Rising Star Chef: Dick Kanatzar

As executive chef of fine dining destination Vaccaro's Trattoria (1000 Ghent Rd., Akron, 330-666-6158, vactrat.com) Akron born and bred Dick Kanatzar has long been a champion of the local food scene. Dedicated to working with nearby Dunkler Farms and Rittman Orchards for produce, the 33-year-old chef has injected some modern creativity into the classic Italian fare.

When he's not at Vaccaro's, Kanatzar operates Dick's Kitchen (chefdickskitchen.com), his popular series of pop-up dinners.

It was while working at Noodle Cat a few years back that the owners of Akron bar and retail outlet Portage Lakes Brewing Company spotted Kanatzar, a regular customer. Talks quickly turned to a potential collaboration: Last May, the chef began his Dick's Kitchen dinners at the beer shop. The prix fixe tastings are designed around whatever brewery the store is featuring that evening. He's since begun hosting pop-ups at bars throughout Northeast Ohio.

"I'm a craft-beer nut," Kanatzar says. "With the huge craft explosion over the last five years, every time I get a chance to work with a brewery, I jump on it."

When developing the menu for the latest in the series, a pop-up at Brick and Barrel in the Flats, Kanatzar's offerings took a twist. For a chilly weekend afternoon in Cleveland, he thought, few things go together as well as tacos, tailgates and beer.

"I'm a 'tacos everyday' kind of guy," he says, raising a lid to reveal a platter of carnitas, microgreens, pickled vegetables, lime crème fraiche and peach and pear salsa.

In this case, the accompanying brew du jour is Elevator Brewery's Bleeding Buckeye red ale. To bring out the citrus of their Hoppy Wheat Ale, he motions to a cilantro lime slaw, revealing his right hand inked with an octopus tentacle emerging from a noodle bowl. The tattoo represents the enduring influence of Noodle Cat. Even at Vaccaro's, the chef sneaks the occasional ramen bowl onto the specials list — and it's become an unlikely hit.

His first Dick's Kitchen pop-up featured Great Lakes Brewing Company's Lavender Burning River Firkin, paired with grilled watermelon, ramps, yellow tomato salsa and walleye. Sustainable seafood has become a focal point.

When Brew Kettle came to Portage Lakes, Kanatzar created a pecan ice cream to team with their Nut Brown Ale. He works regularly with Pav's Creamery, the ice cream stand he frequented in his youth.

With no kitchen to hide behind, Kanatzar relishes the opportunity for chef-diner interaction.

"I try to pick foods people might not be used to," he says. "I get to interact a lot more with people. We talk about the beer. It's an educational thing."

After leaving Brick and Barrel, he'll head to Portage Lakes Brewing Company for the second Dick's Kitchen feast of the day. Deschutes Brewery is in town and Kanatzar is taking his tacos for Round 2. After that, it's time to concoct some new ideas for his next dinner on Nov. 23, at the Barrel Room in Canton.

"At the end of the night when I go home, I have a beer," says Kanatzar.

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