Written by Selynn Barbour, Contributing Writer | Photos Provided by Joseph Boer
The highlight of a trip or an evening at the Lake of the Ozarks is enjoying a gastronomic event. Many visitors and fortunate locals repose at The Blue Heron with its majestic view from the veranda at twilight, and of course, with its restaurateur, Joseph Hendrikus Boer.
Joseph invites his guests in and shares stories about food, wine and spirits. He also attends to guest details. Joseph has worked to not only perfect delicious entrées, but also to make memories for his customers that last a lifetime. His sharing of life’s advice recently earned him a Missouri House of Representatives Resolution. His insightful conversation with a state representative’s two college-age daughters highlighted always telling the truth, and to never lie, cheat or steal. He shares this same advice with his new employees.
“It was a privilege to honor Mr. Boer with this Resolution from Representative Noel Shull and myself,” Representative Rocky Miller explains. “Having worked at the Potted Steer during my high school days, I was fortunate to learn firsthand how he successfully operated his Lake business. He arrived from Holland two weeks shy of being 21 as part of a special quota of World War II displaced persons and demonstrates what is possible in our country.”
Joseph shares, “I was stunned. I had no idea what a Resolution entailed. We were ushered to the House floor where I was photographed and applauded among the many honorees.”
There are many reasons Joseph is in the hospitality business: his history, his family and his outlooks, but none for selfaggrandizement. He revered his father, who always aspired to owning his own restaurant in Delft, Holland. But although the World War II German occupation evaporated that dream, it fueled Joseph’s. His urge for a successful restaurant began out of physical nothingness, yet with diligence and his compassion for others, slowly he achieved recognition. He married and raised three “darling” children, Werner, Bradley and Melissa. His sparkling wife, Mary Christine, and Joseph enjoy their together time on the hill he named The Great Blue Heron Hill.
The Blue Heron reflects Joseph’s Dutch heritage with copper utensils and many blue ceramics including the chandeliers. It’s a reminder of where he’s been, a life of work as he has enjoyed enhancing others’ lives through his gastronomy, inspiring his understudies, fascinating stories, tableside children’s puzzles and life-considering advice.
What do you remember from the German occupation of your home?
I recall fear, hunger, scavenging for food, freezing cold and the sudden intrusion, the ‘Razzia’ in our home to ruse the men for labor camps. They confiscated our blankets, copper, bronze, anything valuable. There were thousands of planes flying, spotlights, sirens, just a terrible time. I lived in constant dread, eating sugar beets and tulip bulbs if we could find any. At one time my family was individually parceled out with the assistance of the Catholic Church to others’ homes simply to exist. Fortunately, we were reconciled in our home the next season. I remember the end of the war in Holland on May 5, 1945!
Where did you train to be a chef?
I trained in Den Haag, Holland, at a trade school at Lamgroen 16, now called chefs school. I went on to be a sous chef serving international dignitaries at the Belgium embassy learning beaucoup French. I also developed my skills including learning the German language in Switzerland at the Hof Ragaz Spa Hotel.
How did you come to the United States?
My training in Holland and successful European work experience helped qualify me to be part of a special quota of immigrants for displaced persons of WWII. My first memory of the United States was seeing the Statue of Liberty. The first sound I heard from the mainland was the music of The Four Freshmen’s “The Day Isn’t Long Enough.” I traveled from New York City to Chicago on the fabulous, stainless steel Zephyr to Littleton, Colorado. I worked at the Woolhurst Country Club for $1 a day in exchange for room and board of $1. Hooray for tips! I became a U.S. citizen in 1961.
Did you ever serve in the United States Military?
Yes, I was drafted into the Army and served two years. I spent time at Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Smith, Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and West Point while acquiring my GED. I also was assigned to the NATO exercise “Crescendo” in Peenemunde and Luebeck, Germany, documenting the VI and VII rocket debris fields. The ‘V’ stood for the German word vergeltung, translating ‘to take revenge.’ This was ironic, as the Germans had begun the war. It reminded me of the continual dread of WWII. This was my second stint of service, as I had already served my homeland in my youth. In Bussum, Holland, I helped prepare food for a battalion of antiaircraft personnel. Men in uniform in groups still scare me!
For which American establishments have you prepared meals or managed?
Moving on from Colorado in my ’49 green Chevrolet, with five extra tires in the backseat, I drove to Kansas City and worked at the Muelbach Hotel as a captain in the Terrace Grill. I then was the assistant manager at the Colony Steak House and the Meadowbrook Country Club. My first restaurant at the Lake was The Top Deck at the Mai Tai Resort, then Lefty’s Little Chef Steak House on the Bagnell Dam Strip, where I originated my signature dish: Batter-Fried Lobster Tail. In addition, the revered Potted Steer, by the Grand Glaize Bridge, had its beginnings in the West Gate Lanes bowling alley in Jefferson City. When lobbyists ordered the most expensive steak, the waitress in her authentic Western wear would fire off her cap gun. Then I relocated to Osage Beach. The Blue Heron opened on July 4 in 1984 and is enjoying its 31st year of pleasing guests on the Lake’s highest hill, rightfully claiming haute cuisine.
How did you choose the name of your current restaurant?
When I was teaching our son Bradley to water-ski, we were back in a cove. All of a sudden, a blue heron with its magnificent wings took flight. Also, I contemplated because of our HH location the name of Hovering Hawk.
What is your favorite food?
Almost every morning I enjoy my Dutch Gouda cheese sandwich on my wife’s fresh-baked bread with my coffee. I also enjoy Alfredo made with one-third butter, one-third Parmesan cheese and one third heavy cream, all melted together on al dente angel hair pasta with a generous portion of freshly ground garlic. Other favorites are: roasted brisket, corn beef or a 3-ounce beef tenderloin, Terismajor or flank steak.
How do you enjoy your free time?
I like to read. I highly recommend The Glass Castle. My favorite poem is Rudyard Kipling’s If. I enjoy listening to the music of Ástor Piazzolla. His tango “Oblivion” is a favorite of mine. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about the gypsy music of my Holland youth, listening to Tata Miranda. Chet Baker is my favorite trumpeter. Also, once a month, I gather with my friends for wine tasting in Kansas City.
What is another accomplishment you are proud of?
With eight other business owners, 45 years ago, we founded the Montessori school in Eldon, Missouri. It is still in operation today. Education is enormously important to all of us.