Kid Gloves: Is this the end of “niceness” in the Columbus dining scene?

A couple of years ago a local journalist wrote a very complimentary piece about some food that I made. He was gracious and generous with his praise while making keen observations about the subtle nuances of my flavors. He even made some very flattering comparisons between myself and a chef in Chicago that I looked up to greatly. As a young cook, receiving his first real write up in a city-wide publication his words were about as good as anything I could have hoped for. When I was feeling most exposed and vulnerable,  insecure about my ability to make food that people would like, it was exactly what I needed to hear. I was ten feet tall.

The only problem? The review was total bullshit.



I came to this recollection thanks to Facebook’s “Memories” feature, that little gem seemingly designed to only show you old pictures of your cat that your ex got to keep in the break-up. Recently, Memories reached back into the mists of Internets past, and like some digital Doc Brown, came back with that old article. Looking back on that which I was once so proud, to this thing that inspired such confidence building validation, imagine my horror in finding the description of a meal that a more honest critic would have called “a nice try”.

As I looked back through some of my other old clippings (Yes, I save all of my old clippings. And I keep a back-up on my Mom’s refrigerator.), I noticed a similar phenomenon: reviewers were throwing me a lot of softballs.

So, what was going on? Were Columbus food reviews so inept as to not be able to, and I’ll use one of my new favorite phrases, “taste a fart in the wind”? Did they confuse my food with another, higher quality meal they had eaten earlier? Was I just being hard on myself? (One of the articles featured a picture of a lifeless, pale panini sandwich served on a paper plate. It looked like sandwich night at the Veal household. )

ann veal egg

“Will’s sandwiches are the perfect compliment to a mayonegg.” – Ann Veal, Columbus food critic

I’ve continued to think about it and I don’t think it was any of those things. I think that these midwestern writers were doing what midwesterners do so well: they were being nice.


After a recent Columbus Knife Fight, the local Chef-vs-Chef cooking competition hosted by The Commissary, a bit of a foodie fracas broke out between some of our city’s most vaulted cooks. A comment, one that could be interpreted as either heavy-handed snark or benign curiosity devolved (or evolved?) into a a scathing indictment of one of the areas most notorious and divisive chefs. (It should be noted that the principal participants in the actual competition, Chef Seth “Water Crackers” Lassak and Chef Marcus “Whipping C.R.E.A.M.” Meacham were both absent from the online altercation, presumably too tired from actually cooking to be folded into the trolling.)

After much airing of grievances, hot dog related and otherwise, the fight appeared to be all but won, the accused trolls had be hammered into submission by a newly formed “fraternity” of culinary justice- think N.W.O. but in chef coats. When, all of a sudden, a mysterious figure, hereto unaffiliated with the brawl, burst onto the scene to assist the battered villain, lashing out at his assailants with a metal folding chair of on-the-nose insults.

And there I sat, watching it all unfold from the safety of my couch, robotically shoveling dry handfuls of Special K Chocolatey Delight into my mouth, eyes locked on my phone screen. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh…


I grew up on the internet. And not the good “country club” part of the internet. I was raised at the corner of & 4Chan. I seen trolling.

And we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing people we know fighting online. Sometimes its your Pittsburgh Steelers crazed friend telling literally EVERYONE from the city of Cincinnati to perform a sex act on themselves that I wouldn’t use in my ISIS-meets-Yall’queda erotic fan fiction.  Sometimes its a academic arguing with a community organizer about the complex moral issues surrounding the force-feeding of Baconators to even the most militant of vegans. Donald Trump AND Bernie Sanders are running for president AT THE SAME TIME. People fight on the internet. It usually annoys me that we are wasting precious bandwith on arguments that would otherwise be spent on cat videos and wild speculation about Steven Avery.

No, my fascination this time was about something different. This, or at least part of it, was connected to niceness. All parties involved, the so-called trolls and the subjects of that trolling, were all operating and reacting to the self-imposed niceness of the city’s food scene.

When crappy food gets a good review the chefs grumble,

They never actually critique anybody. All these shitty cooks get a pass.

And the trolls? They subvert the rule of nice, they reject niceness, and get a rise out of those who follow the rules- ya’ know, like trolls do. And this time, and this is what may be unique, the established chefs, who have so far kept their shit talking to themselves, are pulling back the curtain and publicly “calling out” those chefs who, in a less “nice” town, might be ridden out on a rail.


Are we entering into a new era of honesty? If that honesty and criticism results in a better food scene at the expense of people’s feelings, is it all worth it? Is the price we pay for elevated food culture our relationships with each other?

And what happens to that young, nervous cook who really just needs a kind, if-not-totally honest review to inspire him onto something better?

As I’m writing this a new flame war seems to be developing over on the Instagram. If the catalyst to answering any of these questions is found in digital smack talking, if there is some kernel of truth that is exposed when our amity is gone, and if that truth, once released, precipitates change, we may have answers to these questions sooner than we think.

Manifesto for the New Nordic Cuisine – A Primer

Identity is crucial in this era of globalisation. An awareness of who we are and where we come from is essential to our self-image and our sense of belonging. An appreciation of local culinary tradition is just one aspect of this, and is now more important than ever. – Einar Risvik, Chairman of the New Nordic Food program

New Nordic Cuisine, or Modern Nordic Cuisine, or whatever we are calling it these days, has dominated the global culinary landscape for nigh on a decade.  Rene Redzepi, and his famed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, along with a troupe of lesser known yet equally respected Nordic chefs, have brought the region’s cuisine sharply into focus in the 2st century. Nordic ideas about local sourcing and sustainability, once fringe notions, are now a prerequisite to be considered one of the best restaurants in the world. In just under a decade Nordic chefs have successfully created a new cuisine, grounded in a rich culinary tradition and supported by a multitude of microclimates and a unique biodiversity. Theirs is a cuisine to rival any in the world.

My question is: How did they do it?

In 2004, Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer, his NOMA cohort and Danish culinary icon, held a symposium in which they invited some of the region’s best chefs, food writers, and culinary culturalists to Copenhagen, the topic:  How to nurture the then infantile food movement grounded in their local cuisine.  The result of that meeting was the ten-point Manifesto for the New Nordic Cuisine, an outline of the principles and philosophies of their fledgling food revolution. The Manifesto, grounded in Nordic notions of sustainability, food purity, and ethics, reflected the values of the region’s citizens. The Manifesto was an attempt at expressing Nordic culture through Nordic food.  Much like the instructions for a new piece of slick Scandinavian furniture, the Manifesto clearly explained the tenets for this new way of cooking in a language that was concise and easy to understand.

It reads:

The aims of The New Nordic Cuisine are:

1) To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate to our region.

2) To reflect the changes of the seasons in the meals we make.

3) To base our cooking on ingredients and produce whose characteristics are particularly in our climates, landscapes and waters.

4) To combine the demand for good taste with modern knowledge of health and well-being.

5) To promote Nordic products and the variety of Nordic producers – and to spread the word about their underlying cultures.

6) To promote animal welfare and a sound production process in our seas, on our farmland and in the wild.

7) To develop potentially new applications of traditional Nordic food products.

8) To combine the best in Nordic cookery and culinary traditions with impulses from abroad.

9) To combine local self-sufficiency with regional sharing of high-quality products.

10) To join forces with consumer representatives, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, fishing, food, retail and wholesales industries, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this project for the benefit and advantage of everyone in the Nordic countries.

And here’s the thing. They did it. These values and philosophies have shaped the restaurants of Scandinavia and helped them be counted among the best in the world. More importantly, they have exported these values to restaurants around the world, creating the foundation from which to erect ever more equitable and sustainable kitchens and communities.

After the Fresh Street pop-up, I had the chance to shoot the shit with some of Columbus’ best young chefs and cooks. Being a rather dour bunch,added to the fact that it was early on a Sunday, at least by food service standards, we eventually got to bitching. In their turn the usual complaints came up: not being able to find good help, a lack of mentors for young cooks, long hours, a lack of public enthusiasm for anything new, pretty run-of-the-mill griping for our lot. Then, we got on the big one, the one that always seems to come up:

What, exactly, is Columbus food? How can we make food that accurately represents our community and its values and traditions? How do our kitchens and restaurants contribute to what makes Columbus a great place to live and a memorable place to eat?

