Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chef Rob Ryan: Mallozzi's Star in the Making

I have to admit, I've been a bit remiss about getting this post done. The timing of the tasting was in the whirlwind of the fall charitable season and the Festival Rising Star tastings. Quite frankly I needed, as my good friend George Kansas says, to let it marinate too. I wanted to make sure I did justice to this wonderful experience and didn't just rush to get it done. So that's my disclaimer and my apology to the Chef. 

2012 Community Gardens Event:
 Vanessa CianfaraniRobert RyanRyan Huneau andFrancesca Elacqua.
Photo by: T.R Laz

So quite often people tell me things I should try, or things that they love at their favorite restaurants or different experiences that they've had while out an about. If it's intriguing enough sometimes I 'll go out of my way to investigate, because we all know that I love a great food moment. When a Chef takes me aside though, especially when it's a Chef like Ryan Huneau the Corporate Executive Chef for the Mallozzi Family of Restaurants, I tend to sit up and take notice. And that's what happened, I was at the March of Dimes Signature Chef Auction where Chef Huneau was competing as an Iron Chef. He stopped me and introduced me to the young Chef and asked me if I had tried his food. He told me to stop by, that Chef Rob would cook for me. Ok, I was game. 

The next week I went over to Treviso for lunch and was surprised to see a full, bustling dining room.... Seriously full, at noon, on a Thursday...just saying, that's pretty awesome and good for them! That maitre d' was expecting me, and whisked me to me table and personally took care of me while I was there. Have I mentioned before that I love good service? Well he hit the nail on the head with that, and that just sets the tone for a great experience. 

Chef Rob and Chef Ryan (and by the way do you know how challenging this is to write when one's first name is Ryan and so is the other's last name) came out and chatted with me for a minute and then disappeared into the kitchen. Chef Rob returned moments later with my first course.

Caramelized Onion, Porcini, Truffle Cream, Taglietelle with Fried Egg 

My first course was taglietelle with carmelized onion, porcini cream topped with a fried egg. It was like winter in a dish. There was a slight hint of heat and salitness but the creaminess of the perfectly cooked egg created balance, while the porcini cream and sauteed wild mushrooms were a  smooth, unctuous umami. In a word it was beautiful. 

In a moment, in my first few bites I realized I was not just eating, I was dining...this was going to be something special. So I did what is proper and ordered a glass of wine and settled in to enjoy my afternoon. There are days when I love my job and this was certainly one of them.

Seared Red Snapper
with Butternut Squash Risotto, Apple Cider Gastrique, Pear Apple Slaw

Chocolate Lava Cake 
Salted Caramel Whipped Cream
Chef Rob delivered my second course, a seared red snapper with butternut squash risotto, a pear apple slaw, and an apple cider gastrique. Now, I admit, I am very particular about risotto. We all have our preferences, based on how we learned or who we learned from. I learned to make it from eminent Chef Michael Lomanaco, who said that risotto should hit the plate and then ooze a little bit. I like when it has that perfect sense of creaminess to it and when it's not right, I get a little testy. So this was SPOT ON, just the right texture and creaminess, just the right amount of squash, so it was pronounced but not overbearing. Then the snapper, the skin was crispy, the fish was flaky and beautifully seasoned. The slaw was a nice acidity and crunch that contrasted well against the richness of the dish. Finished with just drops of the gastrique and the grassiness of the parsley, the whole thing just worked to together. To me this was just was wonderful use of fresh fall ingredients. 

To finish off dessert arrived, a chocolate lava cake with salted caramel whipped cream. Rich, smooth chocolate filled the cake and it oozed to ever so invitingly....but I have to be honest, there was a punch of cayenne in there that I just wasn't expecting. It kind of got stuck on the back of my throat and let's just say I was awake after a few bites. The salted caramel whipped cream was a lovely accompaniment as was my perfectly frothed cappuccino. 

After my lunch extravaganza, Chef Rob took a few minutes to chat with me again. It was great to learn more about him, just twenty-one years old, with a palate like that and a passion for the art of cooking. I learned the Chef Rob has been working in the industry since he was just fourteen, starting as many do as a dishwasher. He has been mentored by many of the great chefs in our area, including Chefs Huneau, Jayapal, and Plummer, but really found his passion on a culinary trip to Austria. While he's still finding his own approach and philosophy, learning little bits from everyone as he goes, I think Chef Rob Ryan is well on his to watch , and a star in the making for the Mallozzi group!

Thank you Chef for an excellent meal!

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