The CRUX Restaurant Interview
â€œWaste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly. The scope of thrift is limitless.â€ -Thomas Edison.
This excerpt from chef Brandon Baltzley’s blog sums up his and partner Keith Fuller’s latest event for their CRUX Restaurant concept, a culinary collective that hosts pop-up events around the country. Keith is the head chef and owner of Root174 in Regent Square, a contemporary spot that serves comfort food and amazing cocktails that moved into the space formerly known as Legume. According to their website, “CRUX was invented as a medium to do modern, thematic food in collaboration with other cooks in various locations.” Their latest event, titled “Waste Not, Want Not” finds the pair cooking up a dinner featuring foods that “most chefs send to the bin”. Picky eaters need not inquire, the menu features delicacies like pork tongue, lobster head ice cream and fish marrow. YUM! To introduce you to this unique food concept, we decided to chat with the pair behind this ambitious venture. Take it away, Brandon and Keith.
Kymbo Slice: How did you pair up with Brandon to host CRUX events?
Keith Fuller: We became really good friends after meeting once when he was in town. He said he was interested in moving to Pittsburgh for a while so I invited him to stay with me until he found a place to live. As chefs we share the same love for food, and we are both out of the box thinkers. So he invited me to become part of Crux and I accepted.
Brandon Baltzley: The day that I met Keith we picked him up on the way to The Golden Pig for lunch. It doesn’t take much to realize that two people willing to travel 45 minutes on the highway for a good meal share a certain philosophy about food and would make pretty good partners. We want to work with people who are really passionate about what they do. Let’s not forget that this collaboration series is an internal one, between Keith and I. Once a month we are bringing in guest chefs, or teaming up with other restaurants like Bar Marco, Justin Severino from Cure, Dave Racicot from Notion, Alex Talbot and Aki Kamazowa from Ideas in Food, Stephen Felder from Stagioni, and we hope to bring in more chefs as well. I’ve only been here two months now, so I’ve not had time to meet everyone I should.
KS: How do you feel as though you and Brandon compliment each other?
KF: We are both out of the box thinkers, crazy, work focused, and share a common idea on how we want things done. I guess I’d say I’m known for the creative and innovative style we showcase here at Root174, so really working with CRUX is a seamless fit. We both like to push ideas to their limits and see what we can make of our experiments. There’s a lot of winging it when we do things together, but that’s how new ideas are born.
BB: I imagine people would describe my food as molecular, but I’m not sure that’s totally accurate. Yeah, I use techniques and chemicals that people associated with molecular gastronomy, but I am much more interested in the purity of flavors and achieving seemingly complex dishes that highlight a handful of ingredients that were locally grown and raised. We try never to repeat a dish, but very often I work with offal, not just animals, but vegetable offal as well, because so few people truly recognize the value in the parts of the food most people throw away.
KS: What is it like hosting these type of events in NY versus Chicago versus Pittsburgh? How does Pittsburgh’s food scene measure up in comparison?
BB: I left NYC to get a breath of fresh air. Chicago turned out to be very similar in terms of the vibe of the food scene there. CRUX was founded in Chicago, so I think the fact that there was room and encouragement for us to develop there speaks to the city’s eagerness to forge new ideas and fend off culinary stagnancy. When we decided to bring CRUX to Pittsburgh for a more long term thing, it was because we saw an opportunity to do something that hadn’t really been done here. We have been really shocked by the reception we’ve gotten from Pittsburgh, especially for the Dinner and a Movie. It’s a great city for these types of collaboration, most of the chefs here are genuinely interested in working with each other to make the experience the best it can be for our guests.
KS: How did you link up with The Chicago Recovery Alliance and The Inspiration Corporation as charities and do you have any plans to work with a Pittsburgh-based charity in the future?
BB: I was homeless at one point in my life. I was also addicted to crack cocaine. These are two charities that speak in volume to me. Their work in Chicago cannot be replaced. We also work with UNICEF. As far as Pittsburgh charities go, if something comes up, I am not opposed to doing something. We are here to work on a different kind of project, though. One that connects chefs to other chefs and brings a sense of community.
KS: What can attendees expect at your upcoming “Waste not, Want not” event other than trying foods they’ve probably never tried before? What was the inspiration behind that?
BB: As I said above, the Waste not, Want not dinner is all about showcasing the parts of food most people throw away: organ meat, shells, greens from root vegetables seeds, skins… you get the idea. I like the challenge of coming up with dishes worthy of the term “fine dining” that use product that most fine dining establishments throw in the trash. I think it makes you slow down and really consider the possibilities that each element in front of you presents. You’re forced to be more creative and take your time transforming “waste” into “want”.
This dinner takes place Monday, November 5th and will be 25 seats with an optional beverage pairing for $150/$190. Reservations are first come first serve and the event will be hosted at Root174.