We draw our inspirations from the great cuisines of the world, and in our time in culinary history, much of that inspiration has been drawn from the chefs and restaurants of Scandinavia. I’m proposing that we don’t stop with what those chefs serve, but look deeper, examining how they serve.

The desire is here. The desire to be great. The desire to show the rest of the world what we already know:

Columbus, Ohio is a world class food city.

Now we just need a map to get us there. Luckily, much like our Northern counterparts across the ocean, we can chart our own course, draw our own map. A map that leads to a better understanding of our identity and our place in the wider world of food. All we need to do is the work.

Something is happening here. Momentum is building and a ground swell is rising on a new era in Columbus food. And I’m goddamn excited, and your should be to! It doesn’t have a name yet, and honestly, I’m a little afraid to even talk about it, for fear that, like some culinary Schrodinger’s cat, these just manifested notions should be swept away like crumbs from a tablecloth.

Nevertheless, I propose that we put some meat on these bones! Lets give these feelings a name. Let’s mark our territory and define our values. Let’s discover and celebrate our food history, its techniques, dishes, and ingredients. Let’s revel in our air, soil, and water and their bounty.  The time is now to stake our claim on the culinary landscape!

I’m ready. Who the hell is with me?

Valar Ipradas : Game of Thrones Menu Preview

Tonight The Commissary will play host to Chef Aaron Mercier, of Rook’s Rustic Tavern, as he serves up a menu inspired by the hit HBO show Game of Thrones. This is the third installment of his Parliament of Rooks pop-up dinner series.

Chef Mercier’s menu is designed to showcase his “inner nerd” and will feature “seven novel-inspired dishes in honor of the Seven Gods of Westeros”. (It is the opinion of this author that The Seven are but a balm for a pox that has spread across the once mighty face of Westeros, and that real relief will only be obtained in the cleansing  fire of the Red God. Praise be to R’hollor!)

We were granted a sneak peak at the menu, and its got us hungrier than Hot Pie after his daring escape from Harrenhal! Here is what Chef Aaron has in store:

  • Kingslander’s Summer Salad – Mixed herbs, foraged mixed greens, ground cherries, flowers, vinaigrette
  • Treacherous Leek Soup- Mushrooms and warm spices
  • Dornish-style Stuffed Cherry Chiles – Queso fresco, machaca con carne seca, thyme bechamel, shallot chips
  • Rillette a la Tyrion – Rillette of bacon and smoked fish, pumpernickel toast points, Chef’s whole-grain mustard, blackberry compote
  • Braised Oxtails with Herbed Rice- Chili jus, cattail pollen, green onion
  • Pigeon Pie – Pigeon, peas, gravy
  • Samwell’s Blueberry Tart- Saffron creme batard, candied herbs

This menu is sure to satisfy all diners, from the most noble and discerning families of venerable Meereen to a ravenous Dothraki bloodrider. (If you are getting even half of these references than this really is the dinner for you!) Dinner starts at 7, with libations available for purchase from Actual Brewing Company. Tickets for the dinner are $60 and can be purchased here. And, as an added bonus, the first five readers to purchase tickets and enter the code “Wanderlunch” at check-out will receive a 15% discount. John Snow may know nothing, but even he knows a great deal like this when he sees one!

Inspiration Album: Peru

In my humble, and generally uniformed opinion, I’m going to state what I believe to be an unequivocal fact:

In 2015, the chefs of Peru are making the most exciting food on the planet.

In the spirit of being out of the proverbial Peruvian closet, and in an attempt to persuade any non-believers, I present an album of pictorial evidence, proof-positive of my claim. Inspiration for the neophyte, unaware of his southern culinary brethren, as well as the woefully uninspired chefs among you, the poor wretches who can’t bear the thought of another pot of Idaho mashed potatoes or plate of Parmesan chicken.

Before we dive in,we’ve got to understand a few things about what’s happening in Peru:

1- First, I am Columbus-ing the shit out of an entire culture and regional cuisine. Peru, and Central America in general, have always had an amazing and vibrant cuisine, but, like a lot of other things that fall under the umbreala of fashion and pop-culture (and cooking is both of these things), they don’t become popular until white folks “discover” them. Hate me if you want, but at least I’m up front about it.

