words GRACE YEK, CCC, MS | photography DEOGRACIAS LERMA | photography assistant SARAH COCHRAN

p01_article_jb_jb foodThe open wood-burning fireplace stands tall, presiding over the kitchen at Metropole restaurant. The fireplace is the diva of the cooking line, ready to reward the deserving cook with exquisite flavors but also keen to test the crew with her temperament. Her demands for oxygen, moisture, and wood are particular and must be delivered just so, or there will be no culinary performance to rave about.

Jared Bennett stands before the fireplace, confident that he has mastered the workings of this relationship. He knows how to get sexy food out of this fiery, old-world temptress.

As executive chef of Metropole, Bennett brings focus to the thoughtful and seasonally aware menu. He showcases the grilled and charred flavors of open-hearth cooking creatively, often balancing them with younger, more intrinsic flavors.

Born and raised in Athens, Ohio, Bennett originally planned to attend Ohio University for a degree in secondary education. “I was going to be a history or geography teacher, but it didn’t work out that way,” he says. Instead, he pursued and received a degree in hotel and restaurant management, then followed up with a culinary degree from Hocking College.

Bennett formed his culinary identity first in California and later in Cincinnati, where he worked in the kitchens of Daveed’s and Nectar. He joined Metropole as the chef de cuisine when it opened in 2012.

p01_article_jb_food02Polly Magazine caught up with Bennett to get a glimpse of the man and the chef through his thoughts on an assortment of topics.

Career choice: “There was an instant attraction to cooking.” He liked the lifestyle, adrenaline, and pace of the kitchen. Even the hard hours did not deter him. “I like working and sweating in the kitchen.”

Culinary style: Bennett enjoys using farm-fresh ingredients. He also picks up ideas from different cuisines and stays on top of what’s new in the culinary arts. “We like to do sous-vide cooking and then finish in the fireplace.”

Another approach Bennett takes is placing on the plate the same ingredient prepared in different ways, such as thinly sliced sous-vide fennel and raw shaved fennel. “You get a balance in texture and flavor profile.”

Open-hearth cooking: The fireplace touches the food with a certain smokiness and char that’s hard to replicate with ordinary gas burners. “For example, when searing meat, you get a nice char.” Bennett continues, “The fireplace adds a certain depth of flavor, but consistency can sometimes be a problem.”

p01_article_jb_food01Inspiration: Bennett keeps up with what other chefs are doing through social media and magazines, exploring how he can put his own spin on things. “The fireplace makes it easy to do things differently.”

The squash blossom salad perfectly illustrates his distinctive “Metropole style.”

“A lot of times, they’re filled with goat or cream cheese and then deep fried, but we wanted to do something different.” The squash blossoms are instead tossed in olive oil, parsley, and salt, then grilled for 20 to 30 seconds. “The fireplace is really hot,” he explains, his eyes widening. Swiss chard relish, shaved zucchini, bronze fennel, and salsa verde complete the delectable dish.

And not surprising, with the Metropole located within the 21c Museum Hotel, it’s not difficult for this chef to fill his creative cup. “It’s easy when there’s art all around you.”

Ingredient of the moment: “I’m into using herb flowers.” Bennett incorporates them selectively into the menu and notes that the bar also uses them to prepare simple syrups for the cocktails.

Fun: “I go to Reds games, movies, and eat out a lot.” A great sports fan, Bennett makes it out to Bengals games, too, whenever he can.

In addition to dining out, Bennett enjoys cooking at home, unlike many chefs who burn out from cooking for a living. “I like to make a lot of tacos. It’s one of my favorite foods. I like all heavy, fatty foods, like chicken wings, tacos, and pizza,” he adds with a grin. He’s also quite the grill master at home, taking delight in grilling steak, vegetables, and even brined chicken.

Sacrifice and joy: What has Bennett had to sacrifice most to reach the helm of Metropole? “Personal time,” he replies, without even batting an eye. “You’ll be at the restaurant until midnight, then be back at 7 a.m.” But he keeps at it because of his unrestrained love for food. “You’ve got to have that gratification for yourself, or you’ll go crazy.”

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