Though North Royalton native Regan Reik never intended to travel the country, it was his passion for seafood that diverted his course and ultimately drew him back to the shores of Lake Erie. After graduating from Rhode Island's Johnson & Wales University, Reik pursued his dream of working at European-style hotels for 15 years before he came home to secure an opening at Pier W (12700 Lake Ave., 216-228-2250, pierw.com).
After learning the ropes as sous chef for a year, Reik quickly rose to executive chef. This spring, he leads the restaurant into its 50th anniversary.
"It may have been your prom date or your grandmother's 90th birthday, but almost everyone has a memory at Pier W," says Reik.
The Lakewood institution has become renowned as much for its breathtaking view of the waterfront as its fresh-from-the-sea cuisine. His bleeding-edge dedication to sustainable sourcing can be attributed to a watershed culinary excursion to Alaska in 2008, where Reik met suppliers face to face.
"I developed a relationship with the fishermen and really became inspired by how these people made their living," he recounts. "You just can't get any closer to the source."
Recounting his days in the kitchen with his father to his eventual return to Cleveland, Reik describes the five dishes that continue to shape his work to this day.
I grew up in the kitchen with my dad, and omelets were the first thing I learned to cook. He always had a big breakfast. He would put peanut butter and cheese on his omelets and, at that age, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Now I'm the omelet guy at home with my kids.
Caesar Salad, Carrie Cerino's
Cerino's was my first job as a teenager and [chef] Dominic Cerino and I used to talk about "food epiphanies." Mine was when he made me my first Caesar salad and taught me the traditional way of making the dressing in the wooden bowl. You begin to realize why the classics are so tried and true.
Chili-glazed wild salmon, Cordova Centennial
Cerino and I had the honor to travel to Alaska together to cook for the centennial of Cordova, a city at the mouth of the Copper River. We had to make a six-course dinner, each required to have salmon in it. One of our entrees, which became my favorite way to prepare salmon, was a chili-glazed wild salmon over a Szechuan lo mein mixed with noodles and vegetables that were fried in sesame oil. We tried 101 different ways of cooking salmon, but that was the one that resonated.
Cod and asparagus, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House
I was in New York for the first time as a tourist and it was the new Michelin-starred place in town. I decided that I really wanted to work there and it took about nine months, but I did an unpaid stage there for a summer. Ducasse's main philosophy is he wants you to taste exactly what the ingredient is in many different ways. You may have just a piece of cod paired with asparagus, only two ingredients, but there's going to be asparagus on top of the seafood, an asparagus puree around, and sautéed asparagus tips. The way they did seafood was such perfection that when I came back to Ohio, it stayed with me.
Scallops, Pier W
As I continue my career, learning more and more, I put less and less on top of food. When you're using a beautiful piece of shellfish or fish, you really want to taste it; the accompaniments are secondary. Now the scallops are simply seared and served in a dashi broth, a basic Japanese stock flavored lightly with soy that allows for some flavoring but has a very fresh taste. We always have scallops on the menu, in a variety of ways, but this has by far been my favorite.