2- The “rise” is Peruvian popularity is due to two factors:

  • An incredible biodeversity provides Peruvian chefs with a seemingly endless supply of unique fruits and vegetables, creating an arch of taste rivlled by only a few places on Earth
  • An influx of classicly trained and worldly Peruvian chefs has wielded that flavor palette artfully, resulting in a vibrancy and vitality that is palpable. Peruvian cuisine is vivacious;  a testament to its biome, a place literally teeming with life!

Chef Virgilio Martinez’s stand-out Octopus at Lima’s Central resturant . Image credit

Another octopus, this time served charred and in infused broth, from famed Astrid y Gaston, a Lima institution for almost 20 years. Image credit :

A pioneer of “Neikki” cuisine, a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese, Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura of Maido, again, of Lima, is making some of the world’s most innovative sushi. Image credit,

Another forerunner of Peruvian-Amazonia cuisine is Chef José Ragazzi Cifuentes, of Lima’s Malabar. This dessert features ingredients unique to the Amazon. Image Credit

This dish comes from La Mar, a cebicheria, a restaurant specializing in all things ceviche. The Peruvian contribution to the art of ceviche is one of the most exciting things about Peruvian food. Image credit: Flicker

Recipe : Foraged Wild Spinach and Green Bean Salad

Have you ever had the urge to venture into the woods, backyard, or highway median and eat the stuff you find growing there?

No? Just me?

Well, if there are any curious would-be foragers out there I’ve put together a quick and easy recipe featuring a really common foraged green, wild spinach, aka lambs quarter. It also features some quick pickled red onions, pickled brussels sprout leaves, charred green beans, and broccoli sprouts. This one is really pretty and light and would make a nice start to your next dinner with friends and it pairs really well with sauvignon blanc.


> Green Beans, .25#, ends trimmed, blanched and shocked

> Red Onion, .25 EA., thinly sliced

> Brussels Sprouts, .125#, blanched and shocked, leaves removed

> Wild Spinach (lambs quarter), .5#, washed and dried in even layers

> Broccoli Sprouts, .125#, cleaned and dried

> Apple Melon, .25 EA., oblique cut

> Pistachios, 5 EA., shells removed and meat crushed

> White Vinegar, .25 C.

> Sugar, 1 T.

> Safflower, to garnish

> Sea Salt , TT

> Lime, 1 EA., juiced

> Champagne Vinegar, 1 t.

> Honey, 1 t.

> Olive Oil

> Sweet Cicely Root, .25″ piece, washed

 Wash your damn hands! Combine the white vinegar and sugar in a small pan until just about to boil. Pour the sugar-vinegar mixture over the red onions and brussels sprout leaves. Let them sit at least 20 minutes up to 3 hours. Drain the liquid and reserve the onions and brussels.

Next, char the green beans. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the green beans and let them char for a couple of minutes, tossing every minute or so. Because we blanched the beans before we aren’t really cooking them, just getting them nice and dark. Remove the beans from the pan and season them with sea salt.

To make the dressing, combine lime juice, honey, grated sweet cicely root, and champagne vinegar in a glass bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Season with kosher salt to taste. Set the dressing aside.

To plate, toss the apple melon, green beans, and pistachios together with some of the dressing. Place the wild spinach around the plate, then add the green beans, melon, and nuts. Arrange the pickled vegetables and sprouts next. Finally, garnish with the safflower. Serve right away.

* A note on some of the ingredients in this recipe, specifically the apple melon and the sweet cicely. The apple melon can be substituted for any easier to find apple.  The melon has a more mild, more-melon-like flavor.The sweet cicely is another foraged ingredient and has a flavor like really mild anise or black licorice. You can substitute anise or just exclude if that flavor isn’t your thing. The safflower is just a pretty garnish and doesn’t change the flavor at all. 

Lastly, if your really want to try the salad exactly as you see it, and you live in Columbus, Ohio, you can find all of the ingredients at the Clintonville Farmer’s Market. The sweet cicely and the wild spinach are available from our friend Kate at Foraged & Sown, a produce vendor who specializes in foraged greens, roots, and flowers found all across central Ohio. 

