Eric Heath Destroys a Giant Vase and Bans Death Metal in His Kitchen: A Q&A with the Cleveland-Heath Chef

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Jenny Cleveland in the Cleveland-Heath kitchen | Jennifer Silverberg
Jenny Cleveland in the Cleveland-Heath kitchen | Jennifer Silverberg

The most essential ingredient in your restaurant? We use chimichurri a lot. We've adapted it into our own thing. We do mostly cilantro, but also parsley, basil and a ton of mint, sherry vingear, raw garlic, salt and olive oil. And we put it on everything. Sometimes you feel guilty, you're using it so much. But it's my favorite thing -- the most bright, acidic, herby thing.

And then we use nuoc cham. We've also adapted that to be our own. It's 50/50 fish sauce and lime juice, with a ton of ginger and garlic and brown sugar. And those two things on food, I don't know if anything as a condiment could taste better than they do.

An ingredient you'll never allow in your kitchen? That's a tough one. I love everything. [thinks for a moment; eyes narrow] I'll tell you: broccoli rabe. That is my nemesis. I can't stand it. I made it once for myself where I could tolerate it, but it was just smothered in hot sauce and garlic. It wasn't really what it should be. I'll never, ever run a broccoli rabe dish.

Favorite cookbook? There's a book that came out a year ago called Jerusalem. It's just the most beautiful book I've seen. I love color and food, but I'm on the fence about using a non-functional garnish to give [a dish] that pretty vibrancy. But this book...every bit of the food is supposed to be there, and it's bright and colorful and fresh.

What music's playing in your kitchen? A little bit of everything. The one thing I don't allow. I can't stand death metal or heavy metal.

That can be contentious considering all the cooks who love death metal. I'm astonished by that. To be honest with you, I never really encountered it as much until we got here, but we've had a thousand of cooks so into death metal.

We were playing Bob Dylan before you got here -- I think [whatever we play] has to meet the category of good quality music.

Where do you hang out after work? We just like to sit at the bar and hang out and talk about the service and have a beer before we leave, talk about our plan for the next day. It's nice and quiet. We can close the curtains and not feel obligated to be totally clean. It's like being in your living room almost.

Favorite kitchen tool? I love my knife. That's kind of a cop out, but it's the best tool. It's the twelve and a half inch MAC knife, the classic series. It's a simple knife, it's light, but it's always sharp. To be honest with you, I abuse the shit out of it. People look at me, but it takes the abuse.

Most useless kitchen tool? I hate kitschy things you can buy at Williams-Sonoma -- like garlic presses, stuff where it's totally unnecessary, [it does] one specific thing. We make a lot of jokes about the Slap Chop.

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