I'll never forget the first time I came face-to-face with Pete Ryan. We were meeting at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts, where he had just become the school's executive chef/instructor, and, as usual, my watch was stuck on slow. "You're fucking late," he reprimanded me. And then, for the next several hours, we drank wine -- very good wine, as I recall -- and chatted about his years as a "kitchen bitch" at Cook Street before he returned as a faculty member, his two-year stint behind the burners at Z Cuisine and the value of common sense.
Ryan departed ways with Cook Street two months ago, but it didn't take him long to find a new kitchen: On Saturday, the Village Cork tweeted that Ryan was its new executive chef, taking over the line from Samir Mohammad, who was bumped to the pavement several weeks ago, and is now happy in his new position as exec chef of Lala's Wine Bar + Pizzeria.
"It was a great opportunity," says Ryan, who received a text from a friend giving him a heads up that Village Cork owner Lisa Lapp was searching for a new chef. "Lisa and I met and hit it off, and after getting the new menus done and closing for a week for vacation, we reopened yesterday, and while it's a different gig from what I'm used to, it feels good," he tells me, adding that he "loves cooking on a big stage," a stage that doubles as a kitchen absent a hood and a stove.
"At first I thought it was a hindrance, but now that I'm cooking, I love the challenge," he says, noting that he and Lapp "came up with a menu of standard, simple, straightforward bistro fare" that draws from Ryan's French technique-rooted background. "This is a bistro -- not a French bistro like Z Cuisine -- but a bistro that's grounded in French technique, so our approach to food is very wine-friendly, approachable and uncomplicated. It's not haute cuisine, and there are no spun towers -- think Grandma at the stove."
And since he's come on board, he's rearranged the open kitchen, lowered the prices and, he says, "completely revamped the menu," which bears no resemblance to Mohammad's, although both boards strongly adhere to seasonality. "It's like comparing a red head to a blonde," allows Ryan. "Every chef is different, and we all put our own spin on our dishes."
He'll change the menu every three months, but at the moment, he's featuring duck confit with parsley-specked potatoes; Pacific cod in parchment with summer vegetables; herbed chicken breast with mustard sauce and lentils; a flat-iron steak cloaked with a green peppercorn sauce and sided with duck fat potatoes; roasted pork with white beans; a vegetarian dish and several small plates, including rillettes. "It's simple bistro fare, which is exactly what we want," says Ryan.
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