the housekeeping department who he befriended by sneaking tidbits out of the kitchen. Drew worked in the hotel kitchen from the age of 9 till his 16th birthday, when he went to work for the competition across town. He then cooked his way up and down the northeastern coast and in the hotels of Chicago with his dream intact.
It's been a whirlwind career that includes certification by the National Restaurant Association in butchering, soups, baking and cake decorating; apprentice cook at Hotel Bethlehem; head rounds cook at Normandy Inn in Spring Lake, N.J.; line cook at Yankee Clipper, Sea Girt, N.J.; broiler cook at Schnider's Restaurant, Avon, N.J.; a manager at Top of the Town in Boca Raton; internship rounds cook in Fort Lauderdale, assistant pastry chef at Maison Blanche Restaurant in Washington and pastry chef at Holiday Plaza Complex in Matteson, Il.
His first chef's job was at the age of 15 and he was teaching by the age of 20. He has trained people in pastry and desserts, engaged in consulting work and has become known for his pastry stylings.
Today, at the age of 23, he is able to operate his own business the way he wants to do it.
Although the Tavern on the Lake is only open six days a week, O'Keefe usually spends his free Sundays there too. It's his life. He never really wanted to do anything else.
"We tried to get him out of the kitchen, but all efforts failed," says his father. "Today he's even training his younger brother, Christopher, in the culinary arts. And today I'm the go-fer, not Andrew."
Few cooks today start baking from scratch. Most reach for a cake mix and are pleased when the result is light with no sagging centers.
But Andrew O'Keefe didn't even blink when Louis Szathmary, the famous chef of The Bakery in Chicago, called the New England Culinary Institute, asking for a chef to make a cake that would serve 30,000 people.
It was President Reagan's 1985 inaugural cake, made at the institute in Montpelier, Vt., taken to Washington D.C. in an 18 wheeler along with a 4' x 1.5' replica of the Capitol to top the entire creation.
"An architect drew up the plan and we laid it out," says O'Keefe, who was then pastry chef instructor at the institute.
It took about a week and a half of 18 hour days to make the cake and three days of construction in Washington. O'Keefe took seven of his students with him to Washington to assist in the preparation.
His efforts were rewarded with a gold medal for heading the inaugural cake preparation team. He also holds a second place bronze medal awarded by the nation's Capital Chef's Association and the American Culinary Federation at the Washington 15th Salon of Culinary Arts.
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