I recently had the chance to sit down in the kitchen with Chef Ron Gallo who took the reins at The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges last fall. The former Brooklynite accepted his post after working as Chef de Cuisine at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Upper East Side restaurant, Jojo, for 13 years. He shared his insider knowledge about what he brings to the Pound Ridge kitchen and what's coming this spring.
How did you meet Jean-Georges?
After I graduated from the CIA in 1985, I went to work at La Côte Basque, a classical French restaurant in Manhattan. A friend was working at Restaurant Lafayette and told me “You have to come here. There’s this guy—Jean-Georges; he’s amazing.” I was doing “old-style” French cuisine, and the way Jean-Georges was talking about food was new and different. He was using fruit and vegetable juices to make sauces and herb-infused oils. Back then, no one was doing this. So, I started working for him at Lafayette in 1987. He was transitioning from old, classical French. Little by little, he replaced the old with the new.
What changes can we expect for spring 2017?
Our menu will revolve around seasonal vegetables. The farmers tell us what they have, and we develop dishes based on what’s available. I work through recipes with Greg Brainin, Director of Culinary Development for Jean-Georges Restaurants, who has one of the most refined palates of any chef I’ve ever worked with. Our new hake dish, for example, takes advantage of spring vegetables—we added fiddlehead ferns, fava beans, and ramps. We also have a new Peekytoe Crab Salad, a Market Vegetable Greek Salad, a Beet Greens and Roasted Spring Onion Pizza, Homemade Burrata with Rhubarb Compote, new tagliatelle and spaghetti dishes, and new variations on others.
What do you bring to the Inn that’s new?
Having worked with Jean-Georges for so long and in several of his restaurants, I know what he likes and the way he thinks about food. His attitude is all about balance—balance of flavors and textures. I’ve introduced some rustic dishes from Jojo that I feel are compatible with the style of the Inn. I also have stacks of notebooks of timeless recipes from my years at Vong to look through for inspiration.
How does cooking for the Inn differ from Jojo?
Jojo’s kitchen is very small. The size of your kitchen controls your menu—you have to manage your real estate wisely.
For a Jean-Georges newbie, what’s a good dish to try?
Our "all-star" recipes are always popular—kale salad, crispy sushi, tuna tartare, and truffle pizza. But, I would hope people would venture out of their comfort zones, too. You make chicken at home. When you come here, try something new.
Do you cook at home, and if so, do you stick to Jean-Georges recipes?
My kids are grown, but both have food allergies, so while cooking for our family has always required creativity, it’s been something my wife and I like to do together. I actually like to make tacos at home. I love fish tacos—crispy, salty, spicy. It’s all about balance.
Can we expect to see tacos on the Inn’s menu in the future?
Haha. Sure, maybe Taco Tuesdays with a Jean-Georges twist!
What’s your comfort food to eat?
I come from a big Italian family. My best memories are from around the table eating every day, Italian food. Pasta and veggies and a bottle of wine.
As a Brooklynite, how’s your transition been to our neck of the woods?
My wife is from outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, so when we came up to see the area and eat at the Inn last year, she loved the familiarity of the rolling hills. By the time I told her about my job offer, she was already onboard. And, I love my new commute! The bigger challenge has been that I went from cooking for an 84-seat restaurant at Jojo to 250 seats here. It’s like going from a tug boat to a battleship.
What are your secret ingredients at the Inn at Pound Ridge?
Passion, pride, and commitment.