As always, if you make this or any other Wanderlünch recipe, let us know how you liked it in the comments section. 

wanderLibrary – Five Essential Cookbooks

I like to think of myself as a bibliophile. This isn’t to suggest that I simply like to read; I enjoy the physical experience of books. I like to look at them, and touch them. Run my fingers over an embossed cover, feel the dignified heft of a hardbound tome or the swishy flutter of the pages of a well-loved paperback with a broken spine,swirling her dogeared skirts like some biblio-bound flamenco dancer.

Needless to say, as a book nerd and a chef, I have a special relationship with cookbooks. I’m proud of my collection, so much so that they occupy a special bookcase all on their own, located just off stage from my kitchen. My main book collection, an amalgamation of paperback fiction, English literature textbooks from my University days, and a what may encompass the entire Russian cannon, is kept in pristine condition, presided over with a manner that can only be described as monastic. Not so for the cookbooks.

Cookbooks are working books. They don’t live in the hermetic conditions of a library, but rather the sauce-streaked world of the kitchen. They get splattered by boiling pots and soak up the excess moisture from fresh cut vegetables. There well-worn pages are highlighted and annotated in the rushed script of culinary inspiration, hurried conversions scribbled in the margins. They tell both the story of their respective restaurant, chef or cuisine, but also the story of the would-be cook that draws inspiration from them. This individual story is told in the myriad blemishes, burns, and grease stains, translucent windows through which we may view the creation of a chef.

In that spirit, I present five of the books that make up my story:

The Science of Good Cooking by The Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

This book is a great foundation for new cooks and one of the few books where every recipe is useful. This book is based around applying any particular technique to a wide range of dishes. Instead of just giving you a marinade recipe for chicken this book provides a detailed explanation of how marinades work. Basically the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him how to catch his own; replace fishing with cooking pork (or beef, or vegetable, or, even, well… fish) and you’ve got the gist of what makes this seemingly ordinary cookbook so great.

This book also introduced me to the scientific, lab-like conditions and methodology of the modern kitchen. This book is rich with detailed explanations of the cooking process and how the scientific method can be brought to bear on culinary creation. Before the shipping-container test-kitchen at Noma or Sean Brock’s miso laboratory, there was America’s Test Kitchen. Modern cooking is about finding a balance between the inspiration of the artist and the rigidity of the scientist and this cookbook (as well as the parent publications) is a great introduction to that headspace.

The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller

The French Laundry Cookbook is to my generation what Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to the chefs of the 60’s. After its publication in 1999 this cookbook was quickly hailed as a must read. The French Laundry, helmed by demi-god Chef Thomas Keller, represents a watershed moment in American cuisine.  Keller’s unassuming cottage of a restaurant, nestled in the heart of California wine country, showed the world that American cuisine, when done at the highest level, could rival any old-world restaurant.

The cookbook, more than a collection of recipes and beautiful photographs, was a history into this now storied institution, showcasing to the rest of us what a perfect restaurant looks like.  Especially consequential was the book’s focus on the individual farmers, purveyors, and foragers who were so instrumental in the restaurant’s success and the direction of her cuisine. The French Laundry Cookbook was an introduction to local sourcing and its impact on a menu. The story of Keller’s personal mushroom monger, who spent summers scouring the hills of the Sierra Nevada in search of the world’s finest fungus, had an especially strong impact on how I think about sourcing ingredients. Keller’s book showcased the intimate relationship that exists between the greatest chefs and the people that supply them with food.

Finally, the book introduced us to Thomas Keller the man, on his own terms, in his own kitchen. Reading his words, his constant, gentle reminders that a requisite ingredient for truly great food is love, provided a welcome contrast to the pervasive image of executive chefs as militant authoritarians, a cliche popularized by Gordon Ramsey and Charlie Trotter. Keller showed a different, softer, much more California way of doing things, one that was always focused on preparing food of the utmost quality without sacrificing the development of his kitchen staff. This strategy has proven a winner, as French Laundry alumni, Alinea’s Grant Achatz and Noma’s Rene Redzepi to name a few, now own and operate some of the world’s finest restaurants.

Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook Will Gidara and Daniel Humm

This cookbook and I have a, let’s call it complicated relationship. To understand that relationship, we must first ask the question:

What is the purpose of a cookbook?

