Restaurateur has planted deep roots in Lakewood Ranch

srocco@bradenton.comAugust 12, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- On the eve of Sept. 11, 2001, chef Tommy Klauber stood over a stove cooking Tex-Mex fare for then-President George W. Bush.

In the restaurant of his father's now-shuttered Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, Bush chatted with advisers over Klauber's feast.

"If there was anything horrible going on in the world that night, you wouldn't have known it," Klauber, 54, recalled.

Bush ordered seconds of the chili con queso, then wrapped up the night. The next morning Bush read "The Pet Goat" to kids at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, only to be interrupted as the world seemed to crumble.

In the 12 years since that night, Klauber has planted his roots deep in Lakewood Ranch, where he has businesses and a home. The glamorous clients, including four presidents, haven't been enough to make him consider leaving his southwest Florida home.

Owner of the Polo Grill and Bar, Pattigeorge's on Longboat Key, co-owner of Fete Catering and Ballroom with his wife Jaymie ("She books 'em, I cook 'em") and chairman of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Klauber is considered a mover and shaker in the community.

In January, Klauber told the Herald that he'd like to start a Young Leaders Alliance for professionals younger than 40 who may feel intimidated networking with older, more experienced business hotshots. Since then, he has started the alliance and it has grown to more than 120 members.

"Tommy has made his restaurant a staple in the community," said Robin Parsons, business development director at the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance. "Outside of that, he's very philanthropic. It's nice to see that kind of talent stay here in the area."

In about three weeks, the Polo Grill, an anchor in Lakewood Ranch's Main Street area, will undergo major renovations including a new color scheme, more intimacy, a closed off kitchen and additional booths. A private dining room will also be added. The restaurant, which opened in 2007, will have its grand reopening Nov. 1.

Klauber returned from a trip to Peru last week where he climbed to the top of Macchu Pichhu and, of course, spent a chunk of time cooking with a Peruvian chef. Klauber learned how to perfect his beloved aji amarillo sauce, a Peruvian favorite that marries nicely with fish and potatoes.

"The more I travel, the better cook I become," said Klauber, who earned a diploma at La Varenne's Ecole de Cuisine in Paris after studying at the Culinary Institute of America. He was also a chef in Florence.

To answer the demand for more health-conscious food, Klauber teamed up with a nutritionist and rolled out a lighter menu about a month ago called "Polo Fit," a nod to polo players' habit of getting in shape before a season starts.

If diners don't want to indulge in Klauber's rich herb-crusted Australian lamb rack, they can opt for Moroccan spiced chicken.

"Since when did eating delicious have to mean 'fried' or 'stuffed into a big bun'?" Klauber said. "You can still eat delicious and eat healthy."

Klauber grows his own citrus on his seven-acre ranch where his wife also trains horses to play polo. Sometimes he brings the leaves of his kaffir limes to the Grill to put in starchy dishes, adding light notes of lime.

Klauber touts that all the food in the Grill is made from scratch -- even the chicken stock. He also bottles his own purified sparkling water and recycles the glass bottles.

When looking back on a long, fruitful career, Klauber can't think of an exact moment that stands out as a favorite.

Sure, cooking for George W. Bush (and getting asked for seconds) was pretty rewarding. But it's hard to choose since he also has George Bush Sr., Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and Michelle Obama among the clients on his resume.

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