What happens when you take food to the molecular level? And how do you use the same ingredient to create a whole new taste? The Birchwood’s Executive Sous Chef Darren Bloom recently sat down with us and shared his modern and sophisticated cooking techniques, his journey through the culinary arts and how he and his team reinvent classic dishes:
How long have you been with The Birchwood?
I’ve been here for almost seven years.
How did you get started in the culinary field?
I have a lot of experience opening upscale delis across Florida. I managed people from the get go and then found my way into fine dining. Fine dining always sparked my interest, so when I had the opportunity to join the Birchwood, I ran with it.
Where did you train to become a chef? What did you have to learn to transition into fine dining?
I learned my craft on the job. The biggest thing I had to learn was speed. Everyone’s moving 100 miles an hour, so you just have to sort of step in the line and just start running with them.
Do you get involved with plating dishes?
Yes, I do. We do upscale plating and put a spin on modern cuisine. Every ingredient is something that someone else has had, but we try to alter it in a different variety than you’ve had before. So this way, it’s still an Americanized dish, but it has traits from every other nation on it. We make everything from scratch.
Tell us about the delicious charcuterie boards at Birch & Vine.
We offer five meats and five cheeses. The cheeses range from local U.S. cheeses to prize- winning cheeses around the world. And then the meats are pretty copacetic from where you have everywhere else, just flavored a little differently. We have a cured Tuscan sausage, Finocchiona, that’s really popular. It has fennel in it, which makes it a little different.
What is unique about your cooking style?
I cook more molecular food. So I like to take something and then totally alter it perceptually. For example, I’ll take a Caprese salad and then I can make the burrata cheese in the glass. Or I’ll experiment to see if I can try to turn something into a foam, or an air or caviar. I try to spin everything so you’re eating the same ingredient you’ve had 100 different times, but now for some reason this sweet potato comes to you in little pearls.
How do you learn about different technologies that you can use?
Reading and watching a lot of videos about a lot of chefs that were into molecular cooking. I just thought it was neat to be able to take something and have someone have that wow factor for something they had 100 times over.
Tell us about the Birch & Vine menu.
Everything on the menu has a twist. For example, we take Mexican street corn and add Korean ingredients. And then we take a mole and we turn it white instead of the stereotypical color that it is. So it’s kimchi corn, that’s served street corn style. And instead of mayonnaise, it comes with a white chocolate mole. Instead of grits, we serve rice grits and then we flavor it with nduja. So everything just is familiar to you, but it just has an unexpected flavor profile.
So can you describe your food style in five words?
Modern, sophisticated, delicious. local ingredients.
What are some local farms you’d like working with?
We use Cactus Hat Mushrooms Company based in Tampa. We’ve also used a chicken farm out of Tampa. We source our local microgreens from local farmers in the Tampa Bay area, and all of our seafood is Gulf Coast driven. Everything’s really a local catch of the day. We don’t really ship in products from too far away, because we try to keep everything fresh for the day.
What inspires you?
My children. I want them to understand that hard work does pay off and to follow their ambitions and stay intrigued with what you do. Because then it doesn’t necessarily become work. It becomes more of a life, and a path that you choose.
What is your definition of a chef?
Being a chef means that you’re going to run 100 miles an hour to make sure everyone else is happy. The whole job consists of everything from peeling a potato to running around putting patches on a floor to coming up with a new menu. You’re the person running the show.
What is it like behind the scenes? Are there any misconceptions about the industry?
Here at the Birchwood and Teak family, we are all pulling the same wagon towards the same accomplishment. There’s a lot of effort that goes into our work. I think a lot of times people see the chef table shows where these restaurants are doing these courses of the same exact thing. But it’s completely different when you have 400 people ordering 400 different entrees with 400 different allergies. It’s a challenge that I love every day.
Why do you enjoy being a chef?
I enjoy when someone eats my food, and they’re blown away from it, and they just have to have the urge to tell me. I love the fact that people just start enjoying themselves around something that I created. I get to express myself on a plate and I love it when people understand what I’m trying to create. Those are always the greatest moments.