Thursday, February 6, 2014
Q-and-A: Casa Rubia’s sous chef took an unconventional route into Dallas fine dining
Cody Sharp used to be in a rock band, then ditched his instrument for a set of knives.
DALLAS There wasn’t a particular catalyst that defined the beginning of transformative change in Cody Sharp’s life. No burning bush, no profound insight given by a nameless old man on a late-night street.
He was just done. Finished. On to the next thing.
Nearly a decade ago, Sharp was a full-time musician who had been playing in a rock band for more than five years. Then he quit. And moved to Dallas. And, knowing next to nothing about food, enrolled in culinary school. His path from there has taken him to the much-acclaimed Casa Rubia at Trinity Groves, where he now works with Chef Omar Flores at this modern tapas restaurant among traditional Serrano hams and modernistic clouds of milk and honey. We sat down with Cody to chat about that (rather brief) stint in culinary school, starting out instead with AVA as well as Dallas’ coolest chocolatier, and making his way to second-in-charge at Casa Rubia via pastry, confections and high-end steakhouses.
Entree Dallas: Thanks for sitting down with us for a bit, Cody. So you were playing for a band in Tulsa and then just decided “It’s the culinary life for me?”
Cody Sharp: (Laughs) Yeah, I just kind of decided that I was done and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had achieved what I wanted to achieve with it, so I came back to Dallas and I quit. A week later, I enrolled in culinary school. Two months into culinary school, I was so anxious to get into it that I walked into Restaurant AVA and talked to Randall (the late Randall Copeland, AVA’s much-beloved chef and co-owner at the time) and he said, “Well, let me talk to Nate (Nathan Tate, co-owner of AVA at the time, also current co-owner and chef at Boulevardier), because Nate’s really the one that kind of runs the kitchen right now." So I talked to Nate.
Now first, let me say, Nate was an intimidating guy. He still is an intimidating guy but he walked out and I told him, “I just want to get into a kitchen, I’m in culinary school, I don’t know sh*t, but I want to work.” And he said, “Okay, I’ll pay you $7.25 an hour. I need a pastry person.” At the time I was kind of into pastries and was good with that. Then he said, “I’ll tell you this: I don’t put up with any sh*t in my kitchen.” Okay, then.
So I started working for him. The funny thing is, I had basically walked into Dude, Sweet Chocolate and AVA on the same day. Katherine (Clapner, owner of Dude, Sweet Chocolate) straight up told me she didn’t have anything at the time. Then, two days later, she called me and said, “Hey, one of my guys just left I need somebody. If you want the job, it’s yours.” So I took that too. So I was working for Katherine and Nate at the same time.
That seems like a fairly time-consuming proposition.
I only worked for Katherine for four days a week, but it was like the four days a week that you don’t want to have two jobs. It was like Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. So Friday, Saturday I was waking up at 7 o’clock in the morning, driving down to Bishop Arts, working for her until 3 o’clock, driving back to Rockwall, going to AVA, working there until midnight, 1 a.m., and then waking up and doing it all over again. And I did that for about the first three years of my career.
It sounds like the initial skill set you were developing was pretty pastry oriented.
To my surprise, it was. I mean, I didn’t really switch over to savory for two years – I concentrated pretty heavily on pastry during that time. It was never my intention to do pastry, but that’s what I did and I kind of got into it. I appreciated it for what it was, and it was a skill set that I didn’t have – it required a lot of patience and a lot of tact. Everything was so meticulous, everything was so weighed out and to the tee, and if it wasn’t weighed out perfectly, it didn’t work. For me, being the kind of person that was very instant gratification, it was a challenge. That’s what I appreciated about it.
Then, when I left AVA because I had moved to Dallas, I started working for Stephan Pyles in his pastry department for about six months. It was at that point when I went to him and basically said, “I don’t want to be a pastry chef.” So he moved me over to savory and I started working the ceviche station at Pyles and then that’s kind of how I got into savory. Of course, I stayed in savory but the pastry thing has kind of been like a ghost for me – I mean it haunts me to this day. No matter where I go or where I work, people are like, “You used to do pastry, right? Guess what, you’re going to do this now!” This is the first place that hasn’t really done that. Omar (Casa Rubia and Driftwood Chef Omar Flores) is very talented with pastry even though he won’t admit it. He’s really good with the pastry stuff and he and I kind of bounce ideas off of one another. I mean, I still do a lot of the pastry production – one of our guys has a hard time with quenelles (laughs) – so it’s like every day during service I’ll see this thing going like, he’ll be waving at me going “Hey! I need you!”
