chef talk bella kline

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CHEF TALK: Bella Kline, Pen & Quill

After years of wrangling, a massive renovation and grand opening with the mayor and VIPs, the reincarnation of the iconic Chesapeake restaurant never hit its stride. The Karzai family, which owns b Bistro, The Helmand and neighboring Tapas Teatro, pulled out of the original project in 2011, but stepped back in. They reorganized the dining room, freshened the menu and hired chef Bella Kline, 24, who has worked at Chameleon in Baltimore and Chicago’s Michelin-starred Longman & Eagle. Pen & Quill opened in late summer.

What’s your cooking style?
My training has been very French. Things like choucroute garnie (sauerkraut and pork). But here we’re doing it with more of a Korean profile, with fish sauce and ginger, a marriage of sauerkraut and kimchi.

What was it like to work at a Michelin-starred restaurant?
The biggest thing was the expectation for your knife work. There’s only one way to do a brunoise, that’s a small dice. The Longman & Eagle chef, Jared Wentworth, is the kind of guy I love working for. It was like a well-manicured pirate ship. He’s crazy and wants everyone to have fun. But if something isn’t perfect, it’s going in the trashcan. You sit up a little straighter when he’s around.

Is that the kind of kitchen you run?
I definitely want to have the respect from my cooks that I had for him. I want them to be the best they can be.

How did you find out about the job?
My sister, Naomi Kline, is beverage director here. She was long-term bartender at Tapas before Helmand brought her here.

Why do you think the Chesapeake tanked?
All that I’ve heard is, whatever they were trying to do didn’t work. Maybe it was the design of the dining room: A huge wall divided in half. If a server can’t see your table, they don’t know what you need.

How do you make an amazing experience?
It’s not just about the food. We want to be the friendliest restaurant in town. The Karzais are very present. Normally in restaurants, something breaks and you say, “Where’s the duct tape?” Here, if something breaks they fix it. We had a really big flood the first weekend the restaurant opened. It was Quayum [Karzai] cleaning it up in the morning.

You ‘thru-hiked’ the Appalachian Trail with your fiancée, Meaghan. How did that work out?
It was our “Can we spend the rest of our lives together?” test. We passed.

What did you eat?
I started out pretty ambitious. Our packs were the heaviest. But when you’re walking 20 miles a day, you can easily eat everything. So we got more realistic. It became more of a freeze-dried life. Some hikers wasted away to nothing. I was the strongest I’ve ever been. You take your pack off, you feel you could do anything.

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