Last week we bid farewell to Ben Grossmann, an energetic sous-chef and loyal member of the Nostrana family. We’re sad to see him go, but are thrilled for his exciting new opportunity as head chef at Dig A Pony. Thankfully Ben is not straying too far, as he heads down the street to one of our favorite neighborhood hangouts. In honor of his inspiring 3.5 years in Nostrana’s kitchen, we decided to share with you his story from biology student to chef-dom.
What was your path to the kitchen?
I was born in Portland and went to Lewis & Clark to study biology. I always thought I wanted to become a teacher. After graduating I started running an after school program for kids. The kids were going home and telling their parents that the food I was cooking for them was better than anything at home. Soon enough I found myself running a catering business for these families. I loved cooking and decided to save up for culinary school.
What was your first job in a restaurant?
Washing dishes of course! But I soon moved up to salads, then grilling.
What’s the best part about being a chef?
We’ll always be poor, but we’ll never be hungry!
What’s your favorite dish to make?
Truffle sausage ragu. I love making the sausage from scratch. It’s a special dish that we make at Nostrana for New Year’s Eve.
What’s the #1 lesson Cathy instilled in you during your time at Nostrana?
The value of treating everyone in the restaurant like family. You don’t have to be a stereotypical ‘yelling chef’ to be successful. There’s a lot of love in that kitchen. We mourn our troubles and celebrate our successes together, like one big family.
What’s the key to moving up the ranks quickly?
Be a jack of all trades and always show up. Before I started my career, I was really inspired by Jackie Chan’s bio. Instead of trying to be #1 in one area, try to be 2nd best at everything.
If you could only eat one dish at Nostrana for the rest of your life what would it be?
Any of the dishes with octopus like Octopie or our Spanish-inspired octopus salad. Or the oysters! I learned to shuck oysters when I was 5 year old.
Any crazy stories from the kitchen at Nostrana?
Ahh, too many! I once cut my finger on the meat slicer when I was cleaning it at the end of the night. I was standing on a milk crate and fell into the blade. Blood was shooting everywhere and the head chef at the time made me go to the emergency room. I sent a message to my girlfriend, “Left pinkie on the meat slicer, be home late.” She misinterpreted my message and thought I had literally left my pinkie sitting there. Haa! (Needless to say, we aren’t together anymore).
Is it true most chef’s don’t cook at home?
I used to cook at lot at home, all my past girlfriends would complain I was making them fat! I like to cook heavy foods. Lately I mostly live off of leftover bread from Nostrana (it’s the best bread in the city!) with salami and cheese.
What’s the best part about your culinary career?
I’m getting to teach after all. I love mentoring new hires in the kitchen. Teaching cooking is way more exciting than teaching math. I also love the camaraderie in the kitchen. There’s definitely a pirate-ship mentality…we live and die together.
What’s your lifelong goal?
I hope to open my own restaurant someday. I have ideas. It will definitely be Southern-inspired in honor of my Grandma who grew up in North Carolina and Arkansas and instilled in me a love for hearty dishes.
We heard the cast-iron skillet cornbread that Cathy served at her New Years day party was a recipe handed down to you from your Grandma. Umm, incredible! Will you let us share your family recipe?
Let me think about that and get back to you. (Please do!!)
Buona fortuna Ben! Come back and see us soon.