• in the kitchen
    IN THE KITCHEN WITH CHEF JOHN POIARKOFF
    The Executive Chef at The Pines discusses his ingredient-driven cooking philosophy and shows us how to sear steak using a blow torch.
    January 14, 2015  |  BY TARIQ DIXON
    There are few places in the city to enjoy a foie gras terrine accompanied by Drake's latest album. The Pines, an innovative, yet understated restaurant in Gowanus, brings fine dining to Brooklyn, but without any of Manhattan's airs.

    When Executive Chef John Poiarkoff left his Sous Chef position at Danny Meyer's The Modern, he sought a place to expand his culinary prowess, while avoiding the oft-accompanying affectations. Coincidentally, a new spot was opening just a few blocks from his apartment, whose owners shared a near identical vision.

    After joining The Pines as its inaugural Sous Chef in 2012, Chef Poiarkoff recently took over the kitchen, adding a heightened level of refinement to both the menu and service. Experimental and ever-changing in its first two years, John has helped the restaurant to find a more consistent voice - one rooted in his personal cooking philosophy that places ingredients at the center.

    "Our food is first and foremost, ingredient-driven. We source great products, mostly from local farmers' markets, and treat them with respect," says the young chef. In fact, each menu item humbly bears the name of only one ingredient - "cabbage" or "lettuce" as the options for seasonal market vegetables.
    Despite the modest descriptors, each menu item is far more nuanced than its name would suggest. Rooted in American cuisine, but borrowing from a range of global influences, the menu is eclectic and exciting - leveraging new techniques, unexpected flavor profiles and even a hint of novelty.

    During our visit, John prepared his "beef tataki" - a thinly sliced, rare beef, paired with bonito mayo, charred leeks and spicy greens. Different from his brother Mike, John embraces technology and new techniques in the kitchen, excitedly showing us his tool for vacuum-sealed marinades, and opting to use a blow-torch in place of a grill. His presentation is artful and precise, first painting the bonito mayo onto the plate, delicately placing each layer of beef and charred leeks, and finishing it off with a dusting of charred onion powder. The finished dish was equally beautiful and delicious - complex, but balanced, with complementary layers of spice, acidity and umami.

    Read more from our conversation with the young chef and give a hand at his unique and delicious recipe for beef tataki. Also, be sure to check out our interview with John's brother Mike, Executive Chef of Brooklyn's Vinegar Hill House.
  • Your first job out of culinary school was at The Modern?

    Yea, I got lucky. When I graduated culinary school, I looked up a list of Michelin-starred and New York Times 3-star restaurants and I just started sending out my resume. At that point, I didn't really know much about The Modern. It was only three years old at the time, but already well-established - I just wasn't very familiar.

    The Modern was amazing though. I was there for 5 years, two years as a cook and three years as a Sous Chef. What kept me there was the opportunity to be a leader within Union Square Hospitality. I've trailed tons of restaurants, and nothing operates like a Danny Meyer restaurant. When it was time to move on, I felt like I needed to open a place and be there from the beginning, rather than walking into an established place that didn't meet the same standards.

  • How did the job at The Pines come about?

    I actually live right down the street, and I had heard that a restaurant was opening up. I stopped in, spoke to the team, and got hired two weeks before the opening. I hadn't actually given my notice to The Modern yet, so I was working at both places for a while.

    I knew that I wanted to work in a place that felt more casual, but with food that was on par with high-end Manhattan restaurants. A great dining experience, at a more reasonable price point, in a comfortable environment. The menu at The Modern, at least while I was there, was very French. That's my background, and I love French food, but I didn't want to do it forever. I wanted to try eclectic, globally-influenced American cuisine.

  • How has The Pines changed since you took over as Executive Chef?

