Before they closed their doors this year, El Bulli in Roses, Catalonia, Spain was known as one of the best restaurants in the world, if not THE best. The owner and head chef Ferran Adria is known as the godfather of molecular gastronomy. The restaurant was so legendary that Anthony Bourdain has filmed two episodes of No Reservations there, the last episode was a bittersweet goodbye as El Bulli is closing its doors as a restaurant and beginning a new life as a culinary school. Coming back to the states, for the last two years Chicago’s Alinea has been voted the best restaurant in North America (and top 10 of the world) by Restaurant Magazine. Chef/Owner Grantz Achatz is doing something very special with Alinea and he was also the subject of a great episode of NPR’s Fresh Air.
Today’s Buffalo Foodie is Chef Ross Warhol a (top of his class) graduate of the Culinary Institute of America currently working as the executive chef at the Athenaeum Hotel (until late October) and a former employee of both of those amazing restaurants mentioned above (and did we mention he’s still in his early 20’s?). Ross is a local Buffalo boy who has been honing his skills at some of the best restaurants around the world for several years now and hopefully in the near future will give Buffalo it’s own world class restaurant and join the growing list of incredible chefs we have in the area. After seeing a profile of Ross on Buffalo Spree and watching the recap of his Nickel City Chef Challenge (a close defeat to Sample’s Adam Goetz), I knew we had to get Ross on Buffalo Eats sooner or later.
We are really excited that Ross took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer some of our questions, here’s what he had to say…..
When you are in town visiting family and friends, where do you go to get something to eat?
Ross: When I am able to spend a few days in town I always make sure to stop at some of my favorite places.
The Shop – It is a small building located just feet from the owners house in Delevan. You eat at picnic tables outside of his home and the owner is always outside talking with all of his guests. People come from all over to eat his amazing food, “The Hog Sandwich” is definitely my favorite thing to get. I recommend that everyone should stop by and visit this unique place and meet the owner Chris who is a real character.
Daniels – Located in Hamburg, it’s by far the best Rib Eye steak I ever had, amazing composed salads, and the sauces are extremely flavorful which I love to soak up with the house made rolls made by hand every morning by Daniel Johengen himself. Both the dining room and the service is fine dining quality, but does not have that up-tight feeling. You feel that you are being welcomed into Daniels home and he will take care of you.
Merge – Located on Delaware in Buffalo, Kate Elliot always pleases me with her amazing vegetarian dishes. Each time I go the food excites me more and more. The one thing I always make sure to get are the loaded sweet potato fries. A plate comes out with a mound of fries on it topped with lentils, spinach, and melted cheese…..this dish followed by the Vietnamese BBQ Portabella Mushroom with rice, veggies, and tofu is an awesome meal that I could have a few times a week. The relaxed atmosphere also contributes to the whole dining experience.
When in town, where do you like to grab a drink and relax?
Ross: As I am passing through town I always think of where I should stop for a quick drink and only one place always comes to mind. Daily’s located on Seneca Street in South Buffalo is by far my favorite place to stop. When you walk in your greeted by an older gentleman who runs the bar all by himself, with the help of his little dog. If you stop by late at night he is usually in his PJ’s watching his favorite late night television show. He is a very personable guy who definitely makes the visit worthwhile….never a bad time at Daily’s.
If you had a friend visiting from out of town, Where would you go to show them a good “Buffalo” time?
Ross: Whenever I have out of town guests I know exactly where I will take them for a good time. Most people think that Chippewa is the place to be on any weekend night but I always have enjoyed Allentown. Allentown has a cool vibe to it, and the bars are always full of fun people without the loud dance music and drama that the clubs tend to bring. There are plenty of bands playing in the bars which add to the experience. And at the end of the night of bar hopping Jim’s Steakout is conveniently located on Allen to stop off for a quick bite to eat before heading home.
What are some food memories you have from your childhood?
Ross: Growing up my earliest food memories were with my Grandma early in the mornings. She is by far the best cook I know and will have ever known. She is the one who opened my eyes to amazing food and ultimately got me into Culinary. Her scrambled eggs are heavenly, so light and fluffly, creamy, and of course cheesy. Breaded pork chops and green beans were by far my most favorite meal she would make me. I would and still do look forward to the Holidays when our family goes to her house and we have Easter and Christmas brunch, these are always some of the best meals I have eaten. My favorite restaurants while growing up were J.P. Fitzgeralds located in Hamburg. The Dagwood sandwich was the one and only thing I would order, usually I would have to take some of it home because it was so big. Schwabl’s located in West Seneca was also another favorite for me. My family and I would go there quite often for the Beef on Weck and the home made German potato salad.
