Raf Vencio. Photo by Adam Milliron.
Raf Vencio. Photo by Adam Milliron.
Raf Vencio. Photo by Adam Milliron.

I met Raf while he was working with Trevett Hooper at Legume and he is one talented chef. He won one of the coveted four slots in Smallman Galley‘s much-anticipated first class of chefs for its innovative restaurant incubator program. That means when Smallman Galley launches in the Strip this fall, we will have 18 months to enjoy Raf’s take on from-scratch American food. Which might be different than what you think. As Raf puts it, “American cuisine is the sum of many parts and most of it can be credited to immigrant food. I plan on developing a menu that reflects the progression from old world recipes to modern adaptations and techniques from different regions. My own interpretations of a wide range of dishes from green gumbo, chicken and waffles, mac & cheese to pho.”

Definitely something to look forward to.

His best meal last week?

My best meal last week was at Curtis Gamble’s new spot–Station in Bloomfield. We worked together at Grit & Grace and I have been looking forward to trying Station out. Luckily, there were five of us–which meant I got to try out more of the dishes in the menu than I can usually order if I go out alone.

I loved everything but what really struck a chord was the deep fried cauliflower head! Nothing like it in Pittsburgh.

The dish comes out in all its crispy glory. Curtis serves it with tarragon aioli and pickled red onions– the cauliflower had the right crunch and contrast with the herb tarragon which finishes clean and perfectly ends with a bite of the pickled onion.

It was a simple dish but perfectly executed–and that’s the kind of food that wins me over in an instant.

Want to take a sneak peek at Raf’s cooking? Get to one of these events: August 17, No Menu Monday at The Livermore; August 28, benefit concert with FoundSound at Smallman Galley; September 11, collaboration dinner with Sweet Peaches in Allentown; September 19, Smallman Galley Churchview Farm Dinner.

Looking for other Pittsburgh foodies’ best meals? Click here.

Leah Lizarondo

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment....