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Chef Chit Chat: Ukrainian American Chef, Natasha Pogrebinsky

November 2, 2020

A Truly Blended Background

Like many, Executive Chef Natasha Pogrebinsky describes American cooking as “a true blend of all nations and cultures.” And while at first, it may be a little surprising to hear this Ukrainian native define her cooking style as such, taking a closer look into her background makes it easy to see why nothing suits her better. Just like her cooking style, Natasha’s background has been a multifaceted blend of culture, art, anthropology, education, and culinary success. Natasha explains “I love Russian and Ukrainian food and am very influenced by growing up with that culinary culture, but I grew up in America and fell in love with so many other foods from many other traditions.  I’m classically trained in French cuisine, but I draw on Asian flavor palettes, I revere Old World techniques, and I’m inspired by the future of culinary innovations.” A self-proclaimed workaholic, Natasha has built herself quite the cooking CV. Praised by the New York Times, Michelin Guide, Village Voice, Wall Street Journal and named by Cleveland Magazine as “Most Interesting People of 2018,” Natasha has also appeared as a guest and competitor chef on tv shows like Chopped, Chopped Redemption, Beat Bobby Flay, and Midnight Feast. Her biggest accolade to date - opening Bear Bar and Restaurant in Long Island City, where she was Executive Chef for 5 years.

The Chef’s Roots & Branches

Having spent the first decade of her life in Kiev, Ukraine, Natasha immigrated to the United States with her family and spent the second half of her childhood in Parma, Ohio. As an adult, she pursued an education in many fields, starting with Anthropology at Case Western Reserve University, followed by Education at Cleveland State University, and finally, cooking at the French Culinary Center (now Institute of Culinary Education) in New York. Natasha then spent 15 years making a name for herself in the Big Apple, before coming back to Ohio. Now she is Executive Chef at Tremont gastropub, The South Side, as well as at sister restaurant, Hi and Dry, both owned by Sherman DeLozier. Natasha reflects, “Coming back [to Cleveland] was a huge decision. I left because there were almost no opportunities for me as a young cook to learn and grow, and I came back to make sure there are plenty of opportunities for the young Cleveland cooks today.”

The Return to Ohio & Coping with Current Times

Natasha joined The South Side and Hi and Dry in 2018. As she describes it, “It was a perfect match. I love and admire the ownership team… Honesty and transparency are the cornerstone to our relationship. Working shoulder to shoulder every day, always looking ahead, and fighting each battle together is what makes this team so strong and allows us to put out great food, and in today’s world, keep our dear customers safe and satisfied.” Natasha explains that “contactless cooking” is the new normal at her two restaurants, but it was no easy adjustment. “The simple fact of wearing a mask all day smothers your ability to taste and smell the way a chef is used to,” she illustrates.

Local Mixes with Worldly

Not one to take things for granted, Natasha is quick to point out how much she values working in Tremont, one of her favorite Cleveland neighborhoods. “Our location allows me to work directly with many farms and local producers, and to keep innovating the menu,” she says. “In Cleveland we are so lucky to have the lake, the farms, and such a deep well of producers who keep traditional recipes and methods alive. Local produce is what drives our seasonal menu, but also partnering with local producers for specialty items allows us to keep it small and promote local culture.” Some of her stunning dishes featuring local products include Roasted Beet Hummus, featuring fresh local red beets, micro pea shoots and local feta salad, and White Wine Poached Bass, with local heirloom tomatoes stewed with garlic and onions over young mashed potatoes. On the other hand, her Ukrainian roots show in her "pelmeni" style mini dumplings, filled with pork cheek from a local hog farm.

Natasha is also currently developing a vegan menu for Hi and Dry. “People assume Eastern European food is all meat and potatoes, but I grew up eating lots of white bean burgers, grains, salads, kashas, veggie stews, vegetarian rice pilafs, etc.,” she explains. “I would love to take vegan out of its niche and let it be more mainstream on all our menus.” Even Natasha’s go-to meal after a grueling shift leans vegan, although it can depend on the day. “If I’m cooking high end gourmet food all night, I crave junk food,” Natasha says. “If I’m prepping and working on new recipes, and tasting a million different items, I crave salads and fruit. I love simple and clean food, like a bowl of fresh pasta with just butter and salt, and a fresh tomato salad.” 

A Wild Ride

From simple dishes to gourmet, Natasha admits her creativity, fearlessness and love of feeding people has taken her on the journey of a lifetime. “Every day has been a total joy, a wild ride, a heartbreak, a lifetime of friendships…” she reminisces. We for one are excited to see what she brings to the table next. 

 

 

Written by Marianna Marchenko