They Can Pickle That: 6 Picks for Restaurant Pickle Programs

Autumn is a great time of year for a foodie. But a bountiful harvest is also the first sign that winter is coming. So, how do you hold onto that bounty through the lean months? By pickling, of course! Many OpenTable restaurants have mastered the simplicity and economy that comes from making their own pickles, giving diners a range of newfound textures and flavors. Here are six picks for restaurant pickle programs that bring you harvest-time veggies all year round.

Miller Union, Atlanta, Georgia
“There are three basic ways of putting up pickles,” says chef Steven Satterfield of Atlanta’s Miller Union. “Natural fermentation, vinegar brine, and quick pickles. We do them all.”

Satterfield, author of the Root to Leaf cookbook, makes his Hilda’s Icebox Pickles based on his grandmother’s recipe using cucumbers and a cold vinegar brine. He uses a hot brine solution for sunchokes and radishes, and a full vinegar solution for pungent items like sweet Vidalia onions and shallots. [Photo by Kelly Blackmon]

Best Restaurant PIckle Programs

Jacob’s Pickles, New York, New York
In New York City, Jacob Hadjigeorgis has brought the Lower East Side pickling tradition to the Upper West Side, where chef Jason Krantz produces everything from traditional dills to Thyme Jalapeño and Candy Red Beets pickles. The restaurant is host to a seasonal “Pickle Lab Series,” which currently features pickled fall vegetables, such as pumpkin, butternut squash, and okra.

Best Restaurant Pickle Programs

Brick & Bottle, Corte Madera, California
The Michelin Bib Gourmand-recommended eatery incorporates pickles into many of its dishes, from a diced pickled cabbage and onion, used as a topping for its hamburgers, to a composed pâté plate with multiple cured and pickled components. “We do not try to reinvent the wheel,” explains general manager Brandon Parkhurst. “Many of our cured dishes are takes on classics. However, what we do in our kitchen is take high-quality ingredients and treat them with the utmost care.”

Best Restaurant Pickle Programs

Iron Gate, Washington, D.C.
In Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, chef Anthony Chittum serves a tasting menu in their historic carriage house dining room, where the first course is a series of small tastes from the kitchen that always features something from their pickle pots. These can vary from bread and butter sunchokes, green beans and bird chilis, and zucchini, to name but a few. Many of the pickles are displayed in the dining room in jars that frame the open kitchen.[Photo by Samer Farha]

Best Restaurant Pickle ProgramsContinue Reading

Top Chef’s George Pagonis Is Thankful for What Lies Ahead at Kapnos

Blog IMG_9941(F) copyGeorge Pagonis has always known Thanksgiving as a day of hard work. Growing up the son of Greek immigrants, he helped out in the kitchen alongside his parents and siblings at the family diner for most of the holiday. Only after the last customer was served would the family and a throng of visiting relatives sit down to eat. The table was loaded down with a mix of must-have, pilgrim-approved classics – roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing – and dishes favored in his parents’ homeland – dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), moussaka (a rich eggplant casserole), and roast lamb.

The Top Chef star and executive chef of the modern-minded Greek restaurant Kapnos still celebrates Thanksgiving with his family, who live in nearby Virginia. His mother, Mary, and his father, Tony, are first generation Greek immigrants. Both are from the small village of Skoura, just outside Sparta in the country’s southern reaches. “If you’ve seen movies set in Greece where the village has nothing but sheep, goats, chickens, and old ladies wearing black as church bells go off in the background, that’s what it is,” says Pagonis.

Blog IMG_9440(R) copy

However, Pagonis’ parents didn’t meet and get married until after they separately moved to New York City. Diners were a common business for Greek immigrants, so Tony got a job in one as a short order cook. When his brother opened a diner in Vienna, Virginia, Tony moved down to help him run it. He later opened his own in nearby Alexandria. The Four Seasons was a classic Greek diner. “The menu was an encyclopedia,” says Pagonis. “You could have a lobster tail, scrambled eggs, moussaka, baklava, and stuffed grape leaves.”

Starting around the time he was in middle school, Pagonis and his brother, Nicholas, worked as toast boys on the weekend breakfast shift. This was no small duty. The restaurant sat 300 people and there was a line out the door from 9AM until 2PM. Every egg dish came with toast, so the boys were putting out thousands of slices. Waiters would shout out orders, the boys would toss bread in the toaster, butter it up, cut it, and get the toasted triangles on the plates.

At the end of the shift, each server would tip them a few bucks. It added up. Pagonis would routinely take home $60, a small fortune for a sixth grader. “My parents took me to the mall and I bought whatever I wanted: video games, Starter jackets, Jordans,” he says. “Everyone else had to wait for their birthday to get that stuff, but I was like, ‘Eff it, I’ll buy it tomorrow.’”

