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Chef Tal Ronnen of Crossroads in LA

The best things are created out of need. When Chef Tal Ronnen became a vegetarian 20 years ago, he felt like he was “getting served the side dishes to the entrees” at the foodie restaurants he had always loved. There was certainly demand for vegetarian cuisine – so Ronnen trained professionally to create supply. Now he is chef and owner of Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles. And though he “studied photography for a while” before becoming a chef, he can’t imagine having a different career.

Ronnen describes the Crossroads modus operandi as “small plate Mediterranean cuisine that just happens to be plant-based.” He explains that people often fear vegan food “won’t taste good.” One of these people was his partner in the restaurant who, in the pre-Ronnen days, once went to a vegan restaurant and “felt like he had lost a bet.” You certainly won’t feel that way at Crossroads, where the atmosphere is chic and the clientele decidedly cool (and often famous). In fact, Chef Ronnen’s favorite culinary compliment was voiced in a tweet from Chef Michael Voltaggio of Ink Restaurant, also in LA: “chef tal, after that meal, I think I could be vegan, but with [an] occasional in and out burger chaser. Your food is seriously delicious…”

Chef Ronnen derives his inspiration from local produce and creating dishes that he misses as a vegan. Take, for instance, his version of calamari, which involves substituting hearts of palm for squid. This was my favorite thing on the menu. In creating such dishes, the Chef uses, among other things, his top three tools. These are a “10-inch French-style chef’s knife,” his hands and a Vitamix blender to create sauces with “silky textures.” From personal experience I can say that a meal at Crossroads is all it’s cracked up to be: a Mediterranean delight that just happens to be vegan and is all the more creative because of it.

 

A few more questions…

RW: What is in your refrigerator at home?

TR: Not a whole lot. I don’t do a whole lot of cooking at home. At the end of the day, you know, I think most people don’t like to bring their work home.

RW: What is the best advice you could give to someone cooking at home?

TR: I think picking up books to teach you the basics – how to hold a knife, how to cut, how to make soup stocks. Basics really help you become a better chef by doing things that ultimately, at the end, will save you time.

Originally published on cuative.com. Photos retrieved from Crossroads Kitchen.

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Chef Martin Oswald of Aspen’s Pyramid Bistro

Though he’s cooked for a long list of chefs and celebrities, Chef Martin Oswald, owner of Pyramid Bistro in Aspen, is proudest to have cooked for doctors Joel Fuhrman, Deepak Chopra, Colin Campbell and Alejandro Junger. These men are his “heroes” – leaders in the field of nutrition. Their work, in part, inspired Chef Oswald to create his nutritarian restaurant, Pyramid. Though Oswald started cooking in his native Austria, the cooking he’s “doing at Pyramid Bistro has very little do with Austrian cuisine,” unless you count the fact that he grew up adjacent to a health resort that specialized in clean eating and served as lifelong culinary inspiration. “I was drawn to a futuristic style of cooking,” the Chef said. After working briefly as a pastry chef, Oswald cooked at a variety of important European health spas. When he moved to America he found healthy options lacking. This was back in the early ‘90s, before superfoods like quinoa and kale became trendy. It was not until he found himself in the kitchen at Wolfgang Puck’s San Francisco-based Postrio that Oswald was again inspired by healthy cuisine. There, salad accompanied all entrees and there was a strong Asian influence.

The Chef’s new love of haute cuisine took him to Paris, Bangkok and Beijing. Ultimately, he landed in Colorado, first in Vail and then in Aspen. It also led him to cooking rich, caloric crowd pleasers. By then, he “had worked for maybe 20 years in the high food industry,” at the end of which he opened two restaurants within three weeks of each other. It was stressful and he “practiced mindless eating.” Chefs don’t necessarily eat the best food, warns Oswald, because they’re tasting all day long. As he struggled with his weight, Oswald rediscovered healthy eating and the path to Pyramid.

