WHEELING - What inspires Charlie Schlegel, chef at Ye Olde Alpha? "Eating," quips Schlegel. "The end result. Who doesn't want to eat good food?"
As a restaurant owner, Schlegel cares about what goes onto the plates and describes the Alpha's menu as "classic American cuisine," including everything from burgers and wings to steak and seafood. "Yes, some of the most popular items are the wings and burgers," he says. "But they're GOOD wings and burgers. It's quality food, not fast food."
He, wife Paula and partners Mark and Karri Thomas bought Ye Olde Alpha, (www.yeoldeapha.com) at 50 Carmel Rd., in 2005, and it's become one of Wheeling's most popular restaurants. Schlegel says he may not have the textbook culinary training, but he's "always been a cook" and began his restaurant career at age 16 washing dishes in East Haven, Conn. He got a degree in history from Providence College in Rhode Island, but really took to working in a Mexican restaurant. Today, the Alpha's menu reflects that interest with "Mexican Mondays" and items like fajitas and chicken chimichangas as standard fare.
Charlie Schlegel, owner/chef at Ye Olde Alpha, prepares fresh melon for the day’s lunch service. Schlegel cultivates relationships with sources to procure the best and freshest ingredients.
It's all about taste with Schlegel - fresh herbs like cilantro and basil have bright, fresh flavors, and he echoes what many chefs point to as a main ingredient: developing close working relationships with your resources. "We seek out the best products that we can find within our budget. It's a matter of forming relationships with sources. You have to get to know each other, develop trust. It takes time and takes the desire to create the best food possible."
When the "Farm to Table" committee contacted him last year, Schlegel was in. "We sat around a table and talked about the event and what was needed. My goal is giving people good food. At the Alpha, we also have a philosophy. We want to support and be associated with those who are doing good things. 'Farm to Table' is a good thing."
Schlegel thinks the event's popularity and value lies in "making people feel good." The food is healthier because it's fresh. The atmosphere is beautiful and congenial. People are able to meet some of the Ohio Valley's growers and food experts and become more educated about local produce and its importance.
Acknowledging that last year's "Farm to Table" was a great success, he's preparing for an even better event next weekend. What will be on the menu? "It will definitely have a Mexican theme," Schlegel says. "It works well in that setting, and there will be lots of fresh vegetables."
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org