Interested in learning more about cooking, he began standing on a milk crate by the chef, peeling carrots, chopping potatoes, whatever. “Anytime he needed anything, I did it,” says Pagonis. “I never said no.”

Blog Pudding IMG_9962(F) copy

Over the years, he learned how to make rice pudding, soups, and gravies, so, at age 14, he began working the line. When it came time to go to college, though, he left the diner behind, determined to pursue a career beyond the family business. He enrolled at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he earned a degree in business finance. Upon graduating, he applied for positions as a credit analyst. However, as he nervously sat outside one office waiting for an interview, supremely uncomfortable in his suit, he questioned his nascent career path. “I felt like an idiot,” he admits. “I thought, ‘This isn’t me.’”Continue Reading

Almost Famous: 5 Southern Chefs to Watch

It used to be that the majority of America’s most talented chefs were all cooking in New York City kitchens. But today you can eat in almost any city in the country, from Pittsburgh to Orlando, Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, and find skilled, revolutionary chefs worth their salt — especially if you choose to dine in the South. With the country’s most historic (and easily most storied) cuisine and a slew of accomplished chefs pushing the envelope as they marry tradition with innovation, Southern food has never tasted so good. Here are five Southern chefs to watch.

Raleigh’s Cheetie Kumar of Garland
James Beard winner Ashley Christensen may have put Raleigh on the culinary map, but Cheetie Kumar, the guitar player for Birds of Avalon and the mastermind behind Asian hotspot Garland, is keeping the City of Oaks on every foodie’s radar. Far from passé fusion, Cheetie dishes up authentic Korean plates (don’t miss her Heritage Farms pork shoulder rice bowl with housemade kimchi pickles and daikon-collard slaw, topped with a fried egg) alongside Indian specialties (the turmeric-yogurt glazed cauliflower spiked with curry leaves, chiles and cilantro packs an incredible flavor punch), all made with local Southern ingredients. [Photo by Tierney Farrell]

Blog Southern Chefs Cheetie headshot copy

Charleston’s Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh
Sean Brock and Mike Lata get most of the national attention when it comes to Charleston restaurants (and for good reason), but three-time James Beard semi-finalist Jeremiah Bacon, who helms the kitchen at The Macintosh, is making diners take notice. Bacon has a knack for fusing local, in-season ingredients with avant-garde-yet-approachable techniques, resulting in one-of-a-kind dishes (did someone say grouper charcuterie seasoned with bologna spices?) that will linger on your taste buds long after your meal.

Blog Southern Chefs Jeremiah Bacon copy

Houston’s Luis Roger of BCN Taste & Tradition
Diners have been flocking to Houston for a taste of James Beard winner Chris Shepherd’s Southern-meets-Asian creations, and with good reason. Stay for chef Luis Roger’s exemplary haute cuisine at Houston’s hottest Spanish destination, BCN Taste & Tradition. Bona fide bites of boquerones (pickled anchovies) are served up in an intimate villa setting, alongside Barcelona classics, such as green peas sautéed with prized Ibérico ham and crispy artichokes, decadent foie gras terrine, and buttery lobster bouillabaisse.

Blog Southern Chefs Chef Luis Roger with lobster copy

Atlanta’s Zach Meloy of Better Half
Though Bacchanalia and Restaurant Eugene have been on the top fine dining restaurant lists for more than a decade, they’re not exactly affordable options (though they are worth it, if you can spring for the splurge). So when you’re craving the same level of food (read: precision, finesse, creativity, passion, and quality) and want to avoid spending your monthly mortgage on dinner, head to chef Zach Meloy’s unassuming, but big on delivery Westside restaurant, Better Half. Exclusively serving prix-fixe menus (available in three-, five- and nine-course tastings, priced at $35, $55 and $75, respectively), Meloy’s food—he rarely cooks the same dish twice—is fresh and thrilling, always with a profusion of contrasting flavors, textures, and temperatures. [Photo by Rebecca Stanley]

Blog Southern Chefs BetterHalf009_Photo by Rebecca Stanley copy

Nashville’s Brian Baxter of Husk
When Sean Brock brought his legendary Husk restaurant to Nashville, the city’s restaurant scene exploded with excitement. But as all multiple-location restaurants go (especially those with a celebrity chef like Brock), it’s the lesser-known, but no-less-talented kitchen crew who runs the day-to-day show. Here, chef de cuisine Brian Baxter—he’s been with Brock on-and-off since 2008 at McGrady’s—mans the stove, cranking out Southern-to-a-T plates of hominy griddle cakes with pimento cheese and chipped beef, crispy chicken skins in white BBQ sauce, and Carolina catfish and okra in a West African peanut sauce.

