Fond in Philadelphia: Chef Lee Styer on Seven Successful Years

Fond in Philadelphia

In 2013, Food & Wine named Philadelphia’s East Passyunk Avenue one of the “Ten Best Foodie Streets in America,” and leading the list of reasons why was Fond. Started by three friends, two of whom honed their skills at the celebrated French restaurant Le Bec-Fin (and are now married), the inviting spot serves contemporary American fare with French influences. Diners can order a la carte from choices like foie gras sausage with pickled lobster mushrooms and housemade mozzarella or opt for a five- or seven -course tasting menu. Either way, save room for desserts like brown butter lemon pudding cake and malted milk chocolate ice cream, expertly crafted by co-owner and pastry chef Jessie Prawlucki. 

Fond just celebrated its anniversary last week, and as one diner recently gushed, “After seven years, I am always thrilled with the creativity of chef Styer.” OpenTable talked with Fond’s co-owner and head chef Lee Styer about working with friends, keeping the menu fresh, and why they love running a restaurant in Philadelphia.

Congratulations on your 7th anniversary! How has Fond developed such a passionate and devoted following in Philly?

I think we have gained a successful following by offering a high quality of food and service while still allowing our guests to remain comfortable. We want our guests to come in and eat good food in a relaxed environment. We treat our guests at Fond like we would treat guests in our own home. I think people have realized that they can come here and enjoy a great meal and feel welcome without a pretentious vibe.

How have you kept the menu fresh and exciting over the years?

Our menu is ever changing, but we do keep a few of the popular items on the menu for a longer period of time. We also always have different specials that we run from week to week. We try to keep our product and menu consistent while changing the ingredients and techniques over the seasons.

Fond was one of the pioneers of East Passyunk Avenue, which has been called one of the best foodie streets in America by Food & Wine. What was the neighborhood like when you opened your doors, and what has changed since then?

Over 20 restaurants and food service establishment have opened in the last seven years since we opened. It’s great to see new places come into the neighborhood and offer a different dining option. The neighborhood has grown tremendously with increased foot traffic and additional families moving to the area. Services like the valet parking enable the neighborhood to sustain its steady growth.

Fond in Philadelphia

What are the benefits and challenges of working with your spouse and friend?

When we opened seven years ago, Tory, Jessie, and I worked all day in a tiny restaurant space. Since then Jessie has moved into Belle Cakery and now is at home with our two small children, and Tory and I are now at a larger location at 1537 South 11th street. Working so closely with good friends has its ups and downs. Some of the positives are: all three partners are working for a specific goal, i.e. the success of Fond. Some of the challenges are that we may have different ways of reaching those goals. It had been a great opportunity to work with Tory and Jessie, but it has been also improved when each of us has had a little bit more room to expand our individual areas of focus.Continue Reading

Talking at the Pass: Chefs Charlie Palmer and Bryan Voltaggio

Our Talking at the Pass series, in which mentors and their successful disciples reunite to chat about their time together and what they learned from each other, continues.

This latest installment features chefs Charlie Palmer and Bryan Voltaggio. Palmer is a two-time James Beard Award winner, who helms New York City’s Aureole, Harvest Table in Napa Valley, and many more. His protégé-turned-powerhouse Voltaggio is a breakout star on Top Chef and chef of Frederick, Maryland’s VOLT, Range in Washington, D.C., and several other concepts.

Charlie Palmer and Bryan Voltaggio

Bryan, how did you begin working for Charlie?

Bryan Voltaggio: I began as an extern at Aureole in 1997 while I was attending the C.I.A. up in Hyde Park, New York. An instructor told me, “There’s one chef whose kitchen you need to be in – Charlie Palmer’s.” So I went down to New York City week after week. I would be in the corner of the kitchen next to the convection oven – next to where you would make your cappuccino, Charlie – cleaning chanterelles or whatever needed doing. After three weeks, Charlie came over and asked, “So, you want to work here?” I don’t know what came out of my mouth. I mumbled something. I was scared out of my mind. Upon my graduation in 1999, Charlie offered me a job there. That was the start of my career.

Charlie, what made Bryan stand out?

Charlie Palmer: I tell my sons this, “If you really want something – you gotta put yourself out there. You gotta show up. You gotta show people that this is really where you want to be.” If someone is persistent, really wants to work with us, wants to be on our team, show ups, and demonstrates that – that means a lot to me. We had a lot of young students who came down from the C.I.A. When we do a stage like that, it’s really more for them to see what they’re getting into. You’re not going to be able to tell much about them because they’re in the kitchen three nights a week just cleaning chanterelles or doing other menial work. What you can tell about them is whether they have a desire to be there and really be a great cook. How do they dress? Are their knives sharp? Do they have the right equipment with them?

How did your preconception of Charlie live up to the man who you went to work for?

BV: I was scared to go to New York City. I was 20-year-old farm boy from Frederick, Maryland. Before culinary school, I had been working at the kitchen of the local Holiday Inn. To then be in a kitchen like Aureole’s with a man like Charlie was overwhelming in some aspects. But I also knew when I walked in that this was the place I wanted to be and why I committed to culinary school. It is why I stopped pursuing a career making pretty good money at a rinky-dink hotel. I wanted to be better than that and be in the best places I could be. At Aureole, I felt I was surrounded by professionals who cared about their craft. Charlie was a part of service and in there every night. I remember thinking, “Wow. I read about this guy in Food Arts magazine. Now I’m seeing him actually cook.”

