Chef Ian Kokkeler, the Executive Chef at Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant in Fairfield, CT, explains his cooking style and his future plans for the on-site garden.
How does your eclectic cooking style influence the dishes at Barcelona?
Barcelona is all about using fresh ingredients and preparing delicious food in a simple way. I want to make the smallest item on the plate shine. I love to use ingredients in a way that one would not normally think about using them. For example, I can create a dish using steak as the protein but the focus is making parsley the ‘superstar’ of the dish. People often use parsley as a garnish. I will take parsley and make a puree and have the protein work around it. I marry Barcelona’s cooking philosophy with my creative touch.
One cool highlight about Barcelona in Fairfield is that you have an on-site chef’s garden. What is currently growing in the garden?
Right now we’re growing padron peppers, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, and cucumbers.
I notice quite a few herbs in the garden too. What herbs are in your garden and which herb you cannot live without?
We’re growing mint, nasturtium, cilantro, parsley, and fennel. I love using nasturtium. While I use it for garnishing, it is edible. The flower petals have a unique flavor that opens your taste buds. I use nasturtium on my cucumber carpaccio and watermelon salads. It not only adds color but it adds a tasty touch too. Mint is my second favorite herb because of its cooling effect.
How often do you harvest the garden and how do use what it being harvested?
In addition to Farah (Barcelona’s purchaser) harvesting the garden, I forage the garden once a week. Lately, I’ve been using the padron peppers in empanadas. We have beef and chicken empanadas but I’ve added lamb empanadas to the menu. I use the padron peppers in the empanada as well as in an aioli to accompany the dish. As for the squash, I prepare squash a la plancha with salsa verde. As for the other herbs, the bartenders incorporate cilantro and parsley in their cocktail creations.
What are your plans for the 2015 growing season?
I would love to create a bed dedicated to herbs and grow items such as marjoram, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives and lavender.
You truly have a very beautiful way of plating some of your dishes. For example, your cucumber carpaccio looks like a work of art. Tell me your definition of the “art of plating.”
I do think that plating should look like a piece of art. I want someone to think, “Should I eat that? It looks too pretty to eat but it looks so damn good that I’m going in!” I want my dishes to look vibrant. When I plate a dish, I don’t think in terms of straight lines. I like to set things high if possible. When I pour sauce on a dish, I let my hand go and wherever it lands, it lands. I guess you could say that it’s my zen way of plating.
Join Chef Ian for his Autumn Harvest Cooking Class on Monday, September 29 at 7pm at Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant in Fairfield. Please call for reservations 203.255.0800.
Chef Ian’s Farmer’s Market recipes: