The Story Behind the Tasting Menu at central kitchen

Chef Ryan Pollnow took some time from his busy schedule to sit down with me and talk about the tasting menu at central kitchen. We met  just before service earlier last week at a table close to the open kitchen, so he could still supervise production while answering a few questions.

Chef Ryan Pollnow plates a taste of mushrooms.

Chef Ryan Pollnow plates a taste of mushrooms.

Name and title…

My name is Ryan Pollnow, I’m the chef de cuisine at Ne Timeas Restaurant Group, stationed out of central kitchen restaurant.

What does that mean?

That means, that although my time is dedicated mostly to central kitchen, my job and duty is to be the eyes and ears and palate of chef Thomas where he’s not. He can’t be everywhere at once, so between the two of us (we) oversee all three restaurants.

How long have you’ve been working with the company?

I’ve been with Ne Timeas Restaurant Group over 2 years and central kitchen coming up on a one year. Hopefully someone would buy me something really nice for my one year anniversary!

What inspires you to create the tasting menu every night?

The tasting menu is the best of what central kitchen has to offer. It allows the kitchen to control not only the progression of flavors and textures, but also the pace of  the meal. I think the age of plated tasting menus is dying and people want to be engaged, so we try to do a combination of shared and plated items on our tasting menu to mix it up. The first taste that you get is really a distraction — It’s going from a clear table to a table full of different tastes bound by one common theme. The fist taste is meant to engage you right off the bat. When it begins, the dish immediately starts a conversation about food and the experience.

The start of the autumn tasting menu.

the beginning dish of the autumn tasting menu

Do you write the tasting menu on your own? How does it work?

Just like the a la carte menu, the offerings  are conceptualized by all of us. We’re a team. That’s the most important thing I ever did at central kitchen, allowing my team to have a voice on the menu. If you look at both the a la carte and the tasting menus there is so much global influence. That’s not something that I can pull off by myself, or that Chef Thomas can pull off by himself, it really takes a combination of all these palates and experiences.

Where does the inspiration come from most of the time?

For me it always starts with the raw product. So, most of the time because of where we are as far as agricultural location, it’s always produce first. Saturday is a big day not only for shopping at the farmer’s market, but also shopping for inspiration. It’s one thing to read on a list that apples are now in season,iIt’s completely different when you go to that farmer’s market and you taste the apples from 4 or 5 different farms, tastes completely different.

How does the wine team and you work together to develop the pairings for the tasting menu?

On the tasting menu we build a progression of flavors, we do the same with the wines. It goes from the lightest to heaviest dishes. It would be easy to just plug in wines in the proper order, but it takes an immense amount of dialogue between Geno and Sam and myself to create an interesting pairing. We talk about the produce, about the farms, about the textures, about how the wine can complement the food either by contrasting flavors or complimenting them. Then, we go on to tasting the dish. We have a great wine by the glass program that we get to play with on a daily basis, but we get to have fun with the pairings and we get to crack open more special selections.

Sounds great. You were off yesterday, where did you go out to eat?

A day off for me usually consists of some sort of noodles. Whether that’s a bowl of Japanese ramen or Vietnamese pho, some sort of spicy, usually Asian bowl of noodles. That’s what I crave, something that I don’t have on my cooking repertoire. That’s the kind of food that I always want to eat.

Kona or Ellie?

Are you kidding me right now? That’s apples to oranges and I refuse to answer that question.

End of the night: the kitchen works together on the menu for the next day.

End of the night: the kitchen works together on the menu for the next day.

Interview by Liz Subauste

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