In roughly two weeks, Fork Restaurant, the successful neighborhood New American Bistro acknowledged among national and food publications as an acclaimed dining destination for visitors to Philadelphia will add another Chapter to its memoirs with the arrival of its new Executive Chef, Eli Kulp. Chef Kulp, former Chef de Cuisine of Torrisi Italian Specialties, a 2012 Best of New York establishment. Among many of Torrisi’s shining accomplishments in New York City is its hard to come by, reservations-only-seat for the twenty-course “chef tasting menu” that changes daily. The newest Chapter of Fork with Chef Kulp will likely evolve the restaurant to even greater heights along with the ongoing constant of Ellen Yin, Restaurateur of Fork and Author of: Forklore: Recipes and Tales from an American Bistro as she continually asks the question and contemplates the vision on “What is the New American Bistro?
In Forklore, Ellen Yin threads a cookbook filled with good recipes including subtle infusions of varied cultural cuisines that represent then as now an ever evolving selection of menu items and trends of the “New American Bistro.” Within the Chapters, Yin provides memoirs of her life experiences in food and the path of fulfilling her dream of owning her own restaurant. Forklore also shares the people and processes involved in starting up the restaurant from an idea, then, raising capital, choosing a location, creating the Fork logo/brand and many stories including the restaurants inception and journeys along the way. I recently had the opportunity to meet with Ellen Yin and revisit some thoughts and changes from when she first published the still in-print cookbook/memoir in 2007, a time Fork celebrated its tenth anniversary.
I asked Ellen some of the ways that customers have changed since she wrote about her original customer base in Forklore years ago. Fork has recently received the newest Slow Food of Philadelphia Snail of Approval. However, since the restaurants beginning it has always been a part of the Slow Food Movement adhering with the organizations practices including those in utilizing Farm to Table principles and supporting local farmers and artisans. “One of the changes in the customer of the New American Bistro today,” said Yin “is that people have now become very aware of the Farm to Table concept and now they want to know where the food they will be eating came from. When they make menu choices they also want to know that anything they eat has been humanely treated. They are more conscious of what they are putting into their bodies.” “More than ever,” said Yin, “people are looking for a restaurant experience that is exciting, insightful and they expect to be inspired.”
A Wharton MBA Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Yin shares Forklore stories and experiences requiring slight adjustments to her motivational business model philosophy such as when a former Executive Chef insisted on running the kitchen in the traditional French Culinary Brigade System. Other challenges included ironing out tensions that occur between the kitchen and wait staff along with decision making intricacies involved in building an effective restaurant team to ensure the best food, service, and smooth running daily operations in the establishment. One thing that has not changed since Yin and partner, Roberto Cello, a former MBA classmate at Wharton first opened is that Fork is always evaluating reinvention. Ask Ellen Yin what she believes the most important components for reinventing and maintaining success in the New American Bistro and she says “Beyond good food, good service, location, and a beautiful interior is always having a clear, concise, and consistent vision.”
How does a New American Bistro stay inspired? Though inspiration is something that seems to come natural to Ellen Yin still, inspiration is brought forth by being in the pulse with knowledge and trends of the time. On the discussion of menu development Ellen spoke of Anne- Marie Lasher the first Chef at Fork when an important trend focus was the side dish served with the main course. Fundamentally, this means considering the question if the diner will choose lamb shank with rice or choose the steak entree over the lamb because they prefer the side dish of garlic mashed potatoes served along with the steak. The side dish also includes in- season combinations of fresh vegetables or fruits served in varying creative ways then continually evaluated to suit the taste of the customer. For a time, the importance of the side dish on the main course was a key ongoing focus of discussion in menu development and reinvented as needed. “Today, the protein on the dish is not as important as is used to be.” Said Yin “Many people will continue to dine in traditional bistro style ordering a first course, second course, and third course.” However, inspiring today’s new forefront in the area of menu development is the evolving interest of another generation of people going to the Bistro to experience a number of assorted small appetizer style dishes with a broad selection of flavors, including ethnic variations, explains Yin. Though Fork is not planning on introducing a twenty-course chef tasting menu any time in the near future, still, a capable broad range selection of new style dishes created in the kitchen with Chef Kulp may indeed inspire an added group of new diners to Fork restaurant. As new pages begin future memoirs at Fork and looking back on many changes since Ellen Yin first published Forklore: Recipes and Tales from an American Bistro, the initial culture of Fork restaurant still remains: serving simple, unpretentious, New American Bistro-style cuisine in a casual but sophisticated environment, and, continually reinventing to the times.
You can reach the website of Fork Restaurant here.
Pasta Puttanesca, Fork Restaurant
Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 as an entree
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
1/2 T anchovy paste or chopped anchovies
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 Tablespoon capers, chopped
1/4 cup pitted black olives, chopped
1 pound fresh tomatoes, seeded, drained and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 Tablespoon)
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 pound penne pasta
shaved Parmigiano Reggiano to taste
Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium- high heat. Add garlic, anchovy paste and red pepper flakes and saute briefly. Add wine and allow the mixture to simmer for about 2 minutes. Add capers, olives and diced tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes just start to break down. Reduce heat to low. Cook pasta al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the lemon juice and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to sauce. Adjust seasoning with pepper. Add parsley and toss with hot pasta. Add shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately. Pass extra cheese if desired.