Do you have a favorite dish that you love to cook?
Ross: I really do not have a favorite dish to cook, I always get asked this question and feel bad I cannot deliver an answer. I do however love to make soups which are so complex in themselves. Making soup is essentially building a house of flavors, to make a great soup it takes time and a lot of love I believe. Plus to me a pot of soup brings the whole family together and you eat out of the same pot, we all ladle it out into our bowls and sit down and enjoy a great comforting family meal .
What did you take away from working in arguably the best restaurant in the world (El Bulli)?
Ross: I took a lot away from my experience at El Bulli, not only lessons learned in the kitchen but also in life. I went over there knowing absolutely no Spanish and as soon as I got off the plane I was thrown right into it. It was quite scary being in a different country not knowing how to communicate with people, but I also saw it as a challenge and an adventure that I was dreaming of my whole life…my journey to El Bulli had finally come true after 6 years of hoping and dreaming. After being there for 8 months I had walked away with a solid knowledge of Molecular Gastronomy, the experience of working in the World’s Greatest Restaurant, new ideas and a different perspective on food and dining, a journal full of my own ideas and blogs about my travels, 50 new friends that represented 17 nationalities from all over the world, a decent fluency in Spanish, self-dependency and gratefulness, and last but not least……the accomplishment of my career goal, to work at the best restaurant in the world, El Bulli.
After working at El Bulli and Alinea, is there anywhere else you’d like to work?
Ross: There are plenty of other places in the world that I would like to work. One being The Fat Duck locate in Bray, London with Chef Heston Blumenthal. Another is Hoff Van Cleven located in Belgium, Arzak located in San Sebastian Spain, Manresa located in Los Gatos California, and I would like to go back to Napa Valley California and spend some more time at Ubuntu, a Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant with its own Biodynamic farm. I had spent a little over a month working there and enjoyed every minute of it which makes me want to go back.
Do you have plans to settle down in Buffalo once you’ve finished your tour of the finest restaurants in the world?
Ross: I absolutely know I will be settling down here in Buffalo after I have finished up with all of my travels. I have been very lucky and in the right place at the right time to have been blessed with all of the opportunities I have had. Buffalo is where my heart is and I want to come back home and open my own restaurant here. I believe that Buffalo is making its come back and within 5-7 years it will be an awesome city with a huge arts and food scene….which I want to be a part of.
Since you’ve worked in cities all over the world, what are some of the best meals you had outside of Western New York?
Ross: Again, I have been very lucky and blessed for having the opportunity to travel and go to some of the best restaurants in the world. While in Spain the best meal of my life was at Restaurant Sant Pau that was prepared by Carme Ruscalleda. The restaurant is located in Sant Pol de Mar in the Catalonia district a few hours outside of Barcelona. It was a 5 hour lunch that I will never forget for the rest of my life. Carme came out to speak with us, she was very friendly and excited to have us at her restaurant. You could tell that a female had an influence on the menu, the dished were all so delicate in flavor and the progression of the meal itself was delicate slowly building up to the climax of the meal. Every bite was seasoned perfectly and there was nothing wrong in my eyes about the food, the service, or the wines that were paired with each course. Definitely a meal to remember. Other memorable meals were the tapas bars in San Sebastian, Cellar Can Roca located in Girona Spain, Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France…he was actually in the restaurant that day and I had gotten to meet him which was a true honor, The French Laundry, Alinea, and Cyrus.
Finally, What do you wish Western New York’s food scene had more of?
Ross: I would love to see Buffalo have more “Tapas” style restaurants where you can stop in, order a few bite size snacks and a glass of wine or beer, then move on to the next one down the street. I also would love to see more food trucks. Food trucks are all over California and some of my favorite late night meals had come from food trucks while I was living out there. I believe that Buffalo is the type of city that can create the excitement and the dedicated fan base to follow these trucks on the internet to see where they will be parked for those few hours in a day.
Again, I have to say thank you to Ross for taking time out of his day to answer our questions and put some great thought into each answer. We don’t get the opportunity to talk to people who’ve worked at the best restaurants in the world, so we asked him some bonus questions and he was more then happy to answer. If you have the time, take a trip to the Chautauqua Institute and go to dinner at the Athenaeum Hotel before Ross leaves for his next adventure. Alli and myself are extremely lucky that we are invited as guests to Ross’s upcoming Farm to Table Dinner on September 10th, be prepared to look at our pictures and drool.