If you answered, “To provide a cook with recipes that can then be reproduced for personal use and enjoyment.” I think you’d be in-line with majority of others. Not so with the author’s of Eleven Madison Park : The Cookbook; even a casual glance at the first few recipes in this 350+ page behemoth makes something abundantly clear, these chefs don’t really give a fuck if you can make their recipes or not. You don’t have a sous vide machine at your house? Tough shit. You want a substitution for sea urchin, because you can’t find any…in your entire state? Too bad.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the cookbook actually contains this rather stark admonition to her perspective chefs:

If you never cook, this is probably a book that should stay on your coffee table. Many recipes require a significant time commitment, a certain level of skill, a reasonably equipped kitchen, and a healthy dose of persistence.

Translation: You aren’t good enough to make our food.

And you know what? That’s totally okay. Actually, its pretty much the whole point. The Eleven Madison Park cookbook is a work of pure inspiration. This is not a how-to manual; it’s a work of art, just like the food it depicts. This is a master class in modern American cuisine. This book distills 30 years of progress in American kitchens and presents it in the form of some extremely detailed recipes and breathtaking full page photographs.

What I take from this book, and what I find myself coming back for time and again, is the detailed description of finishing and plating dishes. Plating is my favorite part about line cooking and this book provided a seemingly endless font of inspiration from which to draw. This book is the logical end for the entire school of thought known, somewhat basely, as food porn. The difference here is that, unlike some imitators, E.M.P.’s plating isn’t smut: it’s erotica.

Heritage Sean Brock

This is the newest book on the list, and the most influential on the current state of popular American dining. While Europe and the Coasts have finally moved away from gussied-up Southern comfort food, the rest of us, at least gauging by trends in local and regional dining, are still quite enthralled with gastronomic offerings of those states south of the Mason-Dixon. The movement in new-Southern food is propelled by a cabal of post-Bellum chefs; hip, left-leaning culinarians who are much more approachable than traditional depictions of southern-ness.

Chef Sean Brock, of Charleston’s Husk, is the archetype for the modern Southern chef, with one foot firmly steeped in the South’s rich culinary past and the other on the cutting edge of American food. This past-meets-future dichotomy has proven itself to be irresistible to diners and critics alike, and has seen Southern food and flavors dominate the landscape of American cuisine for the last several years.

Brock’s book, much like Keller’s, place a keen emphasis on the role that careful sourcing of ingredients plays in the creation and success of his unique cuisine. The difference is that while Keller spent a lifetime fleshing his purveyors out, it would appear that Brock was born into a world of exceptionally diverse and interesting ingredients.

He who dies with the fullest pantry wins. – Chef Sean Brock

Brock’s book, which outlines many of his food and seed saving techniques, has inspired a generation of chefs to try their hands at pickling, preserving, and canning as a way of finding your own unique culinary palate. The rebirth of the root cellar and the rediscovery by so many chefs of traditional food preservation methods can be attributed, at least in part, to Brock and his book.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

The last book isn’t a cookbook. And it isn’t really about cooking either. It’s a somewhat romanticized look at the life of a professional cook and the grand-daddy of the ever growing genre know as the Chef Memoir. Its about Anthony Bourdain “coming up” in the industry, in the cut-throat, hard-cooking and harder-partying world of 80’s & 90’s New York City. And it fucking rules.

This book is the reason I wanted to be a cook, and I know I’m not the only person my age that feels this way. Bourdain carries the chef-meets-rockstar banner passed to him by Marco Pierre White, without, ya know, being an asshat. Bourdain made the life, the long hours, the smoking, the cuts and burns, the booze, and most importantly, the work, sound cool. He was masculine without being stupid, cool but not pretentious. He was a pirate poet and a real cook’s cook. In short, this story is a guide book at becoming the man.

And for any parent who doesn’t want their kid to grow up to be a cook (aka, would like their child to retire someday) do not, under any circumstances, let them read this book, or any others on this list. (Sorry Pop…)

What are your must read cookbooks? Chef memoirs? Food magazines? Let me know in the comments!

(UPDATE) The Commissary to host “Fresh Street” Founders for Pop-Up Dinners plus an Q&A w/ Chef Kim

The Commissary (1400 Dublin Rd., Columbus) has become the epicenter of pop-up dining in central Ohio. Recent highlights include Chef Bill Glover, of Gallerie Bar & Bistro, and his music-meets-dinner concept and an upcoming “Game of Thrones” feast, the third installment of the “Parliament of Rooks” series from Chef Aaron Mercier.

