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Published: Tuesday, 7/24/2007

Findlay chef uses produce from local farms for cutting-edge cuisine

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Chef Michael Bulkowski s halibut with green beans, cherry tomatoes, and smoked sausage. Chef Michael Bulkowski s halibut with green beans, cherry tomatoes, and smoked sausage.
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FINDLAY - It's not often that the Wall Street Journal sends a reporter to cover a new restaurant in Northwest Ohio. But barely six months after Revolver opened it was featured in the June 2-3 story Ohio Haute Cuisine by Raymond Sokolov.

The little restaurant at 110 E. Sandusky Street owned by chef Michael Bulkowski and his wife Debi with its cutting edge cuisine has been the talk of the town ever since.

Revolver has an Asian influenced lunch menu and a contemporary French and Italian influenced dinner menu sprinkled with Midwest specialties. The chef relies on locally grown food from nearby farms and the farmers market as much as possible.

The chef and his wife returned to their hometown in 2005 with daughter Willough, now 6, from the Chicago area. Last November, they opened the 1,000 sq. ft. Revolver, which can seat 38. "We can turn the tables twice each night," says one of the waiters.

"This means I can see every plate that comes out of the kitchen," the chef says.

By the end of lunch, I wanted to see that tiny little kitchen where I counted the chef himself, a sous chef, and at least two other assistant chefs. "Space issues determine the style of cooking," he told me later. "But it creates a better product and saves you time and space."

With a Blade photographer, I made a return trip to Revolver with its mid-century modern decor to follow the chef to the Findlay Farmers Market, which opens at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday nights and then back to see how he translates his purchases to the dinner menu. The first reservations are available at 5:30 p.m.

Chef Michael Bulkowski sautes the green beans and cherry tomatoes he purchased locally only hours before. They will be served with Revolver s halibut entree. Chef Michael Bulkowski sautes the green beans and cherry tomatoes he purchased locally only hours before. They will be served with Revolver s halibut entree.
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Revolver's name comes from a "menu that revolves around the seasonality of foods plus the musical element featuring music from a different artist each week (in the dining room)," says Mrs. Bulkowski.

The chef's credentials are noteworthy. A stint in 1995 at Las Vegas in Emeril Lagasse's MGM kitchen was followed by a job as a line cook at Wolfgang Puck's Spago in 1996. Shortly after, he worked at the four-star Trio Restaurant in Evanston, Ill. Within two years he rose from chef garde manger to sous chef to Chef Shawn McClain. From there McClain and his partners opened Spring Restaurant where Mr. Bulkowski was sous chef. (Spring was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the Best New Restaurant of 2001.) After two years, the partners of Spring developed the vegetable-focused Green Zebra where Mr. Bulkowski was chef de cuisine.

Fans have been watching. According to Mrs. Bulkowski, the restaurant was visited by Bon Appetit magazine with a photography team in May (she expects Revolver will be included in a small restaurant story in the September issue of the magazine).

Farmers market

Imagine the turn-around time of an hour to see how you can using locally grown produce on a restaurant menu.

"I want you to know I put thought into this before hand," he says as we run out the restaurant door, hop in his car, and head for the market.

At one vendor he sees local cherries. And on the other side, there's a Lawrence's Place with bushel baskets of fresh green beans which will go nicely with the wild Alaskan halibut the chef's ordered. "The cherries will be an amuse with white chocolate," he says.

Meanwhile cars and trucks pull up to the corrugated metal roof pole barn without sides and the crowd is swelling. It's one chef dressed in his kitchen whites in a sea of home cooks: everybody is getting ready for dinner. The only difference is that the chef's cooking for crowd.

At Riehm Farm's table, he sees small pattypan squash, fresh raspberries, and fresh onions. At the Crazy Ladies Garden in Arlington table, he buys onions and turnips from Amy Bower. For an appetizer, "I'll puree the (cooked) turnips for the Florida shrimp wrapped with duck proscuitto and grill it for earthier flavor," he says. A gremolata will garnish the appetizer made with the green onion from the Crazy Ladies, lemon zest, and parmesan. "I'll make the gremolata, time permitting." The pattypan will be added to zucchini bread appetizer.

He takes time to talk to Kyle Dickman at Dickman Farms, who supply him with chicken and eggs. Mr. Dickman also raises goats. "I can't keep up with it," Mr. Dickman tells me. "Goat bratwurst is our best seller."

(In March, chef Bulkowski did put suckling goat on the menu. "It sold out in two days," he says.")

Evening menu

Many of the farmers market vendors are keenly aware of the time crunch the chef is in. They quickly tally his bills and purchases are gathered for the quick ride back to the restaurant.

Back at the restaurant, he begins assigning tasks to the assisting chefs. One cuts the patty pan squash in eighths to be sauted. The turnips are peeled and cut and begin to cook for the appetizer. An assistant is dispatched to get the duck prosciutto from the cooler and thinly slice it for the shrimp. The staff has been watching the prosciutto age in the cooler. The chef makes his own using duck breast sprinkled with sugar, salt and black pepper and wrapped in cheesecloth and then cured in a cold dry place (refrigeration) for three months.

Then sous chef Michael Squire grates the zucchini purchased at the farmers market and mixes the batter for zucchini bread. This is not your traditional zucchini bread. The bread bakes in a convection oven for the appetizer of grilled zucchini bread and goat cheese sandwich with ceylon cinnamon-tomato sauce. It's a new take on grilled cheese and tomato soup, albeit an appetizer.

Meanwhile, another young chef is cutting corn off the cob for sweet corn soup. It also will be used in ravioli with sweet corn puree.

The garde manger, a young chef trained at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, N.C., is sauteing shiitake mushrooms. "Earlier we made a star anise stock and we'll puree them together," he says about the shiitake mushroom soup which will be on the next day's lunch menu. Chilled cantaloupe soup with mustard greens sorbet, toasted filberts and sherry-honey reduction is on the evening menu as well as an organic greens salad with bag, maytag blue cheese, and slices of red and gold beets.

When the turnips are done, they are mashed and a foam is created from the liquid the turnips are cooked in with a hand-held immersion blender. "We give it a good buzz," says the chef.

"We have no signature dish," says Mr. Bulkowski. "But we don't remove the grilled New York strip with creamy polenta and red wine reduction."

"My favorite thing to make is gnocchi. I make puff pastry from scratch for tarts and galettes," he says. "We serve a flight of ice creams." That week it was homemade chocolate, goat cheese, and basil strawberry flavors.

"We make a souffle that two people should share. We are also growing our own tomatoes with 18 different varieties and have an organic garden."

In the midst of all this, the doors open and guests begin to arrive. Not far behind, a local farmer brings a bag of greens, and soon the Dickmans bring the packaged chickens as promised.

The cherries will have to wait. They will be served as an amuse with cherry foam and white chocolate foam garnished with the Japanese herb called shisho the next night.

The next Thursday night, there's a repeat trip to the Findlay farmers' market. Fresh green beans and cherry tomatoes are purchased to serve with pan-roasted halibut. This time, Chef Bukowski adds pieces of smoked sausage, which comes from Miller Meats in Findlay, Nicoise olives, and pea shoots as a garnish.

Dessert includes blackberries served with sabayon. The week before it was fresh raspberries and sabayon.

The wine list features European and New World wines.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. Contact her at food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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