Q&A with Douglas Katz, chef, restauranteur, and local food champion

chef

What do the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Provenance and Shaker Square’s fire food & drink have in common? One amazing chef dedicated to creating delicious menus featuring the best local ingredients from farmers throughout the region. And this Valentine’s Day weekend both restaurants are ready to make your heart sing. On Friday, February 13th, diners at Provenance can enjoy a special prix fixe dinner and stroll the the museum. And brunch all weekend at fire food & drink will include holiday specials.

We caught up with Chef Douglas Katz to find out more about why he loves working with farmers to bring fresh, local food to your plate.

 

thTell us about how you decided to open your first restaurant?

I was working at Moxie when I heard about plans to renovate Shaker Square. Having grown up around the Square I wanted to be a part of its renaissance. My first call was to an architect. Together we worked on a design to renovate the old Arabica coffee shop and turn it into fire food & drink. I knew from the beginning that opening fire on Shaker Square was exactly what I wanted to do. I could feel it in my gut. And as I worked with the architect o envision what my restaurant would be like, everything flowed so easily. Until the construction began. Let’s just say it was an amazing learning experience.

 

What do you love to do most in the kitchen?

I really enjoy the whole process. I like to have a nice clean, organized area. Prepare a a beautiful mise en place. Use proper technique. And lose myself in the sensory experience of cooking. When it’s right, it’s all very zen.

 

Why do you choose to work directly with farmers to source seasonal ingredients?

What I learn from dealing with farmers is at the heart of my decision. When I think back on times I worked with an architect, working with a passionate professional helped me get where I need to be. Farmers do that for me with food. They talk deeply about their apples and their cheese. Their stories teach all of us in the kitchen how important the ingredient is. And from there I discovered that seasonal ingredients taste so much better. It’s amazing what can come from outside our door and how great it tastes.

 

Which ingredients do you wish you could source locally?

Citrus and spices. Especially this time of year.

 

What’s your wish for local food in Northeast Ohio?

I want more people to spend the time to research what kind of local food is available and then spend the money to support the people growing it. Sure, it’s a little scary to make the jump, but the value and quality you get from from local food is so great, you’ll never look back. Whether you’re at home, running a restaurant, or managing institutional cafeterias, don’t just say you’re sourcing local when you don’t. You have to be authentic and prioritize the quality of what people are eating.

 

010What do most people discard when cooking that you want them to try to use and how can they use it?

Funny you ask this. I was just cleaning a papaya the other day and wondering how I might be able to use the seeds. There must be a way. So an easy one is potato peels. Instead of throwing them into the compost, you can quickly cook them up and add a little garlic, chives, and parsley to make really tasty chips. Another is when you’re using citrus to remember to zest, then use the rest. Oh, and apple cores have lots of pectin which is useful if you like to make jams.

 

What are some of your favorite dishes at your restaurants right now?

There are two that come to mind right away.

First is our sunfish. It’s a really mild fish that we crust with red lentils and cook in the tandoori oven. And the Indian influence extends to all parts of the dish including curried potatoes, homemade saag, golden beet raita, and the cilantro and mint chutney, all topped off with crushed pistachios.

The other is a vegan dish. It features poblano peppers stuffed with a sweet quinoa, and topped with a creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.

 

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Which do you think are the most romantic restaurants in Cleveland?

Of course I’ll start with fire because who doesn’t think of romance when you think of flame and fire? Lolita makes my list because it’s where I had my first date with my wife. We met up after I finished work around midnight at what was then Lola and the rest is history. These days if my wife and I are not at Café Tandoor, then we’re likely enjoying Ethiopian food at Empress Taytu, because really, what’s more romantic than eating with your hands?

 

If you could send a special Valentine’s Day message to someone who has inspired you, who would it be and what would you say?

That’s easy. It would be to my wife. While I’m much more guided by risk and courageous ideas, she’s much more realistic and plays it safe. So my Valentine’s Day message would be:

Thanks for allowing me to live my passion and for allowing me to play while you set the limits I needed to feel safe. Without you I wouldn’t have the courage and the opportunity to do what I do.

 

 Photo credits:
Chef Doug Katz from firefoodanddrink.com; fire food & drink exterior from fodors.com; potato peel chips from sherisilver.com; Empress Taytu from empresstayturestaurantcleveland.com.