As he sat across from me in the bistro, I asked him about the tension between cooking healthy and pleasing patrons’ palates. “I’m not sure if you can honestly, sincerely say that healthy food in its pure form is a crowd pleaser,” explained Oswald. “I wouldn’t necessarily say you can mix the two.” The chef does cook rich foods when he caters or competes in cooking competitions, but “health food you have to offer separately.” That being said, he offers both on the menu. Chef Oswald knows all about what’s good for you – it’s “nutrient dense foods” and, if you eat at Pyramid Bistro, you’ll find that eating this way is not only healthy but also delicious.

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A few more questions…

RW: What is in your refrigerator at home?

MO: My wife actually goes and does all the shopping for us at home and we are really just shopping exclusively at Whole Foods. What you will find is a ton of berries…and my wife actually makes homemade muesli. I really, really go with the season so in the winter you’ll find butternut squash, parsnip, carrots, fennel and beets.

RW: What is your favorite thing to eat?

MO: As a chef, I eat so many diverse foods, so I’m not really a person who eats just one item. I eat something different every day. Fortunately in the kitchen I have access to 50 different foods that are already preset.

RW: What is the best advice you could give to someone cooking at home?

MO: Cook more in larger portions because you can always cook a ragout or something simple and freeze some of it up… you only lose 5-10 percent of nutritional content when you freeze something. Freeze it up and you already set your week up with it. The trick is, when you take that African sweet potato ragout out of the freezer, you also want to have a little bit of Swiss chard at home or kale and you can either steam some into it or heat up your ragout and make a fresh salad on top of it. So you can always have a meal that is plant-based, you have less stress, you can spend more time with your friends and family members…and still enjoy nutrient dense foods.”

Originally published on cuative.com.

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The Brothers Fraser: A Fairytale for Culinary Ottawa

The small 56-seat restaurant, Fraser Café, always has an exciting vibe generated by its open kitchen and the fact that it’s often a full house. Having garnished “local and neighbourhood support” since its 2008 inauguration, Fraser is known as a place where Ottawans can get great food in a wholesome atmosphere. Its chefs, brothers Simon and Ross, hail from Ottawa and got into cooking in – believe it or not – the fast food industry. Simon was the first to foray into a culinary career; he’s the older of the two by six years. Though he jokes that Ross followed him into the food industry as a way of outdoing him, Simon “wouldn’t want to be in business with anyone else.” In fact, he’s very complimentary of Ross: “he inspires me – he has so much energy when he comes in cooking on the line and coming up with ideas.”

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The brothers Fraser are kind, humble and thankful for their successes. Out of the many kitchens he’s worked in, Ross derived the most experience from: Domus Café, because it was his first; Beckta for its quality service mentality; and Michael Stadtlander’s Eigensinn Farm for a variety of reasons. He also fulfilled a longtime goal to work for Gordon Ramsay in England, where he was in the “hectic” kitchen from 7 a.m. to midnight. Simon has enjoyed working under his chef uncle in Germany and as the Chef de Cuisine at Domus Café for seven years. The most important things he learned under Chef John Taylor of Domus are “the standard of having great product” and trying to source Canadian ingredients. In fact, these are things the Chefs do at Fraser. Ross explains that the restaurant orders custom homegrown vegetables from Mariposa Farm; unusual ingredients like sugar snap peas and Japanese turnips are on the growing menu. Simon adds that he loves that they make their own bacon from scratch – it doesn’t get more local than that.

Though the two brothers have a great partnership, you won’t often find them in the kitchen at the same time. “We work well together but you can’t really ever have two captains, two chefs,” explains Simon. Of course, when it comes to designing a menu, the brothers work closely together, especially for their Monday night only dinners at their adjacent space, Table 40. “The menu has to flow and when you have two people’s perspectives, you catch certain things that you wouldn’t if you were writing it on your own,” Ross says. Simon tells me the most important thing to consider in a menu plan is creating “balance” through providing a range of options. As for the Monday dinners, Table 40 was the result of the brothers’ desire to grow the business without expanding the seating space. As Fraser is closed on Mondays, they decided to create an alternate space with a set menu and communal tables for Monday dinners. “If it’s seen as a cool idea, it’s kind of lucky for us,” laughs Simon, all modesty.

