Chef Q & A: City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill's Executive Chef Kevin Darr

Chef Q&A: City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill's Executive Chef Kevin Darr Slideshow

City Cellar Executive Chef Kevin Darr

Creme Brulee & Caramelized Banana Stuffed French Toast

Lamb Shank

Cheesecake 3

Chef’s name: Kevin Darr
Title: Executive Chef
Hometown: York, Pennsylvania
Favorite hidden gem in The Palm Beaches: Snook Island (Amazing fishing spot)
Favorite band/musician: Led Zeppelin
Current restaurant /resort: City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill

Brief description about restaurant: See below

Hours of operation: 11:30am – 10pm
Address: Located within CityPlace, 700 S Rosemary Ave., West Palm Beach  

How did you shape your culinary career, starting from your first job in the F&B industry to where you are now?
I was born in Pennsylvania but have lived here in South Florida for 20 years. If I wasn’t a chef I would probably be a fisherman or farmer. I have always loved food and cooking. When I was young, my grandmother would have me help her with canning and pickling, and as I got older I assisted with her Pennsylvania Dutch-style soups and stews. I began culinary school in Florida when I was 16, while working at a busy Italian restaurant. I graduated when I was 18 and moved on to a larger company as a sous chef working in several different states. I moved around for several years continuing my education and gaining as much experience as I could. I have been with City Cellar for 5 years were I continue to learn every day. 

Since I have been appointed Executive Chef at City Cellar I have started an in-house salami program. We butcher whole hogs from a local farm, and use the entire animal to produce artisanal salamis. This month we are receiving an Italian refrigerated box, which is built specifically for aging and storing salami. Putting my personal imprint on City Cellar’s menu has been a great accomplishment as it is a venerable restaurant in the area that has been around for many years and is well loved. The owners along with Lisabet Summa, my senior Chef and partner in the company, have allowed me to execute my vision on the menu, which is a great privilege and freedom for a chef. If you can’t cook from your heart and follow your vision the work can be very draining. By being an effective chef and leader of my team, I’ve gotten the respect I need to be creative with the food at City Cellar, and so far it is working out pretty great!

Who was your greatest cooking influence?
My Grandmother got me started as a young boy but I have been heavily influenced by the California culinary movement, and American chefs who have trail-blazed a cooking revolution for aspiring American chefs. My interests in fishing and farming as well as cooking has been reinforced by chefs like Dan Barber at The Stone Barn in NY who work with animals and produce that they raise on their own farms.

What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
Wild Mushrooms. Their versatility and the abundance of types are amazing. Some are the most subtle flavors and others can almost be the center of the plate with their meaty texture and umami flavors.

Tell us about City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill. What was the inspiration behind both the restaurant and its menu?
City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill was created over 17 years ago. We have an award-winning wine list that compliments our Mediterranean/California/Italian influenced food. We create a daily menu using the freshest ingredients (that we’re able to procure locally) to satisfy everyone's taste buds. Whether a guest wants a hearth baked pizza and a glass of pinot noir before a movie or a 3-4 course business dinner with wine pairings, we create a diverse menu to fulfill all of their wants. All ingredients are handled with expert care and respect. By focusing on the ingredients shining through the presentation, we ensure the quality and authenticity of the dishes. A few years ago we started a diverse domestic and imported cheese program, and it has grown tremendously in popularity. We are very lucky to have a clientele that has not only stood by us for over a decade but also has grown with us. From the house-cured charcuterie to handmade pastas, all of our dishes are prepared to order to give our guests a great dining experience. With 65 wines by the glass, wine flights, manager wine features and almost 500 bottle selections, our guests have a wonderful chance to experience great wine and great food. Our daily specials menu offers me a chance to collaborate with my entire culinary team.

