In the Kitchen with Josh Wiest of South Village Grille
“My first chef ever told me, ‘If you know how to cook, wherever you go, you’ll always have a job,’ and I thought, ‘I could travel the world,’” recalled Josh Wiest, Executive Chef at the South Village Grille in German Village.
Promptly leaving his hometown of Mount Vernon, Wiest arrived in New York, attended the French Culinary Institute (now called the International Culinary Center), and began working under renowned chef Todd English at the Plaza Hotel.
It took about three and a half years of working in New York City before that city life excitement devolved to exhaustion. Coming back the Ohio way, Wiest saw a burgeoning food scene in Columbus, and he was eager to become a part of it.
“I’m really excited with what Columbus offers right now,” he said. “It just seems like we’re on the verge of a major breakthrough. We really seem to be booming.”
He began at G. Michael’s Bistro, honing his fine dining craft under chef David Tetsoff before moving on to the 8 State Bistro in Westerville. Now, as head of the kitchen at South Village Grille, Wiest’s vision for his role in the city’s developing culinary scene has a chance to unfold.
Described as chef-driven and seasonal, Wiest’s menu combines what he values most in food with the qualities he sees becoming increasingly important to local diners.
“Everybody’s a little more conscious about where they’re going, where their food is coming from,” he observed, “and that’s very exciting to be around.”
Wiest sources from six or seven different local and regional purveyors to create his menu. He cooks with what’s available (“You don’t want to have unripe tomatoes on the menu”), and Ohio has a healthy natural supply of produce — especially mushrooms. The shiitake variety is featured prominently in his menu’s scallop entree, their top seller.
Seared on one side, three tender, meaty scallops sit among soft and fat house-made gnocchi. Surrounding them, the mushrooms, arugula, pesto and Calabrian Chile vinaigrette come together to add a fresh earthiness. A light, dynamic option for Wiest’s summer menu.
Further inspired by regional tastes, the Grille’s slate of options includes twists on Midwestern and southern classics, like a pork chop with grits and roasted carrots, or the braised short ribs, garlic mashed potatoes and green beans.
“It’s a little heavy right now for the time of the year,” he admitted, “but here in the Midwest, they love their meat and potatoes.”
As far as trends go, Wiest strays away, although he did hint that Brussels sprouts could be showing up on his fall menu. He sees his contribution to the food culture as less reactive, opting instead to show support for his favorite local businesses, which include Los Guachos on Godown, Tensuke on Old Henderson and, of course, G. Michael’s Bistro.
Nearer by, Wiest frequents the Thurman Cafe and German Village Coffee, and as more businesses filter in around South Village Grille, he sees his little block of Thurman Avenue turning into its own destination.
“Fox in the Snow is opening up across the street, and I believe a Zest [Cold Pressed Juice Co.],” he said, “so I really feel like this part of German Village is just about to explode.”
He has no plans to leave any time soon, putting off those early dreams of being a world-traveling chef to see what the local scene — and his multiplying neighbors — have to offer.
“The thing that I’ve held onto throughout my career is I want to be pushed. I want my neighbors to do great. I want everyone to do great,” Wiest said, “and that just kind of elevates everyone to an awesome level where we can all produce great food.”
For more information, visit southvillagegrille.com.