Anybody who restores classic cars understands how quickly a hobby can spiral into an obsession. Jack Moore's teenage years spent fixing up muscle cars transitioned into a career when he became a mechanic. That is, until he picked up a job in a scratch pizza shop and discovered the same fascination for working in a kitchen.
One month in, he enrolled in Columbus Culinary Institute and went on to cook at Sage American Bistro for five years before moving to Cleveland for a job at the Greenhouse Tavern.
"Some people think it was a drastic change," notes Moore. "To me, it's still just working with my hands."
Like the pride he took in learning how to replace the engine in his own '86 Monte Carlo, Moore thrives on a bit of nostalgia. Just six months into his new job at The Black Pig (2801 Bridge Ave., 216-862-7551, blackpigcle.com), he earned a spot as an S.Pellegrino Young Chef Semifinalist based on a dish inspired by his childhood. He'll compete on July 26 in New York City.
"We grew up eating simple food," says Moore. "And during big family gatherings, everyone would spend the weekend canning vegetables and preserving jellies."
Those were also the special occasions when dishes like bread pudding were served. For his competition entry, Moore created a savory small plate of smoked bread pudding wrapped in caul fat with charred carrots and a bright orange beurre blanc sauce from the carrot juice. Sautéed wild mushrooms were mixed into the pudding to recall his time spent foraging with his father.
Moore says he lost sight of his family's preservation traditions while immersed in his culinary school training, but returned to his roots and was able to explore its intricacies when he started working at Greenhouse Tavern. "It was easy for me to experiment and play within that realm of what I remember of food as a kid there," says Moore.
When he joined Michael Nowak as part of the Black Pig team, he vowed to translate that passion into eliminating waste and making the most of every ingredient. During his first month, Moore gathered all the apple scraps and peels from a smoked apple fondue dish and fermented them. This week, he'll have apple cider vinegar ready to use in specials. "I really wanted to focus on using everything we could to its fullest potential and not throwing anything away," he says.
It's no surprise that his knuckles are tattooed with the word "seasoned." If there's one ingredient he couldn't live without, he says, it's salt.
"You can't even begin to touch how many techniques there are in preservation and I think that's one of the things that ties me to it," he says. "There's so much to know about it and so much for me to still learn."
Preservation's subtleties and nuances are a complement to the changes Black Pig was undergoing at the time of his hire. With the new "Weekly Pig" menu, Moore, Nowak and the team develop limited specials derived from a single heritage breed hog, which allows for daily creative adaptions of what's on hand.
"We can change things at the drop of a hat," Moore says. "Michael really pushes us to do our own thing. I think it makes for a really positive, organic way of working together."
It's also given him a chance to flex his skills in breaking down meats and the process of curing, smoking and braising. If there's cauliflower left over from the latest special, he'll finding a way to pickle it and work it into the weekly menu.
"At the end of the day, it's about putting an honest plate of food in front of someone – and making it taste great at the same time," Moore says.