Chef Ralph Pallarino Featured on aroundphilly.com

Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007

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 aroundphilly.com
Thom’s Table Talks
By: Thom Cardwell

If the name Ralph Pallarino sounds familiar – and not because you’ve already visited Stella Blu and Gypsy Saloon in Conshohocken, where he’s executive chef/co-owner at both – it’s probably because you’ve seen him on the small screen.

Aside from a guest-chef spot on NBC’s “The Restaurant” in 2004 and an appearance on the Food Network’s “Date Plate,” the handsome and gregarious Pallarino just debuted on the Fine Living Network’s “Dinner Date” this month.

It’s a long way from preparing fried eel for his Italian-American family growing up in Chicago. Despite his passion for cooking and dreams of opening a restaurant, Pallarino attended business school after graduating from high school.

Cooking remained a past time, though, and he was known for entertaining friends with elaborate and creative dinner parties. It was after hosting a friend’s birthday party in 1999 when a guest offered him a gig as a chef in an Italian BYOB. Without any professional experience, Pallarino began honing his skills as a self-taught chef at Bella Luna in Bryn Mawr.

On the heels of the success of that initial venture, he joined forces with his co-owners Kim Strengari and Marianne Gere, opening Stella Blu, then, in 2004, Gypsy Saloon, a half block from their second restaurant, in Conshohocken.

Aroundphilly.com caught up with Pallarino where he mused about his local celeb status, a secret dream job and that famous lobster macaroni and cheese at Stella Blu.

TC: What situation led you to become a chef?
RP: To tell you the truth, I always had a major interest in cooking. I was hooked on watching the Food Network. It’s how I began to learn to cook. As my interest in cooking grew stronger, I spent more time going out to dinner, paying attention to dishes, trying to learn more about what chefs were doing in their restaurants. I really got into throwing dinner parties at my house.

TC: What’s your signature dish?
RP: By popular demand among my diners at the restaurant, it’s, hands down, my lobster mac, with three different cheeses and Italian bread crumbs, and lots of fresh lobster meat.

TC: Where do you go out to eat on your day off?
RP: These days I find myself spending a lot of time in Chinatown. Beyond that, one of my favorite current restaurants is Raddichio. They’ve really captured the authentic style of “trattoria cooking.” I enjoy ordering the whole fish, which they prepare tableside.

TC: What’s the greatest challenges as a chef with your diners?
RP: I like to introduce new ingredients and preparations for dishes to my diners at both restaurants but I have to admit that I only take baby steps with them. I want them to taste different preparations with a variety of fish dishes that they may not normally eat or know much about. I imagine that all chefs have these challenges with diners.

TC: What do you think about the concept of celebrity chef?
RP: I think that it’s a great thing! The public needs to see how to cook and not just read a recipe. They need to attach themselves to a personality and be able to trust chefs. So long as chefs don’t get too far away from their first purpose – being a chef – then it’s never a problem.

TC: How do you design a menu offering items that you repeat and constantly prepare for diners?
RP: It’s really a system of “trial and error.” If something doesn’t work then maybe it’s not the whole dish but part of the preparation or ingredients in the recipe. So then you have to ask yourself if the dish will work better with salmon than scallops. Most importantly, you should talk to your diners, ask them lots of questions and have your wait staff do the same. The feedback can be invaluable.

TC: If you weren’t a professional chef, what career would you pursue and why?
RP: I’d like to become a rock and roll star. I’m not kidding! Honestly, I wish that I could sing but I can’t. However, I’ll confess that I’m actually learning to play the drums.

Gypsy Saloon
128 Ford Road
West Conshohocken, PA 19428
Phone: 610-828-8494
www.gypsysaloon.com

Stella Blu
101 Ford Road
West Conshohocken, PA 19428
Phone: 610-825-7060
www.stellablurestaurant.com

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