Laura Petersen
Special to The Union

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July 29, 2014
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Taking notice

Chef Aaron Taber describes the way he cooks as a “collection of experiences.”

“It’s an accumulation of events that shapes the style of food I make,” said Taber, a young chef winning the attention of food critics for his kitchen prowess in the smallest of spaces at the newly opened Grindhaus in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

In July, The New York Times featured a review about Taber’s dishes at Grindhaus. This week Taber was named in Zagat’s 30 Under 30 “Rock Stars Redefining the Industry” New York Chef List.

Growing up in Nevada County, college years spent in San Francisco, a summer in France and now two years in New York City, the food Taber cooks is a reflection of all the places he has lived.

Taber attended the culinary school of City College of San Francisco and worked at Gather restaurant in Berkeley, known for its commitment to procuring locally grown food from an impressive list of farms and ranches.

Cooking was a big part of growing up and food was always a centerpiece at large family and friend gatherings. The son of Tammi and John Taber, Aaron’s big sister, Jes Taber is the chef and owner of Eye of the Avocado catering company and has been named chef at the new Three Forks Bakery and Brewery in Nevada City.

“Everyone in my family cooks. I just think we’re a very food driven family,” Aaron Taber said.

Jes and Aaron started cooking as young children, experimenting with their parents’ vintage Wolf stove. Jes remembers when Aaron set out to master the Chocolate Chip Cookie.

“He would tweak and rework the famed best cookie to ever grace this earth. His predilection was to make a Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie that melts in your mouth before your teeth can sink into its caramel-like soft touch. Aaron has grown into a true world-class chef. His hunger for knowledge has lead him to tear through every Phaidon cookbook he can get his hands on for the last five years,” said Jes Taber.

Taber still enjoys baking and his sourdough bread is a staple on the Grindhaus menu. It’s also a respite from the stressful demands of being a one-man show in a restaurant that is getting on the map since opening day just eight months ago.

“(Aaron Taber) makes the kind of earnest, fashionably austere, handsomely arranged food that is signified on menus by sans-serif lists of ingredients, with no capital letters, verbs, articles or hint of how one thing may relate to the next. In some restaurants, they don’t relate. At Grindhaus, they do,” wrote Pete Wells of The New York Times after tasting Taber’s seared foie gras with ripe strawberries in warm strawberry-rhubarb juice. Aaron Taber’s style of cooking is uniquely his own and very modern, says his mom, Tammi Taber.

“When you put the food in your mouth, you’re tasting something that you’ve never experienced before, in flavors which immediately sends your mind searching for what it is that you’re tasting,” she said.

Taber’s schedule is a busy one. Twice a week, he makes his rounds at the regional farmers markets. A farmer from upstate New York brings duck. A fish purveyor supplies the Atlantic fresh catch. From Vermont’s “Evan the Forager” comes wild watercress in spring, coastal plants in the summer and mushrooms from the woods in fall.

Farm country in the Hudson Valley is more limited to the food diversity of California and Taber struggled for a time with no reference point for East Coast seafood and plant life.

“I sort of had to wing it for awhile,” he said.

He collects the product and adapts the menu according to what’s in season. Wednesday through Sunday he is cooking hard and making do in a bathroom-sized 4-foot-by-4-foot kitchen with only four induction burners to work with.

“When you work in such a small space you have to be really minimalist about what you are doing,” he said.

Besides the dishwasher and a recent hiring of a sous chef, Taber is on his own in the kitchen. He procures the food. He creates the menu and cooks everything.

“It’s definitely different than any other restaurant in New York City right now. I’m not sure if there is a cook that does what I do,” Taber said.

Challenged by space and equipment, Taber is pushed to creative extremes. Meals are delicate and simple with four or five elements that taste good together. Space dictates the animal to be served — fish, poultry, duck and rabbit are common centerpieces for he can’t bring in a whole lamb.

“I’m really trying to push the limits of the space,” he said.

Their son’s New York success comes as no surprise to John and Tammi Taber. A first-degree black belt in Aikido, a musician of great skill on clarinet and guitar and a good golfer, Aaron Taber has always been driven.

“He could have had a career with any of those areas but he chose to be a chef and that is where he has passion and a true gift,” said Tammi Taber.

Learn more at http://grindhausnyc.com/

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@ gmail.com or 913-3067.


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The Union Updated Jul 29, 2014 10:53PM Published Jul 29, 2014 10:53PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.