Chef Dan Bazzinotti has spent a major portion of his culinary career working alongside Keith Pooler, first at Lydia Shire’s Scampo and now Bergamot. When it comes to retaining talent though, Pooler concedes that you have to give your best people the ability “to grow and broaden their abilities.” Starting in November, Bazzinotti gets that chance with BISq (Bergamot Inman Square), an intimate, 49-seat restaurant that will showcase everything he’s been developing since he was an intern at Brennan’s in New Orleans.
The Lawrence native will feature seafood like smoked mussels and oysters served with pickled chard and bacon. He’ll use his pasta making skills, developed under Shire, for preparations like his lobster cumin risotto, gnocchi, and rabbit cappellacci with Asian Pear. He’s even incorporating the ceviches he was exposed to while visiting his parents-in-law in Peru.
But there’s one gastronomic niche Bazzinotti is particularly known for: charcuterie. That takes center stage at BISq, literally, as the chef will preside over an interactive charcuterie bar overlooking the open kitchen.
We recently caught up with the chef to discuss his upcoming restaurant, Lydia Shire’s peculiar training methods, Wonder Bread, and the secret to his grandmother’s meatballs.
When did you first get into cooking?
I went to Whittier Technical High School and that’s where I decided I wanted to be a chef. My friends couldn’t figure out how I’d decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life by the time I was 16. I caught the bug early on and started working at an Italian restaurant while I was still in school. After graduating I went to Johnson & Wales. During that time I interned at a couple of places in New Orleans, including Brennan’s. I think that was the year before Katrina. Brennan’s was the place where I really learned to be a cook.
How did you end up back in Massachusetts?
After the internship I came to Boston and poked around for a little bit at some hotels. Then I met Keith [Pooler]. That was seven years ago. One day he called me and asked if I wanted to help him open Scampo with Lydia Shire and I said of course. I had heard so much about Lydia and to be able to work with her was an honor. She wasn’t in the kitchen everyday, but when she was it amazing. I was working the pasta and sautée stations at the time and she would come on the line and tell me, “I’m going to teach you how to make risotto.” This is like a chaotic Friday night with tickets coming in service just stops and she breaks down how to make risotto. It was one of the craziest moment I can remember. After that, every time an order for risotto came in Lydia would take me out to the guest and say, “This is Dan. He’s our risotto chef.”
Besides risotto, were there any other recipes you took with you from your time at Scampo?
Well, that’s also where I learned to do a lot of butchering. The butcher over there was awesome! I was a line cook and would come in just to watch him work. Eventually, after four or five months he said, “Hey man, do you want to learn how to cut up one of these pigs?”
Who was this butcher?
Johnny. He’s been with Lydia a long time. I don’t even know his last name. He just goes by Johnny. Johnny the butcher.
Charcuterie has become such a big part of the restaurant industry. With so much competition in that area, how do you manage to stand out?
Even if we’re just going to have on a pâté, rillettes, and a chicken liver mousse, I want it to be the best chicken liver mousse you’ve ever had. With what I do at Bergamot—and what I’ll be carrying over to BISq—there’s a passion. I want to convey that passion to the guest. We do that with different kinds of stuff like a foie gras and duck terrine that’s almost en Croute style, which is very old school. Also, our sausage making. We have some really good sausages that are becoming signature items like our linguiça and the bratwurst that we occasionally offer at the bar. I take smoked Vermont cheddar cheese and put it right into the brat along with bacon and pork. Basically, we’re just taking it up another level.
You’re known for having this insanely deep charcuterie repertoire. If you had to choose one favorite thing you’ve made over the years, what would it be?
Definitely a creole calf’s liver mousse. From my time in New Orleans I remembered Brennan’s making a calf’s liver mousse. I don’t know what was in it, but I certainly remember eating it. It had these big chunks of actual spices in it. So for mine, I mix both chicken and calf’s liver and make this really creamy mousse and blend in fresh herbs and crushed-up spices like white pepper, red pepper, all spice, and coriander. Then we brûlée a little sugar in the raw right over the top. You get that sweetness from the caramel, and the spiciness from the liver, and nice bites of herbs. My buddy Dave Punch from Sycamore always calls me and asks if we’re serving the creole calf’s liver mousse. He had come in for his anniversary one night and we just randomly had it on the menu, so we sent some out to him and he was just blown away. Now he’s always busting my balls trying to get the recipe. I’ll give it to him when he gives me his boudin blanc recipe.
What’s going to be your official title over at BISq?
I’ll be chef de cuisine. I’ve already seen some other articles calling me the executive chef. Keith’s still going to be the chef-owner. He’ll be splitting time between the two restaurants.
But you’ll be full-time over at BISq?
Yes, I’ll only be at BISq. I’ve been at Bergamot for so long, I told Keith, “Get me out of these walls. Seriously, get me out of here, I’m going crazy!” If Bergamot needs anything charcuterie-wise, I’ll be happy to lend them a hand. Otherwise, I’ll be running the show over at BISq.
How is the food program going to differ at BISq?
The way that I see it, Keith’s been slowly letting me do my own thing since we opened Bergamot. The charcuterie program turned into specials, the specials turned it regular menu items, and now I’m making dishes that are really being showcased. We’re going to take all of that and bring it over to BISq. The new restaurant will give me the chance to have the charcuterie menu I’ve always wanted. You go to a place like Bar Boulud in New York [ed’s note: and now in Boston, too] and they have 10 or 12 things you can pick from, and I’ve always been so jealous of that. With BISq I’ll finally get that opportunity.
So will charcuterie be the main focus?
It will be. We’ll also be showcasing a bunch of house-made breads, flatbreads, and house-made pastas. Things will change everyday, though. There’s nothing to say we won’t do pastrami with Wonder Bread. We’ve developed this great recipe that comes out just like white Wonder Bread. We’ll also have a seafood section like oysters on the half-shell. My wife is Peruvian, and that’s influenced a lot of my cooking. Something I’d like to do is have two or three different types of ceviches on the menu. We want people to come in and be excited by the menu and the chance to try new things. But we’ll still have those comfort foods, like my grandmother’s meatballs.
What makes your grandmother’s meatballs so good?
They’re these nice large pork and beef meatballs we serve in a ceramic dish with sauce, parmesan cheese, and some shaved guanciale. The secret is in the sauce. There’s some pork neck and pork fat. I can’t tell you anymore than that. My grandmother would kill me!
1071 Cambridge St., Cambridge. Follow BISq’s progress on Twitter at @bisqcambridge.
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