[This column at Every Food Fits is about the people who cook the meals we enjoy outside of the home and the role nutrition plays in their lives and kitchens. For more photos, visit http://staceyviera.zenfolio.com/zolawineandkitchen]
By: Stacey Viera
Bryan Moscatello knows that he likes the pork from the hogs that feed under the acorn trees. “It’s the right flavor profile.” For diners who like to know where their food comes from – right down to knowing where your meal probably ate its last – Zola Wine & Kitchen (ZWK) will intrigue you.
As executive chef and partner with Stir Food Group, Moscatello, is developing partnerships with local farmers to source at least 50 percent of all food purchases with local farmers. In the summer, Moscatello said, “We’ll be close to 95 percent. All of our veggies in the summer will be local.”
A man after my own heart, he claims that such partnerships provide an “element of control. The guy who grows our lamb provides me with a consistent product I want. We believe in sustainability, the local economic aspect of it. It’s better if we can put half a million dollars into a Northern Virginia company rather than a company from another area.”
Given that he believes customers demand a more wholesome product, Moscatello needs to have that kind of control over what goes out of his kitchens. Stir – which operates ZWK, Zola and Potenza – describes itself as a “modern, eco-gastro family of restaurants” that uses fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farmers, such as local cultured oysters and fruits and vegetables from the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction.
Moscatello said, “I want to tell the customer that I know exactly where every steak comes from. As a whole, people do want a local product.” He enjoys the challenge that comes with such a commitment to local, seasonal products. Canning and pickling certain items to make them go farther helps meet those goals.
He conceded that there are items he can’t make from scratch, like Prosciutto di Parma and cheese, but he was quick to point out that all of their breads are baked at Potenza, and their salami is fashioned in that kitchen from local hogs.
For Moscatello, knowing exactly where each food item comes from is as much about nutrition as it is about control. “We try to be conscious of what’s going onto the plate and that’s part of why and how we shop for our animals. When we build menus, we try and keep balance. There’s a balance of vegetables, starch, appropriate quantities of protein.”
Some of the healthier options include the roasted beet salad and the lamb salad, made with two ounces of seared tenderloin seasoned with curry powder, served with micro greens and an almond vinaigrette. Even the simple mixed greens salad is served with a twist: shaved zucchini and carrots wrapped with a “reasonable amount” of feta cheese.
“It’s very enjoyable food not overloaded with fat,” Moscatello noted. “We offer a big, fat steak with butter and mashed potatoes, but it’s a choice. Part of the problem that exists today [at some restaurants that will remain nameless] is the mountains of food. Meals here are sized for one person to enjoy it. In a high-end restaurant, the portions won’t be ‘monster.’”
He knows a thing or two about making a dish successful and satisfying customers. In 2003, Bryan Moscatello was named as a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef. He’s a New Jersey native who came to Washington in 2005 after cooking for 12 years in Colorado. His first “interview” that eventually led to his current position was when he cooked for Stir’s vice president of operations, Ralph Rosenberg, when Rosenberg visited Denver and dined at at Moscatello’s Adega Restaurant & Wine Bar. Neither of them knew at the time that this encounter would lead to a partnership down the road.
Moscatello went on about the wholesomeness of his dishes, “Even the stuff not nutritionally sound in some regard, it’s whole food, it’s real.” Like the lobster cobb salad served with pancetta cracklins cured at Potenza. *Insert Homer Simpson drooling noise here.*
“I like to take food and turn it into something more,” he said. Case in point, the Taylor Bay Scallops farmed in Cape Cod that appear to be a favorite of Moscatello’s. “The scallops are sautéed in garlic and wine, served with lobster sauce.” Not too much of the rich sauce, mind you, just enough to enhance the dish. “The sum,” he said with a grin, “is greater than its parts.”
The elements of the scallop dish bring to light an important question asked by an Every Food Fits reader who wanted to know if it’s a foodie faux pas to ask the chef to modify a dish, even if it’s because of dietary concerns. Moscatello offered this soliloquy.
“The guest should get what the guest wants, end of story. Modifying a dish is not an issue; we’re here for the guest. But when you have a great dish, everything in the dish is there for a reason. And it depends on what you’re going out for. If you want to go for a dining experience, cut back on calories beforehand so that you can enjoy dishes the way they’re prepared. To dine is to relax, take a bite, and process it. I want guests to think about the elements of a dish, so that if you want us to leave certain things off, think about how it changes the dish.”
ZWK also offers a beautiful wine shop attached to a test kitchen that provides cooking classes and unique dining experiences such as the May 7 event entitled “Yoga for Foodies.” Moscatello said, “When we first heard about yoga and dining, we had to get in on it. It goes to the whole nutrition element. You can have great food in a healthy environment.”
As unique an experience as ZWK and other Stir restaurants offer, Moscatello emphasized, “We don’t want to impose ourselves. Our job is to read the table and notice the guests’ enjoyment of the experience. But if you’re out to eat, ask questions so that we can explain how and why a dish works. The guest controls the experience they’re going to have. There’s always something to learn.”
[For more photos, visit http://staceyviera.zenfolio.com/zolawineandkitchen]