    The Pines has evolved a lot since we opened. It's always been an ambitious, creative restaurant, but when I took over as chef, I tried to focus that creativity and create a harmonious menu. When you eat here, I think you can easily get a feel for our style. We like to bring out natural flavors as much as possible, and balancing a dish is key. But we also love acidic things, spicy things, and umami. These are flavors that we typically think of in Asian food, but they can easily translate to any dish, if balanced properly.

    We've also worked to create a great overall dining experience. Our front-of-house has grown up a lot and I think we're providing some of the best service in Brooklyn. Working for Danny Meyer, I learned that good food alone doesn't cut it. Guests will judge a restaurant based on their experience from the time they walk in the door until they walk back out.

  • How would you describe that voice that you've developed here?

    The menu is very eclectic, and not really focused around a singular cuisine. We cook food that we like to eat, and our food is first and foremost, ingredient-driven. We source great products, mostly from local farmers' markets, and treat them with respect. That could mean simply slicing it and serving it raw, or curing or slow-cooking - giving it a lot of time and love.

    One example: our chuck blade steak is aged for two weeks before we get it, we then cure it overnight, cook it sous vide for two days, then pan roast it. It makes for an extremely tasty piece of meat with all of the flavor of a braised cut, but it eats like a sirloin. We're experimenting all the time with different techniques, until we find one that we like best for that ingredient.

  • I knew that I wanted to work in a place that felt more casual, but with food that was on par with high-end Manhattan restaurants.

  • “[The Pines] has always been an ambitious, creative restaurant, but when I took over as chef, I tried to focus that creativity and create a harmonious menu.”
    - Chef John Poiarkoff
  • recipe
    THE PINES' BEEF Tataki
    Chef Poiarkoff kindly shares his recipe for The Pines' Japanese-inspired beef tataki - a sophisticated dish with layers of spice and umami.
    (serves 4 as an appetizer)
  • ingredients
    1 8oz beef sirloin or tenderloin
    salt
    sugar (raw is preferred)
    1/2 cup red wine
    1 tsp red wine vinegar
    black pepper
    coarse sea salt (maldon or fleur de sel)
    mustard (or other spicy) greens
    bonito mayo
    Ingredients:
    1 egg yolk
    1/2 tsp mustard
    1/4 cup bonito flakes
    1 tsp fish sauce
    1 tsp chopped preserved lemon
    2 tbs lemon juice
    1 tsp ground black pepper
    1 cup grapeseed or canola oil
    Salt
    Instructions:
    1. In a bowl or small food processor, add egg yolk, mustard, bonito, fish sauce, and preserved lemon. Blend together, then slowly drizzle in the oil to form an emulsion.
    2. Thin the mixture with lemon juice, and add a little water if it is still too thick.
    3. Season with the black pepper and salt to taste.
    4. If bonito and/or fish sauce is unavailable, anchovies make a delicious substitute.
    charred leeks
    Instructions:
    1. Cut leeks into rounds, about 1/3” thick.
    2. Heat a pan over high heat and add just a drop of oil to barely coat the bottom. When the oil is smoking hot, add the leek rings, cut side down and sear until completely black on one side.
    3. Season with salt, then add a little lemon juice to the pan, cover, and turn off the heat.
    4. After 3 minutes, remove the lid and the leeks should be cooked through. If not, cover again and wait another 2 minutes.
  • 1
    Cut the beef into long, thick strips (about 1 and 1/2” wide). Season generously with salt and a pinch of sugar.
  • 2
    Place in a zip-lock bag with the wine and vinegar. Seal tightly, removing all the air, and marinate, refrigerated, for at least one hour.
  • 3
    Remove the beef from the bag and pat dry with a paper towel. While the beef is still cold, char the outside with a blow torch, very hot grill, or a saute pan, leaving the inside raw.
  • 4
    Slice as thinly as possible and arrange on a plate with the charred leeks, bonito mayo, and mustard greens (or other spicy greens).
  • shop the story
  • “We cook food that we like to eat, and our food is first and foremost, ingredient-driven. We source great products...and treat them with respect. ”
    - Chef John Poiarkoff
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