At 32 and only a decade into his career, chef Mark LeFebvre has not only moved quickly up the culinary career ladder, but also has an armful of awards to show for it.
And the executive chef at Cerberus Brewing Co. isn't just talented. He's a nice guy. He's always cheerful, has a megakilowatt smile and loves making his customers and staff happy.
His first brush with the restaurant business was by happenstance in Red Lodge, Mont., where he grew up.
"I turned 15, and I wanted to buy a car, and I needed a job," he said. "Both of my brothers had worked in a local French bistro. So I went there too and got a job washing dishes."
The bistro chef and owner, Michael Washburn, was a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
"I moved up quickly from washing dishes to the grill," LeFebvre said. "Chef Mike taught me the correct way of food prep right from the start. He was my inspiration."
After graduating high school in 2004, LeFebvre attended business school at the University of Montana for three years. There, he again got a kitchen job, this time at a country club. That revived his inspiration, and he realized the direction he wanted to go.
"I went to the CIA in New York and graduated the second in my class with honors," he said.
That was in 2008. In the middle of his last year at the CIA, he did a six-month externship at the famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., a Forbes Four-Star/AAA Four Diamond resort. He trained under executive chef Richard Boyer, who ultimately gave LeFebvre a permanent position on the culinary team.
"Rick gave me a shot at management," he said. "I loved working at the Biltmore. I got to learn the full spectrum of hotel work. Chef Rick is my mentor."
LeFebvre stayed at the Biltmore until 2013, when he followed Boyer to the American Club at Destination Kohler in Wisconsin, a Forbes Five-Star/AAA Five Diamond resort. LeFebvre was head restaurant chef of the farm-to-table eatery until October 2014.
That's when he came to The Broadmoor as the main chef de cuisine and head banquet chef.
But in February 2016, he took "a giant leap of faith" and accepted the executive chef position at Cerberus Brewing Co.
"I had always had the security of working in the resort industry," he said. "This did not have a prestigious name for my resume, the salary or the benefits that a large company could offer. I did it for me."
For Jerry Morris, one of the brewery's owners, hiring LeFebvre required no leap of faith.
"The thing that got my attention initially was his pedigree," Morris said.
A meal that LeFebvre cooked for Morris and his partners sealed the deal.
"It was at that point that we knew he was the one we wanted," Morris said. "It's obvious that Mark is dedicated to his craft. His ability to take whatever ingredients he's working with and elevate them so as to present their highest potential is constantly and consistently impressive."
LeFebvre's first few months at the brewery were spent not shaking and flipping food in a sauté pan, but helping to renovate the former veterinarian office that would become the brewery and restaurant. He also designed the kitchen and menu, selected vendors and hired his crew.
The brewery opened in September 2016, and the awards started rolling in from newspaper readers a year later. From The Gazette: Best Chef, bronze. From the Colorado Springs Business Journal: Best New Restaurant. From the Colorado Springs Independent: Best Chef, silver; Best New Restaurant, gold; Best Overall Restaurant, gold.
What makes him stand out?
"Everything we do at Cerberus is unique," he said. "My crazy mind and having worked at high-end resorts, I've seen the best chefs. I stick with the best local ingredients and classical cooking techniques and put my spin on the dish."
When Cerberus opened, for example, green tomatoes were in season, and he served them fried.
"When I could no longer get the green tomatoes, we had to take the dish off the menu," he said. "Customers were outraged."
Two items he has kept on the menu are the smoked brisket grilled cheese sandwich and the lamb sliders.
"The grilled cheese is Southern comfort food," he said. "It's a huge, flavorful sandwich. The lamb is seasoned with Merguez (North African) spices. People love these two items. I don't think I can ever take those off the menu."
Morris would agree.
"Mark has taken a staple of my upbringing, being a Texas boy, and combined it with a grilled cheese sandwich. Using a Gruyere cheese spread, a little beer mustard, some fried onions, Shisito peppers, arugula and toasting it on thick slices of a locally made sourdough, you've got a concoction that has made people sit up and take notice," he said. "Having sold over 21,000 of them in the short 16 months we've been open speaks for itself."
LeFebvre now is working on the menu for the Cerberus Taproom, which the owners are opening in February on the downtown site of the former Brewer's Republic.
"It will be a pizza place with the Cerberus flair," he said. "I'm going to do a figgy piggy pizza with IPA-braised pork belly, brandied figs, caramelized onions, gorgonzola crumbles and an over-easy fried egg in the middle."
For now, LeFebvre is happy doing what he's doing. But "my heart is in Montana," he said, and eventually he'd like to open his restaurant there.
"I've had a wild journey through the industry. I've tried to absorb much from every experience. I believe if you put your head down and do the work, your recognition will come."
His philosophy has paid off.
Says Cerberus sous chef Corey Hoff, "It has been great getting to work with Chef Mark the past six months. We make a great chef duo and, without a doubt, complement one another's skills, talents and management. He is by far the most organized and sensible chef that I have had the pleasure to learn from."