Though the Fraser brothers are busy living their culinary dream, they have a few hobbies they engage in during their spare time. While Simon is keen on gardening and spending time with his family, Ross enjoys road biking and traveling with his wife. The brothers also shared their favorite foods; Ross’ is a “a crunchy peanut butter and marmalade sandwich” or fish, preferably halibut or salmon, and Simon’s is his grandmother’s mince and skirlie, a traditional Scottish dish. That being said, neither of the chefs cooks much at home. If Cheers is the place where everybody knows your name, then Fraser Café is the place where everybody can feel “comfortable…if there’s even a table of two in here, you’re never going to feel alone.” The open kitchen and warm, neighbourhood feel of Fraser ensure it.

Originally published on cuative.com. Photos courtesy of Fraser Café.

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Chef Greg Mosko, Pastry Chef of Chicago’s North Pond

Pastry Chef Greg Mosko’s desserts are one of the best things about Chicago’s rave-reviewed, Michelin-starred North Pond restaurant. The Chicago-born chef trained in his native city, first at Kendall College and then at the French Pastry School. Pastry school saw him into his first stint at North Pond part-time. Since then, Mosko has ventured to California to work at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and The French Laundry; opened his own resort called Cavallo Point; and returned to Chicago and North Pond, where he’s been for the last five years.

There are three people in the North Pond pastry department: Chef Mosko, his morning prep cook and a nighttime pastry assistant to help with dinner plating. Often, an intern will also aid in this aesthetical pursuit. The pastry team adheres to the same farm-to-table mandate as the rest of the kitchen. That is why Chef Mosko looks to what’s in season when designing a dessert menu. “My general menu consists of whatever’s out there for us to use,” he said, “I pick the ingredients and decide whether or not I want to do something that’s classic…or more component based.” If he takes the classic route, the Chef puts his own spin on it: “I try to think of a different way to present it to the customers that is not necessarily as typical…but is in the same flavor profile that they’re used to.” This brings us to Mosko’s original flavor palate. When he began studying pastry, the field was rooted in more classic desserts; now anything goes and “the pastry scene is moving more toward balance” between the sweet and savory. For example, you might find charred corn sherbet, arugula ice cream or blueberry-verbena sorbet on the North Pond dessert menu.

Chef Mosko has great respect for the chefs he’s worked with. He cites North Pond Chef Bruce Sherman and Chef Thomas Keller as inspirations, along with two of his own former sous chefs. Mosko told me that the most important things he learned from Chef Keller is that “you have a responsibility to put out the best product possible, that there is no perfect food but if you strive to put out the most perfect food possible, you get the best product possible.” Some of Chef Mosko’s favorite tools in this effort are his stand mixer – “the heart of the pastry kitchen” – and his service spoons and spatulas, which he designates “the work horses.” His Pacojet, a device for pureeing, is another favorite.

Mosko’s innovation knows no bounds. Though he “might repeat flavors or flavor combinations,” he doesn’t repeat menu items from season-to-season. I don’t think anyone would complain if he did.

Originally published on cuative.com.

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Chef Miles Angelo of Aspen’s The Caribou Club

Chef Miles Angelo’s unique range of hobbies make it impossible to describe him as anything other than a Renaissance Man. Truth be told, Angelo’s one of the most interesting people I’ve met: he is a world-class chef, dogsleds, forages for hard-to-reach ingredients, is a co-owner of a dog food brand available at Whole Foods and spends his free time in artistic pursuits. He clearly wears many hats – of which his chef and explorer hats are just two. Though he likes to mush, Angelo certainly doesn’t serve it in his restaurant. The well-crafted Caribou Club menu options are elegant, sophisticated, flavorful and inventive.