So one spoon or two for the quenelles?
I do the one spoon, but I learned that at Pyles. I had to. He was so adamant about the fact that it had to be so precise and you just, you learned real quick. But we also had a pacojet there, so it was a little different. Here we freeze our own ice cream with liquid nitrogen so it’s a little more difficult to do.
So what did you do after Stephan Pyles?
Well, I worked for Stephan and then I spent some time with Charlie Palmer and then I got a call from Matt (McCallister, currently chef and co-owner of FT33) and we went and did Campo together. After that I went to Nick and Sam’s because I always wanted to experience that extremely high-volume, mad house atmosphere.
So I was the sous chef there, then I got a call from Omar one day. We had a previous conversation about how we both have an appreciation for Spanish food and he said, “Hey, I’m opening a Spanish restaurant and I need a sous chef, you wanna come over?” And I said, “Absolutely.” I had been to Driftwood several times and Omar and I were kind of friends and I had a massive amount of respect for the guy and his style of food.
How was your learning curve for Spanish cuisine?
What I appreciated about it was that Omar isn’t doing traditionally Spanish food. That was never his goal in this – he wanted to use Spanish flavors but he wanted to highlight more of the food and cooking that’s going on in Spain right now. There’s a lot of food in Spain right now that’s different than it used to be. They still have their traditions in what they do, of course – paella is always going to be paella and you can’t really modernize that too much – but at the same time, like you look at places like Arzak and some of the places that are considered to be some of the best restaurants in the world and they’re doing a very modern style of food. That’s really what he wanted to do, was bring the food that Spain has now here. And he’s done an incredible job doing it – it’s been an interesting ride.
One of the things is, he loves to change things; he loves to change things on a whim, so it’s always a challenge because he’ll walk in here and go, “I want to change this, this, and this.” and I’m like, “When do you want to change it?”
And I’m just like, “Alright, let’s change it right now.” That’s one of the things I love about working for him. It’s a challenge, you know?
Obviously you’ve worked with some pretty esteemed chefs here in Dallas – are there any in particular that you’d like to work with if you couldn’t work with Omar?
That’s a hard question. It would probably be a tie between Bruno Davaillon (chef at The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek) and David Uygur (of Lucia). I love David’s approach to food. I love his mentality that something doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious. And I mean, has made me the best risotto I’ve ever had in my life, and it was very simple in what it was: oyster with lemon and parsley. And it was insanely good. And Bruno, I just I have so much respect for him. And to see his level of cooking in 3-D is really cool and when I ate there he challenged me in the way that I thought about things. He wasn’t using strange wording on his menu, he wasn’t using foreign ingredients, but it was the combination of ingredients that I was kind of going, “I don’t see how that’s going to work.” But then I would eat it and I was going, “I don’t understand how food can be this good.” I think he’s brilliant. I’ve met him a handful of times; he’s a very quiet guy buy I feel like he’s one of those guys that when he speaks, you just listen to him.
What about a place of your own? Is that something you’ll want to do in the future?
I have things in my mind that I would like to do eventually; I would love to have a restaurant that focuses very heavily on wood cooking, and I would love to have a place that focuses very heavily on pastas. Pastas are something that I just really want to be good at. I make pasta at home a lot, I try to do pasta here as much as possible – apparently they don’t eat a lot of pasta in Spain – but you know, my ultimate goal is to have a restaurant that will support me and my family. At the same time, I want my Catbird Seat; I want my twenty-seat, tasting-menu-only, high-end, fine dining place.
I want a place that challenges people and challenges their palates. To think about what they’re eating and where it comes from. I’ve always had an affinity for Southern food, and I love Low Country. Husk is probably one of my biggest influences. I love Sean Brock. I love what he’s doing and I would love to do something you know very similar to that. And kind of bring the staples that people know as Southern food, but turn them into something a little different. I love it when you can set a plate in front of someone and they go, “I did not expect shrimp and grits to look like this.”
So no plans for a pastry place?
Ummm, not a pastry place. That’s for sure. I appreciate it for what it is and it’s definitely given me a skill set that I had never imagined myself having, but no. (Laughs)
Thanks for the time, Cody.
My pleasure. Thanks for coming by!
Pegasus News Content partner - Entree Dallas
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