Josh Moore is stressed.
A few days prior heading to cook at the James Beard House in New York City, Moore, executive chef and partner at Volare, busily juggles the details of shipping food for 70 to the Big Apple, multiple media appointments, the management of a busy restaurant kitchen and, oh, his 10-acre farm, which will supply about half the produce for the dinner.
However, about a minute’s conversation is all it takes to reveal he thrives on stress, spending 60 hours a week at the restaurant and another 20 in his massive garden.
We caught up with Moore to better understand this willful masochism and get his take on the local restaurant scene.
Insider Louisville: Your garden is an acre and a half: why so friggin’ huge?
Josh Moore: It started off as a dozen tomato plants in 2006, and I brought those tomatoes into the restaurant to use. The response from the guests was so overwhelmingly positive that I thought, well, then let’s plant broccoli, cabbage … and it just took off from there. I put a bee apiary out there this year. Through the spring and fall at least, I like to have at least some representation of the farm in the restaurant.
IL: You excited about the Beard dinner?
JM: It’s not my first; I did assist once, with Dallas McGarity (now executive chef at Marketplace Restaurant) in 2005. I did the pastry for the dinner. But yeah, I’m excited about this one.
IL: About what percentage of the meal’s ingredients will come from your farm (near Taylorsville).
JM: About 50 percent — I hope, but nine days straight of rain has SUCKED, hasn’t helped at all! I’m not in panic mode yet, but the one stressful thing is I can’t control Mother Nature. But knock on wood, it’ll be alright.
IL: And Volare restaurant will undergo some renovations while you are one this weekend?
JM: They’re freshening up the restaurant with a whole new paint scheme outside. They’re taking the signage and awnings down to do that. And though we keep a really clean restaurant, they’re going to do a deep cleaning. No chef is ever satisfied with the cleaning. There’s always more to do.
IL: If you could upgrade your skills in one way, what would that change be?
JM: I’ve always said I’m going get my CEC (certified executive chef) credentials, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Not that I regret not having it, but it would be nice.
Culinary wise … I’d like to broaden the spectrum of cuisines I cook. I’ve done Italian food all my life: here, before that Porcini and before that, Vincenzo’s, where I started when I was 15. I do love Italian, but I’d like to learn some ethnic cuisines.
IL: Is culinary school essential to become a chef.
JM: It’s soooo not. But let’s not get into that (he says, grinning).
IL: If you weren’t cooking Northern Italian food, what would you cook?
JM: I’m big on French cuisine, European in general. I’m big on classics. Molecular gastronomy is cool, it’s neat, I enjoy that, it’s fun, but it’s not my thing.
IL: What’s the toughest part about finding good cooks for the kitchen: attitude or skills?
JM: Attitude. I will, in a heartbeat, take someone in and teach them over someone who comes in with a bad attitude or work ethic but has some skills. Some of my best cooks are guys who started with me with no experience.
IL: Why are the good ones hard to find?
JM: Some guys think they want to do this, but they also want to party, take weekends off—this isn’t the business for that. If you want to have a social life like everyone else, find a different occupation.
When I was coming up, I went to the extreme: no social life. I wanted to move up in the field. (He’s 33 now.)
IL: Why do you have a pet boa constrictor at your house?
JM: (Laughs) Actually one of my line cooks was moving to Florida to take a catering job, and he was going to move in with his sister. She told him, ‘You can come, but the snake cannot.’ I’d had one years ago, and so he said, ‘Chef, will you give Molly a good home?’ She’s about six feet long and weighs a good 20 pounds now.
IL: If someone applied here to cook, but you didn’t have room on the staff, where in Louisville would you send them?
JM: Peng Looi (at Asiatique and August Moon) would be great to work under. I’ve known guys who’ve worked for him, and everyone who works for him, seem to have a lot of respect for him. Agostino (Gabrielli, chef-partner at Vincenzo’s) would be another. He’s just Old School and passionate, he really cares about quality. He’s an easy man to respect. John Plymale (executive chef, Porcini) is one of the most patient chefs I’ve been around. If someone is starting from the ground up needing a chef to be patient with them, he’s the guy. He likes to teach people.
IL: If you could improve Louisville’s entire restaurant scene in one way, what one change would you make?
JM: The only things that ever bug me about the Louisville restaurant scene are the one hit wonders. Too many restaurants open with such a bang and close so quickly. You can’t just open up based on the name of a chef, a general manager’s reputation or location. It takes doing everything right to survive. Anybody can open a restaurant and, but not everyone can run a quality restaurant.