Friday, September 4, 2009

Spotlight: Dean Gold of Dino

Meet Dean Gold, the owner of Dino Restaurant in Cleavland Park.

Tell us about your cooking background.
My only formal cooking training was a class with the originator of Hamburger Hamlet's Omelet program. She ran a restaurant after leaving the Hamlet called the Egg and the Eye. I took a class there while my mom went across the street to the Art museum. We could either learn to make omelets or color and do art. I wound up cooking omelets for my classmates.

My next foray into cooking was cooking through Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking. I got to about page 300. Since then I have been self taught with a lot of reading and historical research, as well as much eating of Italian foods right from the source.

How did you decide to open Dino?
I hated having free time and money and Dino took care of both. Owning a restaurant was always my dream, and when I no longer was happy working for Whole Foods, we decided to open Dino. The actual decision was made eating gelato in Saturnia, Italy. I was having a low blood sugar attack and I still had to go to the gelateria across the street to see what kinds of gelato they had in case theirs looked better!

How long have you lived in DC and how did you end up here?
I have been in DC almost 10 years. I came to DC through a promotion at Whole Foods.

Who are your culinary inspirations?
I have many...
Current Chefs: David Chang of Momofuku Ssam Bar in NYC is probably my number one right now. A recent meal at Bar Pilar was superb and reminded me of the value of simplicity at a time I needed it. Ken Frank in LA was an original inspiration.

In Italy, Fiaschetteria Toscana and La Frasca in Venezia, La Rosetta in Roma and Giglio in Montalcino are all inspirations. Roberto at La Solita Zuppa in Chiusi is as fabulous a food historian as host and cook. All of these are family-owned restaurants (several with multiple generations
of the family working together in pursuit of their dreams) where the quality of the ingredients and integrity of the cooking come before the latest trend.

As much as chefs, I also have specific meals that are culinary inspirations: for example a dinner with 4 winemakers of Brunello di Montalcino at on of their houses and a chance to see true Montalcinese home cooking really influenced my current direction in cooking. Meals at Iron Horse where the winery chef was able to walk through the kitchen garden (all 80 acres of it!) to select his produce minutes before cooking it.

Finally, seeing many foods produced in artisan facilities has had a major influence on me. Getting to stick my finger in a barrel of real 30 year old balsamico, seeing and helping (or getting in the way of) making Reggiano & prosciutto at small facilities using old fashioned techniques, visiting cheese makers and agers, etc. all have inspired me to seek out top ingredients and then present them as simply as possible.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

Talking to people who have enjoyed the food, the wine and the experience at Dino. Working with the professionals on my team to create a product we are very proud of.

How do you de-stress after a long day of working?
Single Malt Scotch and playing bubble spinner or posting on food boards.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?
Marcella Hazan's Italian Cooking. She unlocked the secret to an approach to food for me. The recipes were watered down as there were so little Italian ingredients available, but the stories and context are still with me today.

What are your most exciting challenges right now?
Trying to get the word out on what we are doing right now. When I opened Dino I had a vision of the food and yet was never able to have it executed by the chefs I hired. When my last chef had to leave for personal reasons, I took the plunge and took over the running of the kitchen. Stephan Boillan had left me a very well trained team and I was able to take them in the direction I wanted. It took us a while to get on track and yet for the last 6 months or so, since my last trip to Toscana, we have finally become the restaurant I wanted us to be. We are not for everyone: if you need fancy presentations and exotic techniques, there are scads of places that do that. But if you want a personal interpretation of rustic Italian cooking, the kind you find
mostly in the countryside or small towns where grandma or grandpa is cooking, then that is what we are trying to do. Folks seem to like it and we are growing at a time when many are not. I am fortunate to have the team I do around me executing all the crazy ideas I have.

Anything else that you’d like to convey to the readers?

There is a trend today where style and presentation trump everything else for some dining experiences. We don't need more chemistry sets to make food wonderful, just good simple ingredients picked at proper ripeness and served in a way that lets their flavors shine.

Photo courtesy of Dino

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