Interview with the Chef
Chef Nolle Bond sat down with Jonathan Bender of the Pitch for a Chef Interview.
Now we’re normally huge fans of brevity, but we wanted to include The Pitch’s interview with Chef Nolle Bond in it’s entirety. Here ya go.
Chef Nolle Bond on air conditioning and Walt Disney
Posted by Jonathan Bender on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM
Chef Nolle Bond is settling in at the Drop.
It was air conditioning, of all things, that brought Nolle Bond into the kitchen.
“I used to live by Grinders, and I didn’t have air conditioning. So I would have a few cheap PBRs, some tots and sit in the air conditioning,” Bond says. “After a while, I just started working there.”
Bond, 32, entered a kitchen that was literally about to enter prime time — a few months after he started the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode featuring Grinders ran on the Food Network. And he discovered that he loved the heat as much as the A/C.
Bond grew up in the tiny Missouri city of Marceline. Walt Disney grew up in the same place — the busloads of people who make the trek each summer to the town of 2,000 are a constant reminder.
“It was a cross between Mayberry and Dazed and Confused, except with crappier cars,” Bond says.
He enrolled in the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, majoring in mass communications with a minor in music. Bond worked at the college radio station and thought he was headed toward a career in programming. After graduation, he spent six years at Q101, the alternative rock station, in Chicago. He also played bass in a reggae-funk band and learned to cook out of necessity, making sure that his band Dipt actually had something to eat.
“It was really fun, but we were really poor. If we wanted to eat anything other than ramen, I had to learn how to cook it. I like really good food, so I would take a recipe and make it over and over until it was as good as I’ve ever had eating out,” Bond says.
Cooking was still about survival when he moved to Kansas City and took a job with DST Systems, Inc. But it was when a position opened up at Grinders that the self-taught chef began to wonder if he might want to be a cook. He went from the prep kitchen to the grill station, forced to learn quickly with the crush of new diners, thanks to Guy Fieri’s triple-D endorsement. Almost five years later, a few friends suggested that he consider applying for the open chef position at the Drop. Owner Eddie Crane hired Bond in October 2010.
“Nolle got what the Drop was about,” Crane says. “He wanted to make food that people could enjoy and share.”
Bond took the same approach to his new kitchen as his early days cooking for Dipt. He just hammered out recipes until he felt like they were perfected and able to be executed in the tiny kitchen at the Martini Corner restaurant, which doesn’t have any burners.
“Sometimes I think it’s like a submarine kitchen. I feel bad for naval cooks now,” Bond jokes.
And while he’s in a band again, playing bass for local alt-country staple Sons of Great Dane, his days of hitting the road are likely behind him.
“My girlfriend and I bought a house in Kansas City. I’ve been here six years, and I don’t plan on leaving. There’s such a great art, music and food scene,” Bond says.
It turns out that Kansas City doesn’t need air conditioning to be cool.
Chef Nolle Bond, Part Two: White Castle and an unabashed love of plum wine
Posted by Jonathan Bender on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 11:39 AM
In another universe, chef Nolle Bond would still be serving you sliders; they just wouldn’t be made from lamb or pork.
“I wanted to open a White Castle in midtown. It would be like an ATM,” Bond says. “But it’s not a franchise, so I couldn’t open it.”
His dream burger shack on hold, Bond is cranking out his own take daily as executive chef of the Drop. On Wednesday, Bond talked about life in the tiny Martini Corner kitchen. Tomorrow, he’ll share a bit about the latest cocktails and a new small-plates menu.
What are your culinary inspirations? There’s a lot of them. Oddly enough, it often comes from where you least expect it. Something will usually trigger a memory of a smell. I’ll then start with one specific ingredient. The other day, I was thinking about plum wine — I love plum wine. It’s me and 80-year-old ladies that really enjoy plum wine. I never had a plum wine reduction, so I made one. And then I thought, This would go really well with shrimp. Add in some mango chutney for a bit of fruit, and that’s the whole plate.
What’s your favorite ingredient? I’m really hung up on different vinegar reductions. We have a balsamic wine reduction and a white balsamic reduction that I could eat like it was candy. I use that on our lamb sliders; that’s one of the new small plates that I’m really excited about. Other than that, it’s anything really fresh and really good.
What was your best recent food find? I was really excited to find these poblano straws that just perfectly finish off the pork sliders. They just showed up while I was cutting something else.
