The days of pan-slinging, rant-spewing, egomaniacal restaurant chefs are pretty much gone. Or at least, I’d like to believe so.
The abusive behavior that used to be a trademark of the temperamental restaurant chef wouldn’t be tolerated in most of today’s workplaces. And in more and more restaurant kitchens, it’s teamwork that rules the day rather than autocratic individualism. Three of Salt Lake City’s most unique restaurants illustrate three different approaches to staffing in the professional kitchen.
I remember a few years ago when The Metropolitan restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City had a trio of co-chefs. I’d never seen that in a restaurant kitchen before, where traditional hierarchies tend to dominate the workforce. It was an interesting approach, and it worked.
That formula also works at Table X, where the chef trio of David Barboza, Mike Blocher, and Nick Fahs share duties that range from recipe development and cooking in the kitchen to helping deliver food to customers’ tables.
All three chefs began cooking when they were young. Barboza cooked from a young age with his family in Maryland, as well as learned to garden. “A lot of my interest in the garden stems from liking to create and to facilitate creation … and watching something grow is really amazing,” says Baroza. Indeed, amazing is a good term to describe Table X’s own French-style potager garden, with 13 raised beds. The garden produced 300 pounds of tomatoes for the Table X kitchen last year, and plants in the garden are lovingly tended to. They’re even surrounded and soothed by piped-in music.
The restaurant’s garden produces the ingredients for dishes like the incredibly fresh Spring Pea Salad served with housemade ricotta. That’s not necessarily the kind of cooking that chef Nick Fahs grew up with in New Orleans. In describing early food memories, he says, “Thanksgiving wasn’t Thanksgiving, it was a crawfish boil at my Uncle Bobby’s in Louisiana when I was seven years old.” For a chef, he thinks of early food memories such as these as becoming “a really deep part of who you are.”
Baking is one of chef Mike Blocher’s passions, and guests dining at Table X are treated to complimentary helpings of rustic baked bread or excellent gluten-free bread for those who eschew wheat. His mom was a server and then a restaurant manager and he says, “I grew up sort of surrounded by the restaurant business. My mom would bring me into work with her before my dad would get out of work to come pick me up. So I’d be this little kid hanging out in the kitchen. Subconsciously, that may have pushed me in the direction I’ve gone.”
At Table X, this talented trio creates dishes as varied as their very unique Vegetable “Steak” which is completely meat-free, made with chickpea puree, salsa verde, vegetable “soil” and such; or the irresistible “Pork & Littlenecks”—steamed Littleneck clams with green chorizo, garden lovage and white beans. This is teamwork at its finest.
1457 E 3350 S, Salt Lake City
One of the most anticipated and exciting restaurants to open this year was SLC Eatery, the kitchen of which is manned by a dynamic duo. Co-chefs Paul Chamberlain and Logen Crew share the kitchen duties and work together like a well-oiled machine. That’s not surprising since the two teamed up previously in restaurants like Log Haven, Fresco, Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar, and Cafe Trio.
The outgoing, amiable chefs have created a unique dining experience at SLC Eatery—one that includes a roving food cart (think dim sum) offering bite-size food items such as a Tokyo Turnip with miso-apple butter and peanut furikake crunch; Tuna Crudo with avocado, nori and togarashi; Black Garlic Mochi with squash and hazelnut brown butter, and others.
The eclectic SLC Eatery menu synthesizes cuisines as diverse as Asian, Mexican and American in dishes such as Yosenabe with glass noodles, chorizo, Kauai prawns, scallops and ramps; the south of the border flavors of Cotija Cheese Tamalitos; or the comforting Utah Scone with cheddar rillette. This chef duet dances deliciously together.
1017 Main St., Salt Lake City
Cucina Wine Bar
Through the years, Cucina has morphed from its early days as a deli and gourmet food shop to now being a full-service Avenues wine bar with food that most wine bars would kill for. It’s the most traditional of the three restaurants featured here: a kitchen with a single head chef, Joey Ferran.
If you ever saw the size of the Cucina kitchen, you’d know why having a duo or trio of co-chefs would be nigh impossible. Thankfully, Ferran is multi-talented and seems to have the creativity and chops of a whole pile of chefs.
Like chef Crew at SLC Eatery, Ferran sharpened his skills at Log Haven restaurant under the tutelage of chef Dave Jones. And as with SLC Eatery and Table X, the Cucina menu is global in influence. Dishes range from Osso Bucco (classically Italian) served with smoked chile broth (a nod to Mexico); or Ahi Tuna Poke with guajillo chile, mango, avocado and wonton chips (Hawaii meets Mexico via Canton); to the almost all-American (with touches of Spain, Argentina, and France) Venison Loin Sous Vide with leek coulis, red currant ketchup, Morcilla croquettes, truffle aioli, and roasted huckleberries.
1026 2nd Ave., Salt Lake City
That’s six chefs at three restaurants with a world of flavor at their disposal and a universe of talent. After all, there’s more than one way to staff a stove.
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