Chefs, like other artists, are always looking for inspiration to create new tastes or interesting variations of signature dishes. Often after-hours or during off-peak times, a restaurant’s kitchen can resemble a laboratory with new ingredients awaiting just the right touch.
Recently, I was in the kitchen of The Spiced Pear in Newport with chef Tom Duffy as he passed around sample tastes of a new ice wine vinegar made from Concord grapes. The taste was like the ultimate grape jelly, almost ambrosial. The chef was inspired to use it in a lobster salad.
There is another kind of inspiration that can define a career for a chef.
Many of the men and women who have chosen a career in the kitchen have someone who influenced their cuisine and the path they chose. We can gain insight into the point of view of a chef’s menu and find an interesting story.
Chef Molly Santos is the chef at the new Tavern On Broadway in Newport. The casual fine-dining restaurant opened this summer by the proprietors of the Sunnyside Deli also located in the City by the Sea. The design of Tavern On Broadway by owner Blumel capitalizes on the aesthetic beauty of the space featuring details such as restored brick walls, wainscoting, warm woods and modern lighting accents such as backlit glass pieces and chandeliers.
Santos met co-owner Jill Blumel when they were both attending Johnson & Wales University. When not taking classes, Santos was cooking in the kitchen of The Pantry at Avenue N in East Providence, the contemporary restaurant which chef and owner Nick Rabar has made into a local landmark. Blumel had previously worked in restaurants in Southern California and had an idea for the menu at her new restaurant. Santos saw the day-to-day creativity that Rabar was bringing to his customers in Rumford and as she continued her studies and her friendship with Blumel, a vision emerged.
The result is a modern menu in a traditional New England tavern. Chef Santos gives credit for the inspiration for her day-to-day creativity to Rabar. “He influences me!” she declared in a recent interview.
Who, in turn, influenced and inspired Nick Rabar? Over the course of his more than 20-year career, he has been recognized for his achievements in kitchens throughout the region. He has opened more than a dozen restaurant concepts and has cooked in numerous restaurants in Rhode Island, Boston and New York. While his bio gives his first inspiration to the region around his childhood home in the rich farmlands of New York’s Hudson Valley – where he returned to attend the Culinary Institute of America – he gives credit to his current surroundings. He says his inspiration on a daily basis and for his career comes from the state he now calls home. “Rhode Island is small but loud when it comes to food,” he said from his restaurant kitchen. “This state pays attention to national trends but at the same time has formed its own identity.” He went on to say that the collaboration among chefs from all over the state continues to have a great impact even on the day-to-day processes in his kitchen and hundreds of others all over Rhode Island.
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