We sat down with Chef Chris Greway, Executive Chef at Morimoto Philadelphia to talk about his cooking background and what it takes to make it in a professional kitchen.
How did you get into cooking initially?
My father owned a specialty food shop when I was growing up. I just kind of fell into it, wasn’t really good at school and so found something I was really good at. I started out in the meat department; my father was a butcher. I learned from a bunch of old school guys how to butcher meat and chickens and doing that 8-10 hours a day. This was outside of Philly, in Bucks County. He used to have a store on South Street, the name of his store was Gerard’s and he had five stores at one time in the late ‘80’s. So it was a good business and I found something that I was good at and loved to do so I went to the C.I.A.
After the CIA, were there other places you worked before coming to Morimoto?
After the CIA, I landed a job at the Gotham Bar & Grill, the day after my graduation, with Alfred Portale. That was quite a learning experience. I spent two years there. Also, I worked with Rocco DiSpirito briefly and opened Café Boulud with Daniel Boulud. This was in 1998, with Alex Lee, Daniel Boulud and Andrew Carmellini came later. It was a great time and I was there when we got the initial three star review in the New York Times, so that was great. And then I went on and worked with Bill Telepan and we got three stars there. Very high volume, lots of power lunches and catering and did the whole farm to table thing, doing that before it was trendy.
How would you describe your culinary style and how has it evolved over the years?
My style has evolved a lot here at Morimoto, since I haven’t had a lot of Asian influence up to date. Before it was a lot of French, Italian, new American, but it always starts with the ingredients. Fortunately, here at Morimoto we are able to get our hands on the best ingredients in the world. Wagyu beef, bluefin tuna, imported fish from Japan, you name it. Just having the best quality ingredients and letting them shine and treat them minimally with seasonal touches. I would say the style is East meets West.
Who was a mentor for you?
I would say that it’s been evolving and cumulative, since Alfred Portale and Bill Telepan. Even Rocco Dispirito a little bit. Every chef I’ve worked under, I take a little bit from. Whether it’s technique or recipe, I just incorporate them all together and polish them up, dust them off and make them my own. So there is no one person, but if there was one person, I would say I really admire Alfred Portale for what he has done over the course of his career and is still doing. Gotham Bar & Grill is still relevant after 25-30 years.
What do you think the most important ingredient is for success in professional cooking?
It’s easy – you’ve got to be dedicated and willing to work the hours nobody else wants to work and go above and beyond. And you also have to be a great self-promoter if you really want to reach the top.
What do you look for in new hires?
I look for them to be very interested in what’s going on, to have a certain quickness about them in the kitchen, a natural ability if you will. I don’t look for them to necessarily have a culinary degree or anything like that, but just a good aptitude for working in kitchens and working with the ingredients and working clean.
What’s one or two kitchen tools that you couldn’t live without?
The good old fish spatula is one that I couldn’t live without as well as a good knife. You can do a lot of things with those.
What are your thoughts on Japanese knives?
I used German knives in culinary school and at Gotham Bar & Grill. Wustofs and those kinds of things. I got hooked in the late 90’s when I got my first Masamoto carbon knife. I keep sharpening it up and still use it. Yeah, it’s more of like a honesuki now after all these years, but it’s still a good knife.
Do you have a go-to knife in your kit?
I use my Glestain slicer a lot.
What’s an ingredient that you’ve used recently or one that inspires you?
There are so many great ingredients, but I feel like a little bit of citrus in everything makes a dish really pop. You can always incorporate it – it doesn’t always have to be the star, it can be underlying, but a little burst of acidity makes all the flavors marry..yuzu, lemon, lime, I like to mix all of them.
What is your philosophy towards hospitality?
Basically treat the guests with respect and give them great food and great service and hopefully they’ll come back and return the favor.