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Q&A: Blackfish Chef Chip Roman

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We love being reminded that raw talent exists, sometimes in the most extraordinary ways.

A career at Le Bec Fin and Vetri, a successful catering company, and a handful of preeminent dining spots such as Mica of Chestnut Hill, are only a few of chef Chip Roman’s accomplishments.

However, we wanted to learn more about what motivates this well-known chef in this fast-paced business. In pursuit of pinning down the premier dining spot for the holidays—which, all comes down to the chef running the show, the Town Dish team sat down with the casual kitchen crusader and let his mouth do more than taste-testing for a change. He has no longing to follow trends or comply with the average diner. For Chip, it’s all about a love for food and family—with a heaping side of passion.

TD: A lot of people in the media and restaurant reviews compare you to other successful chefs in the area. Does that fuel a competitive fire in you?

CR: I am very competitive but right now, I’m just trying to sustain quality and sustain service. I’m not pushing to open a new location and I’ve reverted back to some of the more classics dishes that I’m known for versus constantly pushing the envelope. Mainly, because I have four kids in under five years. When I opened Blackfish seven years ago I didn’t have any kids. Even up to two years ago, I was still pushing the envelope—but now I have three restaurants and the catering business.

TD: There are many chefs who attempt to achieve your accomplishments. They open one BYOB and then one more but eventually fall off the grid for one reason or another. What’s your secret to staying consistently successful?

CR: Right now, in my mind, it’s not as successful as people see it. That’s because I’m taking a step back. Maybe it’s not a lull—but I’m re-evaluating things. It can always be better. Plus, now it’s not me doing everything, so I always have to make sure what I’m putting out is an exact replication of my personal creations. The reality is I’m not going to miss my kid’s soccer game to give someone chicken. Or karate or a ballet recital. That’s just life! At the same time, this job is how I keep my family fed and happy so, it may sound contradicting and that’s why I’m still figuring it out.
 

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TD: So before this step back that you’re currently taking, what were you doing to stay competitive with other restaurants and the chefs you’ve been compared to?

CR: I used to do a lot of stages. I would go to other parts of the country and work at another restaurant for a week. My two favorites were French Laundry, where I stayed for a couple weeks and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which is in New York. I absolutely took away things from there that I couldn’t read in a book or ever see on television. You can read the French Laundry cookbook and it seems complicated, but when you actually see people do it, it’s easy. Maybe not easy, but you know.

It’s a team effort. Like Jason Cichonski at ELA [Chip’s third restaurant in Philadelphia], we talk every day. He’s taken the lead, so a lot of the ideas are his ideas. We work on them together, but I’m more in the mentoring position now. I like to let them take the lead role, but they do call me out for micro-managing every once and awhile.

TD: What are your thoughts on some current food trends or movements that are happening in the Philadelphia area right now?

CR: I’m not a huge fan of farm-to-table. Not to say that I don’t promote freshness and supporting local businesses but, at the end of the day, everything comes from a farm. Many diners, and even some chefs, wouldn’t know if their dinner came from six miles down the road or 600 miles. I mean Gary at Maple Acre Farms up the street has awesome corn but, unless you have one of those crazy palates, you wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from North Carolina corn. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t buy into it. Some people do it really great though, like The Farm and the Fisherman. The truth is it’s really hard to do farm-to-table in this region during the winter but, for the record, all my stuff comes from a farm. Everything does.

Click here to read the full Q&A with Chef Chip Roman.

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