- Ash Daniel
Being outspoken comes naturally to Kevin LaCivita, whose extended family of accomplished brothers still lets Mom cook Sunday meals "that are an event," he says. Most recently departed from the Blue Goat in Westhampton, where his fried pig ears were a sensation that later disappeared as the nose-to-tail menu went more mainstream, LaCivita moved on and now reprises a once-beloved Shockoe restaurant, Pomegranate, in a location to be announced once contracts are final. He's a single father of four children, and goat is among his favorite foods to cook.
Foods to expect from the new venture: Pork is huge, but I'd like to see goat better understood. To me it's a sweet lamb and supposed to be the best meat you can have. There are a few things I'm going to introduce shortly. Any creative chef wants to do a lot of reading and eating ... It's not taking someone else's idea but inspiring a thought process. My homemade pastas, my Bolognese, braising of meats — I'm big on that.
The job entails worry: Not only are you thinking about what is on the menu, you're worrying about rents, taxes, percentages, everything. Most people have monthly deadlines. We have deadlines every two minutes ... and then you're only as good as your last meal. There's that saying, "They love ya on Friday, they hate ya on Saturday, and come Monday they'll just talk about Saturday. ..."
What he's thinking about while working: The next day. The day I'm prepping for is the following day.
How to maintain standards in a competitive industry inclined to re-brand: You go into opening a restaurant, this is your vision. You have to stick with your vision. The last thing you want to do is make major changes in your concept. Stick with your guns, understand that you're not just catering to a small sector of people around you, but people who travel. And if they like it they keep coming back. You have to create your niche, your own clientele, and then you make subtle changes, but I think people lose patience too much and change too quickly.
Personnel issues are an industry given: There's always turnover, always whether you can trust staff or not. It's not [just] about stealing cash ... you steal time, you steal drinks, you give your friends drinks, it's against the ABC. Restaurant staffs are a different breed. We are raucous at times — obviously we're surrounded by food and alcohol — but any good chef has a sense of professionalism. We're a close-knit group, we hang out together, a lot of times they get married. [His youngest brother, Liam, a chef in Northern Virginia, married one of Kevin's servers.]
Not every critic knows food: I've never had a horrible experience with a food critic. Obviously I've witnessed many times where they've described something inaccurately, but that's part of the deal. It definitely can hurt a business. You would hope the people doing the reviewing are educated in food. They should be able to tell me what I'm doing and how I'm doing it.
I've been in this too long to get wrapped up in this stuff. I'm my biggest critic, so if I'm happy they should be happy.
Where he finds Richmond chef greatness: Obviously Dale [Reitzer] at Acacia because I have no doubts it's going to be good, and no doubts he's buying quality stuff. The same applies to Walter [Bundy] at Lemaire. I'm a fan of Owen [Lane] at Magpie — he loves to hunt, his style reminds me of mine. I only eat at restaurants that are owned by the chef — they're the best operations. No one cares about the operation more than the chef, no one. There's so much more than the food ... Once it leaves the kitchen, a chef is thinking about the temperature of the food, how it's presented, all that. We want to know what the customers think of it.
Interviewed by Deveron Timberlake