It’s not hard to track down the origins of Chef Kyle Lamb’s love of cooking. “In my family, if you cooked you didn’t have to do dishes,” Lamb explains. When you couple this with two grandmothers who not only loved to cook but also encouraged Lamb to cook alongside them, it becomes easy to understand how he ended up taking on head chef duties at V. Mertz.
Born and raised in Lincoln, Lamb still lives there today and commutes to Omaha for work. “The environment that is V. Mertz is the reason I make the sacrifice to commute here,” says Lamb. “There’s a great reputation behind it. Matthew, our general manager, is second to none; he’s the nuts and bolts of V. Mertz. The owner, David Hayes, is the best person you could ever hope to work for. He’s very supportive of everything that Matthew and I do here. It’s rare to find someone who cares so much about everyone who works for him, and that trickles down. I care about all my cooks and want them to be successful.”
Throughout Lamb’s life, all roads seemed to lead back to cooking no matter which path he took. At Doane College he majored in criminology and psychology but considered leaving in his sophomore year to pursue a culinary career. He ended up earning his degrees and getting a job in law enforcement but found he lacked a passion for that career. Lamb enrolled in the Art Institute of Jacksonville, Florida, to receive his formal education in culinary arts. “The culinary school really gives you the basics. After that it’s up to you to fine-tune your skills and immerse yourself in the industry.”
Lamb is confident that choosing culinary arts was the right decision. “I’ve never second-guessed it. It’s a push forward to see what’s next and what I can improve on, and it never gets old. I’m still as passionate now as I was in the beginning.” He started with some line cook positions while he was still in culinary school, and then his career began to move into high gear when he was hired at Chew Restaurant and later at McCrady’s in South Carolina under Chef Sean Brock, a James Beard award-winning chef. “Chef Brock is one of the foremost chefs in the country and world,” says Lamb, crediting Brock with inspiring passion about food among everyone who worked for him. Lamb places Chef Brock prominently among the list of chefs who inspire him most. Others include Chefs Paul Kahan, Thomas Keller, and Daniel Hines.
It wasn’t long before Lamb’s love for Nebraska compelled him to return. “I wanted to be back around family. It’s always home and I missed it a lot.” Lamb spent a couple of years as the executive chef at Wilderness Ridge in Lincoln before accepting the position at V. Mertz. When asked about his favorite dish to prepare at V. Mertz, he replies that his favorites change with the seasons. “The menu changes often, so whatever is new is the one I love the most. When the produce on one dish is coming to an end, we think about what we can do next. It’s not a matter of what I like best but what we’re doing right now that’s the best.”
Lamb’s advice for aspiring chefs is to work hard and never stop learning. “It takes a lot of time and effort to do what we do. Young cooks should go out and see restaurants in other states and experience as much as they can before deciding where they’re going to be for the duration. At some point you need to take the step to become the lead line cook, sous chef, the chef de cuisine, the executive chef. You need to work as hard as you can or it’s going to show on what you put on the plate.” He says 12-hour days are the norm for most chefs, so a chef needs to have a passion for the craft of cooking in order to be successful.
Being honored as Chef Par Excellence at the Nebraska Taste of Elegance Competition in 2015 was a career highlight for Lamb, but one of his proudest moments as a chef was the first time one of his dishes was placed on the menu at McCrady’s. “It was smoked sweetbreads and turnips done a couple of different ways.”
Lamb’s passion for cooking has not waned over the years, nor has his dislike for doing the dishes. The rule of “I cook, you clean” still reigns in his house, although he says he’ll help his wife with the dishes sometimes.
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