Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: Michael Kramer of The Tasting Room

Yesterday we asked Chef Michael Kramer at The Tasting Room's Uptown Park location about his personal food and wine pairing suggestions. Today we get the inside scoop on The Tasting Room's new CityCentre location, set to open on February 16.

Eating Our Words: Michael, you became the executive chef of The Tasting Room only seven months ago. Did you change up all the menus when you came on?

Michael Kramer: I wrote the current menus for all The Tasting Room locations, yes. EOW: So you are in charge of all three locations: Uptown Park, River Oaks, and the new City Centre location?

MK: Yes.

EOW: That sounds rather exhausting.

MK: It catches up with you a little bit, but you know, obviously CityCentre will be the focus coming up, so I'll spend quite a lot of time there, getting it off the ground. And then once things settle in, I can go back and forth more. I try to surround myself with strong people. That's the key to success in this business.

EOW: Tell us about the new location.

MK: I think the big difference between this location here and the location there is more patio space. Probably 50 percent of our seating there will be outside. And the real thing that Jerry Lasco and I have really worked on is bringing the kitchen and the culinary, the food, out into the dining room. So it'll be an open kitchen with a pizza oven, a brick oven, which will be a focal point of the restaurant. You can see it from pretty much every direction. We're also going to have a counter where we do all our cheese and some meat, so we'll have that where people can actually sit right in front. Really sight, sounds, and smells will be a big part of what we do.

EOW: Will the menu be markedly different from the ones at the existing locations?

MK: There are similarities, but it will be much more American with a healthy Italian influence. Gnocchis, raviolis, risottos, things like that. Pizza is going to be one of the biggest draws for CityCentre, but we also do some here, as well. Here we do more of a Sicilian-style pizza, which is a thin-crust pizza. Some of them are classics, like the Margherita or the mushroom pizza. We're going to do a Neapolitan style over at CityCentre. The sous chef and I actually flew to Los Angeles and trained in VPA Pizza training. That stands for Vera Pizza Napoletana, which means true Neapolitan pizza.

EOW: What is true Neapolitan pizza?

MK: Well, Naples is kind of the birth place of pizza, so the true recipe of any Neapolitan pizza is flour, water, salt. Many places, like CPK, will typically add honey or sugar and sometimes olive oil to their doughs. The honey or sugar will typically feed the yeast, so it will proof usually that day, be ready to use that day, whereas the dough that we use is far superior the second day, so you end getting a very different kind of crust. The caramelization and color on it is different. It is a much more chewy style.

EOW: So if we can't fly to Italy, just head to CityCentre.

MK: That's right. We actually trained with a master pizzaiolo over there. That was really cool. We made our own mozzarella cheese, and we'll be making our own tomato sauce fresh. We made a batch of mozzarella yesterday.

Check back tomorrow when we dish on lunch at The Tasting Room and take a walk through the new location.

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