Long before the coronavirus became a household world, Chef Mark Eastman proved he could pivot.
The Schoharie, New York, native has pursued his craft from Saratoga Springs to Philadelphia, where he worked at Brasserie Perrier. He’s cooked for the Grateful Dead and a grateful Delaware book club.
Eastman follows his instincts, and most recently, that means opening Chefs’ Haven Café in Independence Mall in Brandywine Hundred. The new restaurant was expected to start serving customers on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
The café is situated in the site formerly occupied by De La Coeur Café et Boulangerie, which had debuted in February and closed in May. (Ciro Forty Acres now occupies De La Coeur’s Trolley Square-area space.)
Eastman, who will serve breakfast and lunch, will continue to operate Chefs’ Haven in Hockessin, which he founded in 2008 to offer cooking classes for groups — including book clubs — and sell products, such as his artisanal bread.
It won’t be easy. But Eastman, a 30-year culinary veteran, is no stranger to challenges.
Going with the flow
Eastman grew up in a rural area about 30 minutes from Albany, New York.
“It’s out in the middle of nowhere — farm country,” he said.
He learned to cook from his mother, but she wanted him to attend a community college specializing in agriculture.
“It wasn’t something I was interested in,” he said of the curriculum. “It didn’t last very long.”
He moved to Saratoga Springs and started as a bar boy in a high-end restaurant in the 1980s and graduated to server. Hauling home up to $400 a night in tips, Eastman was content. His fiancée, however, urged him to become a chef with a career path.
At that time, admission to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont required five years of experience, an entrance exam and a skills test, such as breaking down anything from a frog to a rabbit.
“Half the class was gone the first day,” he recalled. Eastman, however, aced it all.
Making a move
After graduating, Eastman held several hospitality jobs in Sarasota. As the executive chef at the Sarasota Performing Arts Center, he prepared meals for such acts as Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones.
“It was like a three-ring circus,” he said.
Eastman loved it, but the hours were hard on his family. They moved to West Chester, where his wife had friends, and Eastman worked at Dilworthtown Inn before opening The Gables in Chadds Ford.
A position at Brasserie Perrier led to crazy hours again. He often worked 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m, six days a week. The hours didn’t improve once he took a job with a food services and facilities-management company.
Tired of the grind, he opened Chefs’ Haven at 1304 Old Lancaster Pike in Hockessin in 2008.
Eastman quickly became known for his classes, his bread and his imported cheeses.
When Delaware Gov. John Carney declared a state of emergency in March to help curb the coronavirus, he halted his cooking classes and focused on prepared foods. The made-from-scratch aficionado cures and smokes pastrami and corned beef and makes the sausages, all of which will be featured in the new café.
The Independence Mall location “kind of dropped into my lap,” said Eastman, who is partnering with Alexander Sabo on the project.
He had hoped to take over the neighboring space in Hockessin that housed Nal Restaurant, but the landlord made other plans.
The café will serve breakfast and lunch. Hashes will include the standard corned beef, along with a mushroom hash.
To be sure, Eastman likes putting his signature on his dishes. House Benedict, for instance, will feature smoked pastrami with hollandaise on rye bread. Instead of shrimp-and-grits, he’ll serve spicy shrimp on grits on sourdough splashed with chipotle hollandaise.
The spinach-and-feta omelet contains roasted shishito peppers, while the mushroom omelet is folded around goat cheese. Eastman will also feature an assortment of breakfast bowls.
Eastman will take lunch up a level. Instead of romaine, he’ll have baby bok choy in his Caesar, with house-made croutons, radishes and fried shallots. Fans of his chicken-curry salad in Hockessin will find it in Wilmington, along with his macaroni-and-cheese.
“Everyone goes nuts over it here — I can’t keep it in the house,” he said of the supreme comfort food.
Eastman had a more extensive menu, but for right now, he just wants to get started.
“I can see what works and change it up if I need to.”
Find Chefs’ Haven Café in Independence Mall at 1601 Concord Pike, Wilmington 19803 or go to chefshavende.com