Regan and Thom Bloom opened Toast in Ferndale 10 years ago, and soon began garnering praise for the breakfast dishes that distinguished their restaurant from the pack. A year ago, they took on another, more ambitious project, opening the second Toast in Birmingham, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, continually improving the food, and attracting a growing clientele. They recently brought chef Jeff Rose aboard.
MT: Many top chefs have résumés that encompass stints at several restaurants throughout the country and often the world. Is there an implied mentoring program that exists?
Jeff Rose: I've worked in five different states under great chefs. I worked in New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Texas and Michigan. I've worked under great chefs like Takashi Yagihashi at Tribute. I worked under Michael Symon. I opened his Roast in Detroit. It's been great. You learn a lot from the chefs you work for. The general rule in restaurants, at least for me: I give every job a year. If after a year I'm not learning anything anymore, or I'm not moving up, then it's time to leave. That's as cook when you're first starting out. I've stayed at places for six years: four years at Big Rock, six years at Tribute. I kept growing. I kept learning. I took the job at Tribute and I ended up taking a $10,000 pay cut to go there. I told myself that I'd stay for a year and get some experience and leave. I ended up staying for six years. That was my true mentoring, where I learned more about food and flavors and cooking than at other restaurants.
MT: Do restaurateurs know and accept that chefs are just passing through, that is, learning what they can, and then moving on for experience elsewhere?
Rose: At the executive chef level, you want people to stay, to make a home and be happy. As far as the cooks in the kitchen, as a chef, I hope my cooks learn and go on to do great things. The ones that work hard and want to learn are the ones who are going step up and be the next chefs and have a restaurant. It's good to say, "That guy worked under me and he's doing great." There have been a few people around town that worked for me that are doing great things. Jeremy Grandon who owns Jeremy restaurant worked under me at Tribute. My friend Derek Clayton who also worked under me at Tribute is now with Michael Symon in Cleveland. There are a lot of people that learn, work hard and do well. There are a lot of people it's just a job for. They come in and get a paycheck and leave. You know which ones are which.
MT: When did you first know that you wanted to become a chef?
Rose: My first job was as a dishwasher when I was 13, and I never left restaurants. I knew probably in college that this was what I wanted to do. When I was looking at schools, I was either going into environmental science or hotel and restaurant management. I chose restaurant management and ended up at Michigan State; that's when I knew.
MT: What is your most memorable meal?
Rose: My best sit-down-and-eat dinner was at a restaurant in Seattle: 16 courses. My friend was the sommelier. It was a total food dinner. They were going to keep going until I said to stop. I had to throw in the towel after 16 courses. They were small, one or two bites each, but 16 is a lot, and a wine or an aperitif to go with each course. As chefs, we never get off for the holidays because Thanksgiving and Christmas are during our busiest season, so we do Thanksgiving in July. We pick a Sunday when we can all get off in a slow month. We all bring a course and a wine. There are five or 10 of us who sit around and have a great time. We've had anything from macaroni and cheese to a stuffed turkey, anything. We've had foie gras and truffles. It's an all-day affair. We just sit around and eat, drink and relax. That's our holiday.
MT: Do you ever cook at home?
Rose: At home, I like to grill more than anything. In restaurants, I'm more sauces and slow cooking. I have big pots, stove space and time.
MT: What new cuisines or trends are apt to appear next?
Rose: People are doing big, bold flavors. With the economy being what it is, the trends are going to smaller portions, not tiny portions, just not so much food that you take enough home for two days; a decent portion that when you eat, you're full, for a smaller price. It's the theory of making big, bold flavors that accent the food, but don't hide the flavor of the food. If I grill a steak, I'm going to put it together with an acidic red wine sauce to bring out the flavor of the meat. I'm not going to cover it with a gloppy cream sauce or butter sauce where all you taste is fat. That's the trend: clean flavors. Peruvian, South American flavors are very bold. A talented chef can take those and not hide the flavor of the protein. So if you're making a fish or a chicken, you'll still taste the chicken, waking it up and accenting it, not hiding it.
Toast Birmingham is at 203 Pierce St., Birmingham; 248-258-6278. The Ferndale location is at 23144 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-398-0444.
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