Hot Chef: Jodi Bernhard from Casa Pomona

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Jodi Bernhard is in the kitchen at Casa Pomona (507 Columbus Ave.,  212-362-3200).

Credit: Karen Bruno

Nothing feels like an afterthought at Casa Pomona, where the work cooked into each dish at the Upper West Side tapas restaurant shows. From clams with a special hot sauce that started out as an accessory to cooks’ meals in the kitchen to churros that are dangerously light and fluffy, your hardest decision will be which tapas to order. Fear not, however – if you visit for the very reasonable daily happy hour (beer and wine for $5, sangria for $4) tapas at the bar are free. For a longer meal, make sure to order a glass of the Spanish garnacha, which executive chef Jodi Bernhard recommends – it perfectly complements the fare.

How did you wind your way toward Spanish food?
There are a lot of influences I had from before. I was working with Spanish food, when I first started my career. I worked really heavily with French, then I started working with Italian chefs. Those influences intertwine so readily, the European, French and Italian especially. … It literally was the appeal of being able to cook in a fairly simple and rustic style but have elements of refinement and being ingredients-focused and seasonal and simple, the ability to take one ingredient and put it on the plate and highlight it.

You were in Connecticut before. What is different about cooking in New York City?
It’s dramatically different in that I put a lot more pressure on myself more than anything. It’s a big deal to have in your head that you’re cooking in New York City. In terms of what I’m doing with the food and the styling of the menu and the kinds of dishes I’m offering, I think I’m able to get a little more adventurous, but at the same time I don’t feel like my basic menu composition has changed that dramatically.

What is your favorite dish to cook?
Mussels en escebeche. This is a dish that was totally a “me” dish. I put it on the menu because I love them, the mussels. I’m continually surprised when I get overwhelmingly positive feedback on that, not because I don’t think it’s a great dish, I do, but they’re mussels and they’re being served cold, which is unusual. And it’s also something that doesn’t leap off the page as, “Oh, that’s definitely something I’d order.” But they have caught on.

What are you experimenting with right now?
I’ve started to focus a little bit more on seafood. That’s always a pretty prominent ingredient, of course, but I feel like I’ve just gotten to the point in the last couple of weeks where I’ve been able to feel comfortable with the core menu. Last night I pulled in some razor clams, and I made this sauce actually for internal use, for people to eat who like spicy food or if a customer asks for hot sauce. People have gone so crazy with it that I’m like, “Well I guess I should use this on a dish.” I did the razor clams with that sauce, which I call the salsa roja. It was pretty neat.


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