When I first met Dominic Cerino a little over a year ago, he spoke very highly of Chef Regan Reik over at Pier W, and continued to do so during our various conversations. I personally wasn’t familiar with Reik and at the time hadn’t been to Pier W, but Cerino carries a lot of clout with me so I knew this must be one talented chef. And after two recent visits to Pier W and a brief meeting of sorts with Reik, I can see why Dominic is such a fan.
1. What are the top 5 spices every home chef should have? I use a lot of the basics at home, including garlic powder, oregano, cumin and Curry powder. Then I also use a garam masala. I used to cook for a lot of Indian weddings at the Ritz-Carlton and was introduced to how fantastic this stuff was on poultry, seafood and vegetables.
2. What is your favorite and least favorite thing to make? I love to cook Italian, especially when I cook with my girlfriend and/or my kids. It’s fun, approachable cuisine that you can feed the masses with. I can’t think of anything that I would say I hate to make.
3. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? The greatest thing about Cleveland is the family atmosphere that exists in the whole town. I lived in NYC for a number of years and I would watch kids get on the school bus from these high-rise apartment buildings of Manhattan. That just seemed so foreign to me – growing up without space. The only thing that bothers me is the reputation that Cleveland has of a behind the times food town. I couldn’t wait to come back!
4. If you could cook for one person, real or dead, who would it be? If I could cook for one person, it would be my dad. He spent time with me in the kitchen as I grew up, like most kids spend time in the garage. He is the best cook and the greatest man I’ve ever known; I miss him every day.
5. You’re having a dinner party, top 5 songs on your play list? I would play selections by Fleetwood Mac, Lionel Ritche and James Taylor.
6. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? I love to take my girlfriend to Momocho. Great food, atmosphere and cool stuff to look at on the walls.
7. What restaurant do you miss? I miss Shakees Pizza. I was still pretty young when it closed, but I have great memories of going there with my parents and watching the silent movies while we had dinner.
8. What’s your last meal on Earth? Nothing glamorous here. If I were on death row, I would request a Daniel Bolud Fois Gras Burger. Maybe it would stop my heart before I got to the electric chair!
9. Most unusual food you have ever tried? I had a some crickets that were fried once. I had been drinking – I don’t recommend it (the crickets).
10. Most famous person you have cooked for? I had the pleasure of cooking for a few good ones, but Julia Child’s 90th birthday party in Washington D.C. was one of the more memorable.
11. How did you end up at Pier W and where were you before? I worked for the Ritz- Carlton in NYC, Cleveland, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Boston for 12 years after culinary school, and did a stage at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. I wanted to move home and Pier W gave me that opportunity two years ago. It was the best move I’ve ever made.
12. Where do you grocery shop? I would love to tell you that I shop the West Side Market three times a week and that I buy organic from Wild Oats all the other days, but the truth is that I have a family and I shop at Giant Eagle most of the time. They are open 24 hours, and I shop overnight when I get off work.
13. Favorite guilty pleasure when it comes to food? I make my own ice cream at home with the kids – we don’t even wait for it to stop spinning before we get the spoons out.
14. If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? I’d be a writer. I hope to do something with that someday, maybe when I get too old to be in the kitchen 14 hours a day.
15. If you could be another chef, any chef, for one day, who would it be? I would love to be Julia Child. She was an inspiration to me as I began my career. Watching her shows, I was so impressed by how flowing and confident her movements were in the kitchen. That impresses me more than anything, that purposeful movement in the kitchen.
16. Favorite TV show? I don’t watch much TV, but I do love Rescue Me with Dennis Leary. I guess it strikes a parallel for me between the lifestyle of the firemen in the show, and the crazy existence of a chef.
17. How did you get involved with the Copper River salmon in Cordova? What makes them so unique? I got asked by a friend to help cook for Cordova Alaska’s Centennial Celebration, which is at the mouth of the Copper River Delta. When I got there, I fell in love with the area, the people and the fish. We did a six-course meal, all surrounding Copper River salmon, for food writers, chefs and townsfolk. It was one of the most memorable weeks I have ever had, and I am hooked on the best salmon in the world.
18. Favorite meal from your childhood? My grandmother Nana’s breaded pork chops. She was 4 feet 6 inches tall and all of her was pure chef.
19. Who or what inspires you? I get inspired and do my best work when I have had enough rest, a good breakfast and everything is right at home with my girls.
20. What are you doing in your kitchen right now that’s different from others? My kitchen is one of growth and learning. I take each day and try to learn something and teach something. We are trying to create a kitchen environment where cooks feel good about themselves and where they work and that they know their suggestions matter. I came up in this business having to work with screamers, who felt the only way to grow was through having your spirit squashed time and again. I want to lead a different way.