q & a with chef nolan konkoski

Chef Nolan Konkoski is the man responsible for the popular tequila dinners, among other tasty dishes, at Momocho. He’s originally from upstate New York and started cooking in college as a means to make money (went to school for English literature and writing). Lucky for us, he pursued cooking.

1. What are the top 5 spices every home chef should have? Chipotle, bay leaf, cumin/coriander, cinnamon and black peppercorns. But really, every home chef should just use more high-quality salt.

2. What is your favorite and least favorite thing to make? Soups and sauces. I love the patience they require and the freedom you have to build a strong background of flavors. I hate making empanadas, chile rellenos and chimichangas – any tiny, tight, time-consuming items that require your hands.

3. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I love city’s overall support of cinema — from the Cedar Lee and Shaker Square theaters to the Cinematheque to the Film Festival every year. As for my least favorite things… traffic lights, traffic cops and corned beef.

4. If you could cook for one person, real or dead, who would it be? P. Christopher Kelley.

5. You’re having a dinner party, top 5 songs on your play list? Mogwai – Dial:Revenge, Paul Simon – Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, The Fall – Cruiser’s Creek, Tom Waits – Ol’ 55, and Yo La Tengo – The Hour Grows Late

6. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? Pacific East, Parallax, Flying Fig and Lolita.

7. What restaurant do you miss? Genoa Importing Company in Albany. I ate there five days a week in college.

8. What place have Clevelanders yet to discover? 2182 Bistro in Brecksville. I know it’s not exactly a secret, but I think it deserves more attention.

9. What’s your last meal on Earth? A cheese and charcuterie board.

10. Most unusual food you have ever tried? The garbage plate at Nick Tahou’s in Rochester, NY.

11. Most famous person you have cooked for? Ah, the true test of a great chef. I made a sandwich for Tony Shaloub once. How’s that?

12. What’s the inspiration behind the tequila dinners? For me, the tequila dinners allow a certain freedom with food, beverage and service that we don’t otherwise have the time, space or resources for. We get to shut down the restaurant to the public for one night and treat a small group of people to a more precisely thought-out and executed menu. It is what most chefs wish they could do on a nightly basis. You limit the variables, take the decision-making out of the customers’ hands, and hopefully create a memorable experience. I love briefly putting aside the taquitos and fried ice cream and focusing on fresh concepts. Plus, we all get to get drunk on a Wednesday in the middle of winter.

13. Where do you grocery shop? Dave’s Market in Ohio City, unfortunately. West Side Market and Trader Joe’s occasionally.

14. Favorite guilty pleasure when it comes to food? Cadbury Mini Eggs.

15. Any plans to open your own restaurant some day? If I am still cooking in 10 years, I will have my own place. But there is too much to learn and experience before then to promise anything.

16. Anything new on the menu that people should try if they haven’t been in a few months? We are looking forward to a menu change in the spring.

17. If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? Worst-case scenario: teaching high school English. Best-case scenario: writing and directing movies.

18. If you could be another chef, any chef, for a day, who would it be? It’s probably an obvious answer, but Anthony Bourdain looks to have a pretty sweet life. Eat, drink and travel to exotic places.

19. What is one easy Mexican-inspired dish anyone could make at home? Tostitos chips and salsa.

20. Favorite TV show? HBO’s The Wire is the best show ever on American TV. It is realistic, important, timely, humorous and incredibly intelligent. So you rarely meet anyone who has heard of it. Everyone is too busy watching Rachel Ray make a Triscuit sandwich.

21. What is one thing you would change about your job? I would love if everyone I worked with showed up on time every day – and stopped asking to borrow money. My job would be much less stressful.

22. What is the best plate of food you have ever had? My mom’s sour cream pear pie.

23. Favorite meal from your childhood? The #2 Super Value Meal at McDonalds: crispy chicken sandwich, fries and an orange Hi-C.

17 Comments

  1. Alexa
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    that was hilarious. i like that he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

    but i do want the recipe for that sour cream pear pie. sounds wonderful.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    one of the best and brightest young culinary minds in the city, and an amazing work ethic. i hope he’s still cooking in ten years.