Bloddy Mary at City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill
Bloddy Mary at City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill

What is your culinary "philosophy" and how are you expressing that at this restaurant?
Respect your ingredients. Take a back ham from an amazing hog, just add salt, and air dry for one year. You will end up with something amazing and truly rewarding. Take the same pork and add 20 ingredients, and you lose the quality. The charcuterie we make here speaks for itself, as well as the handmade pastas, and beautiful steaks sourced from Allen Brothers’ Chicago. Because we are a haute brasserie if you will, with a focus on food featuring global accents, I can practice my own philosophy of remaining true to a dish’s ethnic flavors while modernizing some dishes at the same time. This is why I’m so happy to be an American chef in an American restaurant in one of the greatest and most exciting times for our profession. We may experiment as chefs and craftsmen in the kitchen, but the work is still rooted in the foundation of culinary techniques. This way we can always continue to evolve as artisans and the restaurant evolves as well. Cooking has always been a dynamic part of my life. The constant flow and stimulation from new products and equipment keeps us ever changing. Hopefully all these dishes and the diversity of the offerings are held together with my palate and the skills of my team in the kitchen. On any given day we are pickling vegetables, putting up jams, baking bread, churning ice cream, butchering in house dry-aged steaks, and making fresh artisan pastas. Handmade and homemade are synonymous with quality, integrity and delicious food at City Cellar.

When dining at City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill, what type of guest experience do you hope to evoke?  
When dining at City Cellar we hope that each guest experience is a memorable one with regards to food and service, and that they will want to come back often. We want to become every guest's home away from home. We want them to be a part of our family and look forward to enjoying their next dinner with us. Dining can be an experience where someone is reliving a taste memory or where they’re exploring new items they’ve never tried before, both can be a pinnacle experience for a guest!

If a chef colleague visited City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill, what’s your idea of the perfect meal to recommend to him/her?
Start with a cheese and charcuterie plate (bonne bouche, goat feta, Hooks 10yr cheddar, shropshire, house-cured prosciutto (which is aged in-house for 12 months), coppa, salami, duck ham. A glass of amazing wine. Definitely have to try the steaks we dry age and grill here. Finish with some hand churned gelato, and a house made crème de limoncello.

Why is City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill a “must-try” restaurant for visitors of The Palm Beaches?
City Cellar offers guests a casual fine dining experience in a wonderful open kitchen setting. With an award winning wine list that is well-priced, and spectacularly prepared food we have so much to offer any guest. The Chilean seabass and lamb shank are two of the signature dishes at City Cellar and have been on the menu from day one. In addition to that, the menu changes daily with a large selection of seasonal specialties featuring hand made artisan pastas as well as locally available seafood. Some presented as small plates, which allows the diners to sample many of our offerings.   

Why is CityPlace a perfect location for City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill?
CityPlace is a very high profile outdoor entertainment complex and what better place to showcase a signature restaurant like City Cellar. The array of diners that visit CityPlace gives us a chance to offer something for everyone, which is the focus of our menu.

How is the culinary scene across The Palm Beaches thriving? Do you think the cuisine across The Palm Beaches has its own signature flavor?
The culinary scene has grown in the Palm Beaches with more and more restaurants using local ingredients and freshly prepared foods. It is definitely becoming a dining destination for restaurateurs to join this ever-growing culinary scene. Since I’ve been Chef here I have seen sweeping changes on the face of the South Florida dining scene. It is very exciting to be part of this change at City Cellar. Many earmarks of modern American restaurants are taking place in the palm beaches. From Chef driven daily menus to open kitchens where the cooking area is in plain sight of the guests, as well as craft beers and other products that are being supported by chefs, we are definitely a part of the explosion of interest in modern cooking.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in The Palm Beaches (Boca to Jupiter)?
On my day off I love to visit Bucaan and Victoria’s Peruvian Cuisine with my wife who is a pastry chef, and my new baby boy. They’re very different restaurants but both offer delicious food that is prepared thoughtfully and with integrity, so it just depends what I’m in the mood for that day. I spend so much time cooking and working in my garden that when I’m not at the restaurant, I enjoy going out and seeing what other chefs are doing.

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