Last week, I spoke with Val Stryjewski a few days into his new role as head chef at Prohibition Taproom. We spoke about what both sides are bringing to the table (the owners also have Kensington Quarters, Bufad, and Cafe Lift), his cooking, fine dining food in bars, and why this looks to be a long term commitment for him after bouncing around a bit. After leaving Lloyd Whiskey Bar last year, the Le Bec and a.kitchen alum was briefly at The Happy Rooster before spending a few months gaining knowledge in the butcher shop of Kensington Quarters in preparation for his move to Prohibition Taproom [Here, Val discusses the foie gras stuffed churro he did at a Taco Exchange at Sancho Pistola’s. I named it the best thing I ate in 2015].
Brion Shreffler: Why land here?
Val Stryjewski: The company just has a really good mindset for the future, and for the style of what they want to do, it makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot more resources at my disposal now—actually more so than any other place I’ve worked. I have all the good stuff that Kensington Quarters is bringing in. Having access to the butcher shop and working over there for a little bit and getting to learn a lot was amazing.
B: How long did you work there?
V: A couple months. I started there before Thanksgiving.
B: What were you doing there?
V: I was in the butcher’s department. A lot of the production—the sausages, stocks, etc—and helping load in the animals. Whatever was needed basically while helping with whole animal butchery. I made all the charcuterie. I have a lot of experience with it, so it was easy to step in and use their recipes and fill a production role to take some of the pressure from the butchers doing the actual butchering. It was just fun. It was a good time. Heather [Thomason]—the main butcher at Kensington Quarters—is a wealth of knowledge. I learned a lot about how the animals are raised. How that affects the product. What they have to go through to get to using every aspect of the animal. And that’s also what’s at my disposal. I can go over there—things they can’t use at Kensington Quarters, I can use over here. Do braised meats and stuff like that—just kind of have fun with it. They don’t want anything to hit the trashcan and that’s kind of always been my mentality: use everything you can possibly use.
B: What type of things can you put on the menu here that they can’t use over at Kensington Quarters?
V: A place like Kensington Quarters can’t be an offal rich or braised meat venue. They have to have a balance because people are going to walk in and want a nice fresh cut steak, so you can’t have a menu that’s all organs, secondary, third cut meats, braises, rillettes and stuff like that. You can only push so much but if you start using the other restaurants as outlets for that…and here at a bar, I can get away with doing a lot more fun stuff with organs and shanks, braises, cured meats.
B: You’ve only been here since Monday [Jan. 11th] but have you introduced any of that.
V: I’m actually getting there. I just braised off a good amount of pig’s feet and I’m making pig trotter croquettes [both for a monster sandwich called The Pig Bomb]. [For the latter] I just picked off the meat, buzzed it up, seasoned it really well. It’s setting in its gell right now. I’m already getting started, communicating with Heather.
B: The specials—like the choucroute and pig bomb sandwich—are yours. What’s the timeline for changing the menu over?
V: Probably going into Spring. I’ll play with the recipes but I’m not going to do a full relaunch until going into a new season. I’ll focus more on the specials.
B: Why is this a good fit for both sides?
V: This has been around for sometime now and Mike [Pasquarello], the owner [along with Jeniphur Pasquarello], wants to take it in a direction that’s a little more forward thinking. Also, I’m really all about building and maintaining a relationship with the butcher shop and also with Bufad Pizza [same owners]—kind of cross-utilizing product from other places and keeping everything within the company. Using more farms and moving into a forward position—that’s more my style.
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