Blog BrianBaxterHusk72-4368 copy

Are you already a fan of these up-and-coming chefs? Let us know here or on FacebookG+InstagramPinterest, or Twitter

Kate Parham Kordsmeier is a freelance food and travel writer for more than 100 publications, the Atlanta Expert for, and the author of Atlanta Chef’sTable: Extraordinary Recipes from the Big Peach. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Unbridled Restraint at Kajitsu: A Carnivorous Chef’s Vegan Table

As we continue to celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month and our recent awards feting the 52 Best Restaurants for Vegetarians in America, we’re pleased to highlight Kajitsu, another winning restaurant. Serving shojin cuisine, chef Hiroki Odo discusses his journey to preparing #vegforward fare in “Unbridled Restraint at Kajitsu: A Carnivorous Chef’s Vegan Table.”

Blog kajitsu-30 copyWhile the idea of visiting a Michelin-starred vegan restaurant steeped in centuries-old Buddhist tradition elevated to the highest form of Japanese cuisine may give one reason to expect an exceptionally rigid atmosphere where diners are to be judged on every click of their chopsticks, Kajitsu, in the age of chef Hiroki Odo, stands in stark contrast. No doubt, Odo is very serious about his craft, committed to pleasing each customer who walks into his establishment. He is also far from being a conventional purist — and far from finished outdoing himself.

The shojin cuisine that Kajitsu specializes in ties back to the 12th-century Japanese Buddhist temples where vegetarian meals were prepared for the monks who lived there. The word shojin (“devotion”) refers to the conviction of the monks in upholding their values. Kaiseki refers to the sublime preparation and presentation of these dishes. Kaiseki, in its modern sense, is the Japanese analog to the French haute cuisine, the apex of Japanese culinary arts, with origins in traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which also hails from Buddhist tradition.

But enough about historical context. That the kaiseki dishes at Kajitsu are vegan is almost beside the point. Through careful, painstaking techniques, much of which happens long before any customers arrive, Odo and his team extract and enrich profound flavors from simple plant-based ingredients. Flavors that equal the well-seasoned stocks and sauces one can far more easily render from meat and bones.

blog kajitsu-12 copy

“I’m not even a vegetarian,” Odo confesses. “I like fried chicken and hamburgers. But what I do at Kajitsu is special because it is all prepared within the limitations and respect of traditional Japanese shojin cuisine. It is those very limitations that motivate me to create dishes that will delight and surprise my customers.”

To do this, Odo draws upon his extensive training as a young cook at restaurants in Kyoto, where kaiseki was developed. Moving to Kyoto after culinary school was for him the equivalent of a student of French cuisine seeking an apprenticeship in Paris. Kyoto would provide an opportunity to work with the very best chefs, albeit in a trying and sometimes harsh environment complete with a strict hierarchical order and a sense of discipline in which Odo thrived.

Odo says he enjoyed the rigorous teamwork, even when the conditions were almost brutal. Sleeping in dormitories with half a dozen workers sharing a room, working long hours, sleeping as little as 2 to 3 hours a night was both physically and mentally demanding. But cooking gave him a creative outlet with near instant gratification.

blog kajitsu-6 copy

“In high school, I had trained to become a carpenter,” says Odo. “But constructing a house or a building takes a long time to complete whereas, with cooking, the results can be enjoyed almost immediately. So, I went to culinary school.”

But like many in his industry, Odo would not find that gratification quite so instantly. “At my first job after school, I did nothing but wash dishes and clean house,” Odo remembers.

blog kajitsu-4 copy

He soon followed a mentor to the Michelin two-starred restaurant Wakuden in Kyoto, working as sous chef and learning what it would take to satisfy the highly demanding tastes of his clientele. “It was difficult,” says Odo. “People in Kyoto take their food very seriously, and they will tell you right to your face when they don’t like something.” That close interaction proved critical to Odo’s developing his skills. And today it is what keeps him firmly grounded in the present. “I watch my customers eat,” says Odo. “Not just what they eat, but how they eat it. Are they taking their time? Are they smiling? Are they appreciating the presentation? All of this helps inform me so that I can shape the flavors of the next dishes to suit their tastes.”

blog kajitsu-16 copy

When asked about the American taste for Japanese food, Odo demonstrates a democratic worldview. He acknowledges that American diners tend to favor richer flavors and more vibrant textures than their Japanese counterparts, and he finds ways to accommodate them. He garnishes his Full Moon Black Sesame Tofu with not only lily bulb but also powdered olive oil and cacao nibs to add depth and crunch. Does he consider these concessions? “No,” says Odo. “Every person’s taste is different. For me, this is just another challenge to take on. I want to cater to and meet the expectations of my customers. I enjoy that.”Continue Reading