  3. josh
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Chef Nolan,

    I couldn’t agree more on the Wire. It’s the best piece of art I have seen in the last 20 years.

    Also, that Yo La Tengo song is great.

    Cheers to you and the staff at Momocho. Looking forward to the menu change.

  4. Joy
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Ah! Great to see Chef Nolan get some profile. Sitting at Momocho’s “Chef’s Table” on a busy Saturday night last summer was one of the most memorable dining experiences of my life. I wish him and Eric continued success!

  5. whatwhat
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    the one meal i’ve had a momocho was amazing. chef nolan’s inspired cooking is an asset to the city. and i can’t say enough about the fantastic cocktails…their bar staff is top notch.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Nolan’s nickname back home is Binturd. We don’t recall why…..

  7. his girl friday
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    never knew his name. best looking chef in the city. should be on food network. i’d tivo his show every day. ::drool::

  8. Proud MoM
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    He’s a standout at whatever he does once HE decides to do it!

    Chef Nolan’s favorite “Birthday Pie,” Sour Cream Pear Pie
    2Cups peeled, diced ripe pears
    1/2Cup Sugar
    1Egg, beaten
    1Cup Dairy Sour Cream
    1Tablespoon Flour
    1Teaspoon Vanilla
    Dash salt
    CRUMB TOPPING
    1/2Cup Sugar
    1/3 Cup Flour
    1/4Cup Butter, softened
    Combine pears, sugar, egg, flour, sour cream, vanilla & salt; blend gently. Spoon into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350* for 25 minutes. Combine all of the topping ingredients till well-mixed. Sprinkle on top of pie; return to oven for 30 minutes more. Serve warm or cool.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted March 14, 2008 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    I think the value meal is actually #7, you can now have it grilled or crispy! I was disappointed to see the one thing I love is one of your least favorite things to make. The funny thing is I fucking hate making those burgers! Cheers to a good write up, Matt

  10. michelle v
    Posted March 14, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Matt – that figures, my husband loves that burger! That’s hilarious.

    Nolan’s mom – thanks for sharing the recipe, I appeciate it and I’m sure lots of people will try to recreate it!

  11. donald p.
    Posted March 14, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Very entertaining interview! But, how come I have never heard of this guy? He seems 10x more interesting and funny then most chefs i see on the morning show.

  12. Anonymous
    Posted March 17, 2008 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Impressive Nolan! Sounds like your the best kept secret in Ohio! Not for long. Can’t wait till I drop Ian off to College this summer and try some of your specialities! Next family picnic you need to share your talents and your mom’s PIE!
    Happy St. Paddy’s Day!
    Love- Aunt Peg

  13. michelle v
    Posted March 18, 2008 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    That’s great – chef Nolan has his whole family reading my blog – I love it!

  14. Anonymous
    Posted March 19, 2008 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Why in the world do you and Jonathan Sawyer like 2182 so much? It’s most certainly NOT worth the praise you’re giving it. Hidden gem? Hardly.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted March 19, 2008 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    His food is great but too salty…he’s gt a very strong salt hand…if he just learned to ease up on the salt, he’d be awesome…for instance ordered guacamole…great but salty…the chips – oversalted…then we made the mistake of ordering the Tequila wwith a salted rim, then came the the taquitas… awesome, then you bite into a area where he over salted the spinach and BOOM…blows your heart out…

    Great Food Just too darn salty…This is after asking the waitress to have Chef cut the salt…

    Also ate at Lolita…great food and not too salty.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted March 19, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Binturd,
    Can’t remember why that name came about either. I will probable never get to Ohio unless you get married, then I’d go. That means you have to cook for me when you come home. Remember, I made you Sweet Pea Pick-A-Pockets. You owe me!! Love Aunt Fran

  17. Anonymous
    Posted March 27, 2008 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Nolan is one of the most talented chefs I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I keep trying to get him to audition for “Top Chef”, I think his big funny personality would blow everyone away! Not to mention his food preparation and creativity. He really is amazing!
    Love Choco

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