Add to that list the highly anticipated return of dj-turned-chef and pop-up pioneer Kenny Kim, co-founder of the now legendary pop-up Fresh Street Yakitori, formerly of Brewery District night spot Double Happiness. The Commissary will host Kim for a three-night stand, 7/24 – 7/26, and you better get your tickets for this one fast!

To say that people are excited for this dinner is an understatement. A Facebook post soliciting kitchen help for the event has seen significant traffic since its publication a few days ago. (And the number of people volunteering to help cook is impressive; it seems that Chef Kim will be able to afford himself an entire brigade!)

Kim’s original pop-up brought the idea of less-than-permanent dining to Columbus in the form of Fresh Street Yakitori, specializing in delectable grilled meats on a stick. Fresh Street was perfect and had everything you could want from pop-up dining. Ever evolving menus, hand written on butcher paper, illuminated by twee illustrations of the food. It was housed in a cool bar that, if it wasn’t a show night, was usually full enough to be inviting yet empty enough to feel exclusive and special; a haunt for CCAD graduates and an emerging scene of downtown cool kids. Heavily influenced by co-founder Misahko Ohba, the take on Japanese street food was simultaneously exotic and familiar. I’ll never forget the first time I had the pork cheek. Incredibly tender and charred just right over the coals in their little brick grill, this was a special. And the portion was perfect, just enough to really let you taste your food, but not enough to totally slake your craving for street meat. Part of the Fresh Street magic, at least for me, was that I always wanted more. According to Thomas Keller a truly great dish will leave you yearning for “just one more bite”. Columbus has been waiting for that one last taste for several years, and it seems that we will finally get it!

So here’s the line up:

  • 7/24 @ 7:00 PM – Fresh Street Backyard BBQ
  • 7/25 @ 6-9 PM – Fresh Street Taco Shop
  • 7/26 @ 11:00 AM – Fresh Street Japanese Diner Brunch

Just reading the names of the pop-ups has me hungry. Each one of these meals plays to Kim & Ohba’s specific strengths as chefs and should be great venues for showcasing their food. I’m especially intrigued by the brunch. Chef Misako trained at the Vantan Pastry School in Tokyo and I’m curious to see if this pastry knowledge will work its was into the meal.

These dinners are a definite don’t miss. To purchase tickets to one (or all) of the dinners click here.

UPDATE 7.15.15- Chef Kenneth Kim was able to answer some questions about the pop-up. Keep reading for info straight from the source!

W.L. – The dates for the pop-up are 7/24-7/26, will you be doing three seperate dinners?

K.K. – Yup. We want to make sure there are different reasons to go to each even. First night is a Japanese backyard BBQ theme event. Second night is a Japanese taco shop them. Third day is a Japanese-American breakfast/brunch diner.

W.L. – Is this dinner affiliated with The Commissary’s Kickstarter campaign? If so, will non-backers be able to buy tickers?

K.K. – It is (affiliated with the kickstarter campaign) but we need everyone to come. Non-backers are invited for sure. Come one, come all!

W.L. – Do you see this as a continuation of what you did with Fresh Street?

K.K. – We don’t have all the cooking equipment to do fRESHSTREET staples. Our concepts are designed to have fun with everyone. We’re cutting out the fancy shit this weekend.

W.L. – Are you still working with Misako?

K.K. – Yup! I can’t post as many pics of her cooking because we aren’t working side-by-side right now in San Diego, but we are looking to start another venture soon. Also, the Facebook name changed to my birth name instead of fRESHSTREET because I can’t have a business name on a friends page according to Facebook and I can’t figure out how to transfer my page to a business page without losing everything.

W.L. – What have you been up to since you left Columbus? What do you think of the San Diego food scene?

K.K. – Been working a ton of different places, some good and some shitty. I’ve been at gastropus, ramen shops, Asian-Fusion lounges, etc. Misako’s been at bakeries, sushi restaurants, and at a robatayaki spot.

Just like most places, San Diego has some good and some bad. They have a high standard for product there and they like to be a little health conscious. Real estate is more expensive so restaurateurs tend to be more conservative. It’s also a tourist destination, so that changes the food culture here to cater to visitors a bit. There’s a lot of variety here and few spots that nail it, but just like most cities, there’s room for growth. Overall, a better than average food scene. Great Mexican food scene here being right next to Mexico.

