Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Culinary Creativity: Chef Keith Pooler

Chef Keith Pooler, of Bergamot in Somerville, is a native of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and he grew up appreciating the sea and its bounty. Since he was 14 year old, Keith has been working in restaurants, eventually graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. While in school, he completed stages in Union Square, Vong, and The Gotham Bar and Grill. After working at a few other New York restaurants, he returned to Boston where he became the sous chef at Harvest. With stints at Excelsior and Scampo, working with famed Lydia Shire, Keith finally chose to open his own restaurant, Bergamot.

At Bergamot, Pooler combines his respect for local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients with a deft hand and innovative techniques. Chef Pooler states: “I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish as we continue to grow. We are so grateful for the warm welcome. Our team is the most dedicated one I’ve ever worked with, and it shows.” I am a huge fan of Bergamot, and it won as my Overall Favorite Restaurant of 2011in part due to the creativity of Chef Pooler. If you have not eaten there yet, you should make reservations and check out this amazing restaurant.

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

Now onto the interview--

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
Culinary creativity is the aspect that drives me. If I had to choose my favorite part of my job it is creating and the satisfaction of seeing it come to fruition. When that dish comes out as good as you see it in your head or better that makes my day. If it misses the mark than it is something to work on or reassess. I believe that in my field you are a combination of tradesman and artist. Chefs talk about a love of one particular aspect of food (butchering, charcuterie, plating food, etc… ), for me I like it all. The tradesman part of the job takes the creative side and makes it come alive. When I opened Bergamot I wanted it to always evolve and change. There is not a part of the job that is not important, but the creative part is the spark that makes me work harder.

Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
To be creative and to be inspired you need a repertoire. I have worked and breathed food for my whole life and there is always something around the corner that moves me. It could be a conversation with another Chef, cook book, an awesome meal or a stroll down an aisle in the grocery store. I always have scrap paper in my pocket with a menu idea or something that I liked. I wish I could sit down and have it all be neat and organized one day. I have note books with flavor combinations that I like and recipes that I have clipped from magazines. In the last year I have not opened it once. I have been doing most of my creating in the walk-in, just letting the food sing.

Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
I created the kitchen at Bergamot with the idea that I was making a Culinary Think Tank. One of the biggest problems with Chefs is ego. I do not get to give enough credit to the people behind me. I am the front man that everyone is supposed to remember. I surround myself with passionate cooks and out of that passion we create some amazing food. I love to talk about food and help my staff to develop their creative mojo. We together are far better than just one of us. I act as a funnel that take ideas and visions and molds them into the final product. I make the call if it needs to be tweaked. I like when the cooks come to me and say “What if”

How do you test new recipes/dishes?
The Black Board at Bergamot is the way we test out new ideas. It changes almost daily. We like to say if you like dinner tonight comeback next week and we will have something different. Having a constantly changing menu is a win win. You keep the guests intrigued and the cooks challenged. Since we have been open we have only repeated ourselves a few times to honor articles in magazines and news papers.

Do you ever experience “writer’s block,” an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
I only find creative block, when I try and force something. I tend to close my mind and stubbornly focus on one aspect. When this happens I either get very frustrated or walk away. The worst is when I dream about food and the next day I try and remember exactly what it was.

Any additional thoughts on creativity?
What I find to be cool about Bergamot is we have no restrictions we just want to have fun. We like to make something out of nothing. We like to take ordinary and make it unusual. We like to think outside the box. The hardest thing I have to do is describe my food. It is not that it is wacky and strange, but because it is a lot of influences, ideas and techniques all rolled into one. I think of it as us trying to capture the moment.


Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

Great interview. I, too, love Bergamot. Love the idea of a Culinary Think Tank!

Daisy said...

Awesome interview. I adore Bergamot!

Anonymous said...

great the open kitchen & great staff