Angelo began his working life as an underwater welder and built dam and dock systems 300 to 400 feet below the waterline. But he decided to opt for a more professional job and was hired at a restaurant in Long Beach. There, he catapulted from the lower orders to running the kitchen after about eight months and in what proves to be a great story. It all began with a dinner party for 12 hosted by Frank Sinatra and the Executive Chef coming to work that night having imbibed heavily. Long story short, the Chef forgot to use a towel after removing a hot dish from the oven and the pan adhered to his hand. “I’m 20 feet down the line,” Chef Angelo continues “see that scar right there? [he points] That’s where the pan hit me in the side of the head.” While the Executive Chef was rushed to the emergency room, Chef Angelo was called upon to keep the dinner on course, so to speak. After the meal, Sinatra approached Angelo and said: “who made that pizza? You know you wasted about $600 of truffles? It was one of the worst pizzas I’ve ever had in my life.” Mortified, Angelo came clean about his role in the pie. He hadn’t had enough training in the pizza station thus far. Fortunately, the legendary singer was better pleased with the truffle risotto. Says Angelo:

“Frank Sinatra said, ‘well, you redeemed yourself with that risotto’ and he handed me a $100 bill and I said ‘I can’t take this from you…I’m gonna have to break this into $20 bills and hand each of the remaining guys on the line one because that’s the way it’s done. The only way I could put this in my pocket and feel good about it is if you autographed it to me. So I have a hundred-dollar bill autographed by Frank Sinatra.”

Since his first culinary gig, Angelo has worked at Abiquiu and North Beach Bar and Grill in LA and Arizona 206 in New York City. It was there that the owner of the Caribou Club approached him, desperate to hire Angelo after the chef had been mere months on the job. Angelo told him: “I came to New York City to make a name for myself.” The owner asked how he could help. Angelo asked him to “send the reviewers in” and he did. The next two months was a blur of great reviews. After 18 months at Arizona 206, Angelo traded the city skyline for Aspen’s mountain air; he hasn’t looked back since.

Chef Angelo has worked at Aspen’s famed Caribou Club for the past 18 years, coming onboard only seven years after the members only club opened. He’s been there so long that the restaurant’s glowing reputation and his own creative culinary genius have become synonymous. Though he is catering to the same “affluent clientele” he did at his other restaurants, his food has “changed very dramatically throughout the years.” At Arizona 206 he specialized in “Asianized southwestern food.” But spicy food doesn’t go with great wine and the Caribou Club boasts “one of the finest wine lists in the country.” Chef Angelo crafts his menu around his philosophy of “eating the view.” He’s a very strong proponent of sourcing local ingredients and regularly forages for items like Porcini mushrooms, “the king of mushrooms.” He recently retrieved 50 to 60 pounds of these each day for a week straight with his kitchen staff. “I am a primitive hunter,” explains Angelo, who makes his own bows and arrows and naps his own flints. He both hunts with these and contributes them to his sister’s jewelry line, dna, based out of New York. “These days my art is really just primitive bow making,” explains Angelo whose old-fashioned pursuit feeds into his idea that our society has “lost touch with who we are,” something that a chef can never do. “To be a great chef, you have to be in touch with nature,” he continues.

Angelo’s foraging expeditions by dogsled are just one example of how he is in touch with nature on a deep level. But he also derives inspiration from great chefs and observing his surroundings. He shares one particularly interesting inspirational anecdote: while walking in the alley outside the Caribou Club, Angelo watched “some guy slaughtering this piece of fish on a grill.” The grill wasn’t hot enough, he put the fish on skin side first: “it was an absolute mess.” After seeing the man abandon the grill with ire and leaving behind a large piece of skin, Angelo approached the grill, flipped the piece of skin over, ran down to the Caribou kitchen and retrieved a palm sugar mix he often uses when cooking. He dusted the mixture over the piece of skin and ate the candied salmon skin. “It will make it on the menu some day – not yet, but that inspiration just came up from watching the guy hack that piece of fish like the hands of a blind woodsman.” Angelo explains that this kind of thing is why you must always “be of a presence of mind to be inspired.”

Chef Miles Angelo is one of the world’s culinary creatives. His food is exceptional and his own aura is one of a happy, innovative person who derives energy and inspiration from everything around him. He tells me “if you get set in your ways in this business, then you might as well quit.” But no one would ever accuse Miles Angelo of that.

Originally published on cuative.com. Photos courtesy of the Caribou Club.