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Chef Q&A: Andrew Kochan of Philadelphia’s Marigold Kitchen

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West Philadelphia’s charming, cutting-edge BYOB, Marigold Kitchen, continues to set the pace for thought-provoking plates peddled by some of the city’s finest chefs. Though operating since 2009 under the guidance of the respectable executive chef/owner Robert Halpern, it was late last year that his fresh-faced protégés, Andrew Kochan and Tim Lanza, took over the reigns of the ambitious kitchen. The change of guard enabled the boundary-pushing up-and-comers to reset the site’s edgy menus and redefine the highly-regarded kitchen into a place of their own.

Perhaps 2015 is the most impressive year yet, where flawless, almost scientific techniques are executed with the utmost grace and elegance. Not to mention the new “Test Kitchen Tuesday” tasting pushes the key players to be more experimental than we’ve ever seen before.

Curious about the full story behind the much-lauded Marigold Kitchen and its food-fueled masterminds? We tapped the kitchen leader and co-owner, chef Andrew Kochan, to break it down to the brass tacks.

Photos courtesy of Marigold Kitchen

Chef Andrew Kochan

Main Course: Late 2014, you, along with fellow chef de cuisine Tim Lanza, took over the ownership of Marigold. What has been most exciting in now carrying the torch for one of Philly’s edgiest BYOBs?

Andrew Kochan: Frankly, once the shock of actually owning our own business wore off, the most exciting thing became seeing how far we could push ourselves with the food and breaking out of our individual comfort zones. We also take a huge amount of pride in being mentioned in the same sentence as many of the chefs in this city. I get a rush of excitement every time I remember that.

With this ownership transition, you’ve trimmed your signature tasting menu to a firm 14 courses. Please define the mission of this sometimes mysterious—and ever-changing—tasting menu that you offer.

We spend absurd amounts of time considering the cohesion of our menus, whether it is 13 or 17 courses. In this city there are masters of some foods. If you want amazing pasta, then you’re going to eat at Vetri. If you want the best Israeli food, Zahav is where you go. Marigold Kitchen is where you go to be exposed to anything and everything. We want you to come in without fear and try what we give you, because we aren’t restricted to a given cuisine or set of techniques. Have fun. Try new things.

Your cuisine is inventive, whimsical and just plain fun. I can barely wrap my head around how you create the compositions you do! What inspires you? Who inspires you?

A lot of people are inspirations to me. I love following the Redzepis and Dacostas of the world, but I also take a lot away from watching more real world restaurants operate. I also love hearing from people who grow food and raise animals. That always makes me want to honor the food properly and really make it shine.

Though I know you like to keep the courses under wraps with your tasting menu, could you reveal one course that you are currently touting and what makes it a must-try?

Nope. But I can tell you that we have been creating a number of candies that we have never tried using before.

Ha, at least I tried! You can tell that kitchen camaraderie is strong and on point as the courses unfold at Marigold. What makes your kitchen chemistry so special between you and Lanza? Why do you two chefs work so well together?

We do have a lot of similarities as people and cooks, but it isn’t just Tim and I. We own the place, but our kitchen is a very cohesive unit. Our EC Keith, Felias, Paul and Al are family. Because of that fact, everyone is very much in sync throughout service and I think it shows in the food.

The Philadelphia food scene is endlessly thriving—and Marigold lends a strong hand to that. Why do you enjoy being a part of the food culture in the city of Brotherly Love? As a chef, what do you hope to contribute to it?

It’s an absolute honor and I can’t wait to meet and work with more of the chefs that lead the way here. I also hate losing, so I derive a dread and a healthy sense of competition from wanting to lead the pack in some way. That’s why I love this city—nobody wants to see anyone else fail but everyone wants to constantly push the envelope.

You have serious Main Line roots—a Penn Valley native and a Haverford School graduate. Can you share one culinary memory from your Philly suburban upbringing, whether it be something from your family’s kitchen, an iconic Main Line eatery, etc.

Put it this way—the Wendy’s near Haverford got plenty of business. Although A La Maison in Ardmore is still a favorite of mine. They have excellent mussels.

Name one kitchen ingredient you’d take to your grave:

If I didn’t say tamari, Tim would call me a liar. That’s so bold to say though. You’d get a much shorter list if you asked what I wouldn’t take to my grave.

Wild card: on your (rare) nights off, where can we find you dining and unwinding in Philadelphia? What’s your current favorite bar or restaurant you enjoy frequenting?

I work on my days off … I’m not a huge beer guy so I’ve really enjoyed the cocktails at Franklin and Mortgage Investment Company and I’m constantly trying to get to new restaurants. East Passyunk is a safe bet in the coming months.

 

Catch chef Andrew Kochan in the Marigold Kitchen at 501 S. 45th Street in West Philadelphia. Reservations may be made at (215) 222-3699. Special for summer 2015, Marigold has launched “Test Kitchen Tuesdays,” where its chefs offer a unique five- to eight-course experimental menu highlighting ingredients sourced only from local farmers’ markets and foragers. Cost is $65 per person (plus tax and gratuity) and reservations are highly recommended; open to a maximum seating of 25 guests.

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