As we’re all aware (and tickled with pride), Cleveland is home to not one, but two Food & Wine Best New Chefs. Because of Cleveland’s strong culinary scene and our nationally recognized chefs, I tried for a press pass to this year’s Food & Wine Classic in Aspen to provide readers an inside view to this prestigious event. Well, I didn’t get one (major cut backs on tickets this year), but the folks at F&W couldn’t have been nicer about the situation. But something good came out of my quest for Aspen; I had the chance to talk with one of the women responsible for Jonathon Sawyer’s highly coveted recognition. And in our brief chat, I learned the magazine’s love for our city is genuine, we have the same taste in chefs, Cory Barrett will be very happy after he’s done reading this and why LeBron and Top Chef just may go hand in hand.
Kate Krader is the restaurant editor for Food & Wine. She’s well-respected, well-known, and the envy of many (ok, at least one – me).
How do you discover best new chefs? How are they vetted? What’s the criteria? What was it about Jonathon Sawyer? It’s a year-round process. There aren’t any age requirements, except that a chef has to have been in charge of a kitchen for at least five years (not necessarily in a row). We look all around the country, from big to small cities. We have a network of people who nominate chefs, from professionals in the industry, to food writers, bloggers, and previous winners.
I came to Cleveland in January to see Jon. I instantly loved him! When you walk into Greenhouse, there’s just something about the energy. It was very inviting. I instantly felt comfortable. I can’t articulate it, but I just really liked it. Not that that is part of the BNC criteria, I just think it’s worth sharing. Jon has that same energy and passion. And he has a fun point of view on food and with his menu. I’ve never seen clams and foie gras – it’s one of the best dishes I’ve had all year. I still think about how good and smart it is. And his fries – it’s the best new version of hash browns. I just love it.
Jon executes food really well. He’s creative, like his Death Row Dinners. Love this – what a great idea! And he’s geeky about certain things, like the vinegars. We’re just really happy with him. I didn’t have anything at Greenhouse that I didn’t love. He’s a genius at work. It’s just a great place and we love all that he’s got going on – and is green, and is Ohio’s first green restaurant. What an accomplishment.
What else did you do in Cleveland? What’s your culinary viewpoint on Cleveland? What can we continue to improve? What Cleveland restaurant do you wish was in NYC? I wish Greenhouse was in NYC! While I was there, I also went to Dante. Thought it was a really cool restaurant and loved the space, look of the menu. I had some good dishes and some so so dishes but felt it had potential (she acknowledged she was there shortly after opening and that may have had something to do with it). Overall, Dante (Boccuzzi) has a great reputation and I’m sure he’ll do well. Went to Lucky’s, thought it was awesome (went with Laura Taxel). Liked the homegrown aesthetic and energy – such a great, fun place. I went to school in Ohio (Kenyon College in Gambier) so I’m loyal to the state, even though I haven’t been back in awhile – but I plan to come back this summer. Also went to B Spot with Michael and Liz, who are just awesome. What crazy milkshakes he has – if someone is counting calories, look out!
Here’s my personal plea to Cleveland – open on Sundays! There were so many other things that I wanted to do and see but couldn’t because they weren’t open. Like the (West Side) Market and The Sausage Shoppe. I also didn’t get a chance to do the The Velvet Tango Room – that’s one of the great bars in the country.
Michael Symon really raised the profile of Cleveland and the market in general. If there’s any silver lining to the down economy, it’s that a lot of chefs are thinking – why work in NY, too expensive. Instead, they are going home, often to the Midwest, and opening their own place in their hometown utilizing the skills they learned here – the native kids coming home. I think you’re seeing that a lot, especially in cities like Cleveland. Cleveland really does have a lot of talented chefs.
Personally, I think the Midwest is the most exciting food destination in the country right now. Chicago is good, of course, but because of the high interest on knowing farmers and purveyors and where your food comes from, Midwest, especially Cleveland, is huge right now. There are so many good producers; it’s a great opportunity for Ohio. The chefs know exactly where the food comes from and are sharing that on the menu and telling you their stories – people want to know that. You guys have been doing great things for so long now, and it’s really creeping up on the national radar.
There is something about your city on many, many levels. I’ll be back!
What are the trends in food right now? What restaurants do we need to be on the lookout for when traveling? In NYC, there’s a big Italian trend. Seeing lots of regional Italian, and people focusing on one specific area. Also veggies. Mario Batali had been leading this in many ways, with the focus on moving protein to the side of the plate and focus more on vegetables. It’s an interesting time right now. People are more ambitious and cooking what’s in their heart, and we’re seeing it pay off. It’s also a big year for dessert – the year of the pastry chef.
One restaurant Kate mentioned was Locanda Verde in the Greenwich Hotel in NYC. She said it’s among her favorites and highly recommends checking out. The chef, Andrew Carmellini, is from Cleveland and Robert De Niro is part owner.
Complete this sentence: ______________ is the new black. Vegetables.
What’s the first thing you notice when you walk into a restaurant? I’m really sensitive to the energy. Are people talking? It’s weird when no one is talking and you see a couple just staring at each other. Not that that is the restaurant’s fault, but you notice it. There’s an X factor to a restaurant. And there’s something about a restaurant putting you in a good mood and creating a feeling. I can’t help but notice the level of conversation – this makes me happy. I like when the staff presumes a level of interest and intelligence. I saw this at The Greenhouse – extra special credit for them. For example, if someone isn’t familiar with the wine or comfortable making a good wine recommendation, I like when they get someone who is. If you don’t know, fine, but go that extra step to have people that do know and can pass the information on.
Frank Bruni of The New York Times said once if he opened a restaurant, he’d install a super nice front of the house person as well as someone who answers the phone. I agree. If a hostess is rude and makes me wait while they chat about their personal lives, I get annoyed. Be nice and friendly. It’s probably not as much of an issue in Cleveland as it is in NY.
If you could be one chef for a day, who would it be? Mario Batali. He’s someone who came up with me while I was starting out at F&W and I had always idolized him. It’s something to see him in action. But I’d only want to be him for one day. I also like chefs that just focus on one restaurant and would want to be one of those chefs for a day. I can appreciate the empire that some chefs have built, like Batali, but I also like those chefs that are obsessed with their one restaurant.
(This answer is why I really liked her – Mario Batali is my chef crush)
Can Cleveland host a season of Top Chef (this was a reader question)? I think if LeBron can take you to a championship, it will raise your profile. You’re still a little bit away, but could get there.
Do you shop at farmer’s markets or buy directly from farmers (another reader question)? I don’t get to cook much at home (though she admits she makes the best brownies in the world and is good with pasta), but when I do I like farmer’s markets.
Last song(s) downloaded? Kate shared that she has a habit of downloading a song or two and then playing them over and over. She said she’s been playing One Below by The Watts (discovered on Pandora), The Good Life by Kanye West and Just Say Yes by Snow Patrol – over and over.
Last meal on Earth? Cheese fondue, something super spicy – maybe an Ethiopian dish, pasta and chocolate chip cookie dough.