Way back in 2006, Harold Dieterle was the first to win a little culinary competition called Top Chef (ever heard of it?). But for anyone familiar with his uniquely refined, yet entirely approachable cooking style, drama-free demeanor and unfaltering work ethic, it came as no surprise when he quickly proved himself outside the confines of the TV show.
Mention Dieterle’s name now, and it’s more likely in conjunction with his first restaurant, Perilla, the intimate, New American spot he opened in the West Village in 2007 (order the Spicy Duck Meatballs!). Or it could be in regards to the nearby Kin Shop, a modern Thai spot that demonstrated his expertise with Southeast Asian flavors (we love the Black Rice Noodles with Choy Sum, Shimeji Mushrooms and Pattypan Squash).
And lately, Dieterle has food folks chattering over his newest restaurant, The Marrow, with Brooklyn residents bemoaning the fact that it didn’t open in Hotel 718 as originally planned. “It’s definitely the most personal to me when in comes to food,” Dieterle said. That’s because he honors his Italian and German roots at the Bank Street spot, serving homey, comforting dishes like Pan-Fried Duck Schnitzel with hazelnuts and quark spaetzle, and Braised Beef Brisket “Braciole” with escarole, pecorino, and house ground polenta.
Though all three eateries appear to be wildly different on the surface, the versatile chef insists their foundation is exactly the same. “ My primary goal has always been to create neighborhood focused, highly approachable restaurants,” Dieterle said. “Equally perfect for a drink at the bar, a quick meal, or a special night out.”
What was your first food-related job and what did you learn from that experience?
My first professional kitchen job was at a restaurant in Long Island. While I had limited responsibility, I definitely learned that the kitchen is a tough place to work in, but I loved the camaraderie and creativity.
What job would you say truly catapulted your career?
That’s a tough question. Well, it goes without saying that Top Chef helped when we opened Perilla, but my business partner Alicia and I have always tried to focus more on serving the neighborhood and opening approachable places. Winning the show definitely helps fill seats, but you open yourself up to much more scrutiny and people begin to look at you differently.
Who would you consider to be your culinary mentors?
Chef Kevin Penner, who I worked under at 1770 House earlier in my career, and Jimmy Bradley (of The Harrison), who taught me how to manage and run a restaurant.
What was your biggest kitchen disaster?
In the late 90’s, I sliced my thumb real bad, right down to the bone. I was deboning a NY Strip and was bumped into during the process. I ended up cauterizing the wound on the flat-top grill, finished service, then drove to the nearest ER. I needed 32 stiches. In retrospect, that might not have been the best way to handle things. I like to think I became a bit more careful after that.
In what way do your three restaurants each uniquely represent different aspects of you, and your culinary point of view?
Well, The Marrow touches more on my heritage, since my mother is of Italian descent and my father is German. Some of the dishes are inspired by things I ate as a kid. Kin Shop is really my interpretation of Thai flavors, but in a contemporary way, and often using western cooking techniques or approaches. Perilla has really evolved, as it initially incorporated a lot of Southeast Asian flavors, but with Kin Shop, we have a forum for that now. Perilla is really a labor of love, as it was the first restaurant Alicia and I opened.
What would you say ties all three of your restaurants together? What makes them all identifiably yours?
They are all neighborhood focused. That’s very important to us. We are driven to create restaurants that are part of the neighborhood, with a sense of place, and a warm relationship with our staff.
Describe your ideal meal at each of your three restaurants.
I have to confess, I don’t sit down and eat at the restaurants really, but some of the dishes I’m loving right now include the Cotechino, the Bacala Gnudi, and the Juniper Braised Lamb Neck at The Marrow. We’re also pickling our own herring for the Pickled Herring Salad, which I’m really happy with. At Kin Shop, I always love the Spicy Duck Laab because I’m a spicy food fanatic. For this weather, the Northern Thai Style Curry Noodle with braised brisket would be great too, or one of the soups. A meal at Perilla would include the new Ceviche of Peconic Bay Scallops we’re serving, and probably the Roasted Duck Breast or Hanger Steak with sunchoke creamed spinach.
When you were on Top Chef, it was an unknown, unproven show. How did you originally find out about the competition, and what were you hoping to achieve through participating (besides winning, of course)?
A friend of mine suggested I try out for it actually. I was hoping I’d win since I’m a pretty competitive guy, but like you said, I wasn’t really sure what would come of the show since it was so new for everyone. I figured it would be a good test at the very least, and a valuable learning experience.
Are there any dishes that you created on the show that you continue to make today?
Perilla used to have some dishes that were connected in various ways, but nothing comes to mind now. (Editor’s note: we seem to remember the aforementioned sunchoke creamed spinach appearing in the final challenge!)
If you could only work with five ingredients for the rest of your life, what would they be, and why?
Salt, blueberries, duck, mozzarella cheese, and crab. These are just my favorite ingredients and I could live on those without question.
On a rare day off, what can we find you doing (and eating)?
Spending time with my wife, Meredith, and our dog. Maybe fishing, watching baseball or football. Overall, trying to relax just a little bit.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I can’t look that far ahead right now, but I just hope all three of our restaurants are successful and we’re able to stay true to the vision we have for them.