Jared Bergen typically finds comfort in the kitchen, but a little anxiety bubbled up as he closed in on the position of chef de cuisine at Flour Restaurant in Moreland Hills.
Bergen impressed his prospective bosses in a round of interviews earlier this fall, but the final step required him to prepare a five-course feast in just six hours for chef-owners Paul Minnillo and Matt Mytro. He'd been dedicated to the kitchen since he was just nine years old, when he began working at his father's diner in Congress, N.Y. And he arrived at Flour with more than a decade of experience working alongside high-powered talent like Dante Boccuzzi and Charlie Palmer.
Still, Bergen had to navigate his way through more than a few nerves that night.
"When you're put in a spot like that, if anybody says they're not nervous, they're lying," he says. "You're going into their setting on their terms. It's a little nerve wracking, but you walk in with a game plan and an idea of what you want to do. You just have to let your culinary technique and expertise speak for itself."
Among the dishes that spoke for themselves were mortadella ricotta tortellini, seared scallops, and quick-braised chicken. The dishes must have been good because Bergen was brought on as chef de cuisine of the restaurant a few weeks ago.
"Everything was outstanding," recalls Mytro. "He was able to represent himself well in terms of the balance of flavors, in terms of the concepts of the dish and also being able to do all the dishes in about a six-hour period — and that's not easy."
Minnillo and Mytro sought strong kitchen leadership, knowing their focus would soon shift to the early spring opening of their French bakery next door. Already Bergen has emerged as a stabilizing force in the kitchen, speeding up the line and encouraging cooks and trainees to create specials. That occurred randomly, at best, under Bergen's predecessor, a close friend the owners decided to let go.
"Everyone seems very motivated and is leaning on [Bergen] for advice," Mytro adds. "He'll be able to portray his style of food through to the cooks."
No single moment or fond memory sold Bergen on pursuing a culinary career. Instead, all of them — making his first omelet with grandma, learning to use a knife the right way, the entirety of his father's 35-year career as a chef — kept cooking on the front burner most of his life.
Bergen, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, began honing his skills during an externship at Palmer's famed Aureole restaurant in New York City. At the time, Aureole's kitchen was stacked with talent that included Maryland restaurateur Bryan Voltaggio, Matt Hill, who runs Voltaggio's Range restaurant in Washington D.C., and Boccuzzi, whom Bergen would later assist in opening Dante in Tremont.
Sensing the rare gathering of talent, Bergen extended his stay at Aureole to five months, picking up the skills that eventually landed him in leading roles at Trivs, Boccuzzi's D.C. Pasta and, now, Flour.
"My whole career, I've strived to reach the same excellence as that kitchen," Bergen explains. "The food preparation, the presentation, the amount of thought and preciseness that went into that food in that kitchen, I try to mimic and recreate every time."
While Bergen realizes a CIA degree, Big Apple understudying, and time spent in Greater Cleveland's finer restaurants would constitute a dream for most in his field, the 32-year-old chef simply says he's on the right path with a lot left to accomplish.
"My dreams and aspirations, I think, are not quite clear for me. But I know the direction I want to go and this is on the track," he says. "I'm in a great kitchen and very excited to be here."
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