What’s one food you hate? This sounds sacrilegious coming from a stereotypical small town in Missouri, but I don’t like catfish. There were a lot of catfish fry dinners, and I know plenty of people who love them, but it’s just not for me.
What’s one food you love? I could literally eat lamb vindaloo for five meals a week. I love the spices. It’s so spicy and really delicious. It’s hearty and warm. I love the Taj Palace over on 39th Street. Those guys are nearly family. [Laughs.] They’re excited when my girlfriend shows up because they know we’re looking for a lot of food and a bottle of wine.
What’s your guilty pleasure? White Castle. Their jalapeno cheddar burger. I still love it. The last time I was in St. Louis for a Tom Waits concert, I had to get one. It’s probably good that they’re in St. Louis.
What’s always in your kitchen? I always have fresh tomatoes. I love the farmers market downtown. The City Market is just amazing. They have great pasta. We had the basil and garlic with ratatouille on top of the noodles. Oh my God, it was incredible.
Besides your own place, where do you like to eat out? Taj Palace. I really love Pot Pie. That place is great. I had a really good meatloaf sandwich there; it was ridiculously good. The potpies are good. I love the spinach and brie tart. I’m excited when I get to go to any great restaurant, whether it’s really great bar food or a really nice place.
Where do you like to drink? We go to the News Room quite a bit, and we’ve been coming here [the Drop] more. I’m an Irish whiskey guy that’s been getting in rye whiskeys. Ryan [Miller, the day bartender at the Drop] opened my eyes to that. He’ll feed me different types of rye.
If you could steal one recipe in town off any menu, which one would you steal? Lamb vindaloo? [Laughs.] I don’t know if that would work here, but it’s great.
What’s one book that every chef should read? La Technique by Jacques Pepin. I didn’t have really any culinary school training. In order to be able to operate in a commercial kitchen, I had to teach myself a lot of things. So I spent a lot of time learning knife techniques. La Technique was really important. It’s also good to always be learning because everybody can teach you something.
Who’s got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? Oklahoma Joe’s is the best restaurant. I like the Z-Man a lot and the beans. Craig Adcock’s barbecue is sick. There’s a reason he did competition barbecue. Anytime I can, I try to sneak into his barbecues. He makes amazing coleslaw with pears and gorgonzola. It’s a vinegar style rather than creamy. You could eat it all day.
What’s the key to success for cooks at home? Repetition. As far as not having formal training, if you want to make a dish, you have to know what you want to get out of it. All you have to do is keep making it, just not to the point where you’re sick of it. Take notes if you have to. I used to do that on lots of recipes. And don’t be afraid to try something. You can always make it again.
A chef is only as good as … his food.
Chef Nolle Bond, Part Three: The new small plates menu and new drinks to come
Posted by Jonathan Bender on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 11:30 AM
The edible cocktails are still the draw at the Drop.
When the Drop first opened five years ago, the focus was on small plates and drinks that put a little twist on a familiar taste. Owner Eddie Crane and executive chef Nolle Bond are hoping to recapture that spirit with a new small-plates menu and a bit of cocktail imagination.
“The Drop has been blessed with some awesome chefs since day one. I’m fortunate to have someone [like] Nolle, who is keeping that up,” Crane says.
The entrees will be cut back, according to Crane, although the scallops and surf and turf — two customer favorites — aren’t going anywhere. The focus will be shifted to the seven items on the new small-plates menu.
“I think people like to hang out. So I wanted to create food that people could enjoy, share and split. That’s why there’s always more than one portion on our small plates,” Bond says.
Although Bond is proud of the shrimp skewers (grilled tiger shrimp with mango chutney and a plum-wine reduction), it’s the achuete pork sliders (peppered pork with cilantro lime cream and achuete sauce on a brioche bun).
“I made the achuete pork sliders for Christmas two years ago, and it was one of those recipes that I was really excited about. It’s one of my favorite dishes. I just knew I had to get it on the menu somehow,” Bond says.
Crane and Bond are also playing around with the drink menu, which has seen the edible cocktails expand from seven to several dozen. The Reese’s Cup, made with peanut butter and Nutella, and the Strawberry Cheesecake Drop are two of the latest additions to the solidified cocktail list. And Crane hasn’t given up on introducing Kansas City to miracle fruit — the berry that momentarily turns sour into sweet on your taste buds.
“We’re still searching for the right vehicle for miracle fruit,” Crane says.