Do you remember the first dish Bryan put up that really impressed you?

CP: A lot of that happened when Bryan took over the kitchen at Charlie Palmer Steak in D.C. Once you’re in charge, you become accountable. There has to be a tremendous amount of passion. I can’t give chefs the menus and tell them what they’re going to cook. That doesn’t work for us. The thing is, Bryan wasn’t just driving that restaurant but what we were doing as a restaurant group as a whole. Some chefs are followers and some are leaders. Bryan was leading the charge.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from Charlie?

BV: I will never forget running across Park Avenue and dodging cabs because we were going to get an ingredient we didn’t have for a guest – no matter what. That’s hospitality. We always say “yes” to our guests.

Charlie, was it difficult for you when Bryan left to open VOLT in 2008?

CP: It was hard for me. It was like having a brother leave. Let me get one thing straight. Bryan says he worked for me. Bryan didn’t work for me; Bryan worked with me. There’s nothing that makes me more proud than Bryan going out and having success with his own business.Continue Reading

9 Milk and Cookies Desserts: A Childhood Classic Reborn

Growing up, milk and cookies were one of our favorite treats. We loved dunking the warm rounds into a glass of cold milk and then nibbling away at the softened edges. It was always a joy to hit a mother lode of melted chocolate chips or crunch into a pecan like we had discovered treasure. Luckily, we haven’t had to give up this simple pleasure just because we’re older and, debatably, wiser because chefs are reviving the childhood classic. Here are 9 milk and cookies desserts to make you feel like a kid again.

David Burke Kitchen, New York, New York
If you’re in the mood for dessert and a drink, order the cookie plate. A seasonal selection arrives with rum-spiked coconut milk. Don’t worry, kiddies, they’re happy to leave out the hooch, so you can enjoy it as well. Make a reservation at David Burke Kitchen.

milk and cookies desserts

Cavatina, Los Angeles, California
Fresh-from-the-oven cookies spotted with sweet squares of chocolate get a dusting of sea salt. The finishing touch helps amplify the chocolate’s deeper flavors while taking the edge off the sugar rush. To help wash down the treats, they arrive with a petite pitcher of cold milk. Make a reservation at Cavatina.

Milk and cookies desserts

Summer House Santa Monica, Chicago, Illinois
Cookies and milk – now in milkshake form. Pastry chef Erin Mooney liquidates the traditional dessert by blending together vanilla bean ice cream with malted chocolate chip cookies and chocolate fudge sauce. The finished product requires a straw, a spoon, and a sweet tooth. Make a reservation at Summer House Santa Monica.

milk and cookies desserts

Untitled, New York, New York
Spotted with gooey chunks of dark, milk, and white chocolate, this hefty cookie has a crispy exterior that crunches when you bite into it. Believe it or not, this toothsome treat is gluten-free as it’s made with Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup GF flour. It arrives with a sidecar of whole milk from Five Acre Farms. Make a reservation at Untitled.

milk and cookies desserts

Macon Bistro & Larder, Washington, D.C.
Our new favorite phrase is “bourbon milk.” A small bottle of the bliss-inducing beverage comes with a pair of straws and two cookies so you can share the dessert with your date. Or, you can hog the whole thing for yourself and pretty much guarantee the two of you won’t be going out ever again. Make a reservation at Macon Bistro & Larder.

milk and cookies desserts

Harvest Table, St. Helena, California
Whenever we’re fortunate enough to have a root beer float, it reminds us of the sweltering summer days of our childhood. Pastry chef Andrew DiClementi brings those memories rushing back with his version made with sweet cream ice cream and Boylan root beer, which comes with chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies. Each mouthful makes us feel like we’re nine years old all over again. Make a reservation at Harvest Table.

milk and cookies dessertsContinue Reading

September 2016 Restaurant Weeks: Late Summer Savings

Gracias Madre 0765

Summer is coming to an end, but September 2016 restaurant weeks are still in season. 

Flavor Palm Beach has kicked off with $10 + $20 lunches and $30, $35, $40 + $45 dinners through September 30. Make a reservation.

* Charleston Restaurant Week features delightful deals on three-course dinners and lunches through September 18. Make a reservation.

Downtown Dine O’ Round Salt Lake City is almost here. Order $5 + $10 lunches and $15 + $35 dinners, September 9-25. Make a reservation.

Midtown Atlanta Restaurant Week is coming with $15 + $25 lunches and brunches and $25 + $35 dinners, September 10-18. Make a reservation.

Dining Out for Life Baltimore brings you a chance to do good while you dine out. Eat at a participating restaurant and 25-100% of your bill will be donated to Moveable Feast on September 15. Make a reservation.

* Brandywine Valley Restaurant Week has $15 two-course lunches + $35 three-course dinners through September 18. Make a reservation.

Restaurant Week New Orleans lets the good times roll with $20 two-course lunches + $39 three-course dinners, September 12-18. Make a reservation.

Omaha Restaurant Week is 10 full nights of belt-busting fun that benefits the Food Bank for the Heartland with $20, $30, $40 + $50 dinners, September 16-25. Make a reservation.

* Cobb County Restaurant Week has a trifecta of savings with $15, $25 + $35 brunches, lunches, and dinners, September 17-24. Make a reservation.

Center City District Restaurant Week comes to the PHL with $20 lunches + $35 dinners, September 11-16 and September 18-23. Make a reservation.Continue Reading