W.L.- Your last pop-up at Double Happiness brought in some pretty heavy hitters as collaborators, most notable Jonathan Sawyer and Jenn Louis, do you have any special guests on deck for this dinner?

K.K. – We want this one to be more about local chefs. We haven’t seen anyone in three years or so and we wouldn’t be able to spend anytime with anyone if we brought in “heavy hitters”.

W.L. – Fresh Street has reached almost legendary status in Columbus. To this day I think about the pork cheek skewer and get hungry. If you returned to the city you’d have a fan base ready and waiting. You ever think about coming back?

K.K. – I do. There are a bunch of west coast chefs that I know that want to go to Ohio to try something different. It would be a matter of finding the perfect situation.

W.L. – The Columbus food scene has matured pretty rapidly in the last few years. Are there any places your excited to try while you’re in town? And chefs you’d like to work with?

K.K. – I want to try Hot Chicken Takeover. As for chefs, a lot of the one I like are magically helping out for the event. Like Matthew Heaggans, Lara Yazvac (Pipia), Avishar Barua, and Bekah Lehman off the top of my head. Don’t know too much about the current scene because we been gone.

W.L. – What’s the story behind the Fresh Street logo?

K.K. – It’s just a sleepy hippo with an octopus best friend. I’m kind of the hippo. Misako is the octopus. Just a fun logo that’s different than others. Misako drew it.

W.L. – Final thoughts?

K.K. – These three events are less about showing off skills and more about seeing everyone in fun environments and working with local talent. If you don’t come with any preset ideas of what to expect, you should have a great time.

And there you have it folks, straight from the hippo’s mouth! To see Chef Kim, Chef Misako, and any of a number of Columbus’ best chefs in action GET YOUR DAMN TICKETS NOW! 

Charred Snap Pea & Date Tacos

So this recipe is intended to be a way for you to use up leftover, prepared chicken, something we never thrown away at our place. I call for leftover rotisserie chicken (yes, the kind you find dripping on those greasy spits at the grocery store.), but you can use whatever kind of chicken, light or dark meat, breasts or thighs, that you have kicking around your fridge.

These tacos are light and super fresh, and have an interesting sweet quality, owing to the sliced dates. They are quick to prepare and make a great summer lunch. The recipe below makes about 4 6″ tacos.


  • Leftover Rotisserie Chicken, pulled apart, 2 oz.
  • Sugar snap peas, fresh, 1/3 C.
  • Dates, pits removed, thinly sliced, 2 EA.
  • Corn Tortillas, small, 4 EA.
  • Cilantro, fresh, minced, 1/4 C.
  • Garlic, fresh, minced, 1 T.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/4 C.
  • Cayanne, 1 t.
  • Radish, julienne, to garnish
  • Brocolli Sprouts, to garnish *As always, if you can’t get your mits on microgreens, supstitute whatever lettuce or greens you have available, the fresher the better!
  • Lime Wedges, to garnish
  • Kosher Salt, To Taste
  • Smoked Maladon Salt, to finish
  • Vegetable or Peanut Oil, to char the beans

Wash your damn hands! Heat your charring oil in a cast iron skillet until it just begins to smoke. Add the peas in a single, even layer and let them do their thing. They should pop and smoke and blister and generally get gnarly looking. You’re charring them, meaning almost burning. Toss them around every minute or so to ensure even charring.

Once they look nice and dark, keep the pan on the stove and cut the heat. Add the chicken and the dates to the pan. We aren’t cooking here, just heating everything up. Let everything mingle in the pan until warmed through. Taste the chicken and then add salt, if it needs it.

While the chicken is heating, make the drizzle. In a glass bowl combine cilantro, garlic, olive oil and cayenne. Mix well and set aside.


To plate, heat tortillas in the microwave for ten seconds. Add the snap pea/chicken/date mixture in an even layer on the tortilla. Next, drizzle the cilantro and garlic oil then top with broccoli sprouts and radish. Add a pinch of smoked salt and serve with a lime wedge.

As always, if you try these let me know how they turned out, what you substituted, or ways to improve the recipe!