In the Kitchen With Catie Randazzo and Matt Heaggans of Ambrose & Eve
As the local food scene continues to flourish, chefs Catie Randazzo, of Challah!, and Matt Heaggans, of Swoop! and The Rossi, aren’t afraid to break some of those lingering culinary boundaries. The two have put their heads together on a new project: their own brick and mortar named Ambrose & Eve. Currently, they operate a burger-centric popup at Three Sheets under the same name, but they’ll be changing its name once the restaurant opens this spring in the Brewery District. Ambrose & Eve will be a culmination of Randazzo and Heaggans’ core values as chefs: service and customer experience, innovation, and education.
As much as Columbusites have grown to be more experiential and openminded diners, as a population we like to stick to safer tastes, opting for burgers, tacos, pizza and chicken sandwiches — items that have integrated into midwestern cuisine — over unrecognizable dishes like Heart Tartare, an item Randazzo had to strike from the menu at Challah!.
“When I came back from New York, I was like, ‘I’m going to put all this crazy shit on the menu, and everyone’s gonna eat it up,’” Randazzo recalled, “and they didn’t.”
“I ran a popup here,” Heaggans added. “We had whole sardines and sweetbreads (culinary name for thymus or pancreas). We were making pastas. We had a core group of people who were really excited about it, but the city at large kind of didn’t get it.”
That local response hasn’t scared them off, though. As they plot their opening menu for Ambrose & Eve, Randazzo and Heaggans are pulling from childhood experiences, memories and tastes for inspiration. Named for Randazzo’s grandparents, the new restaurant is aiming for a comforting atmosphere where recognizable dishes with interesting twists will rule the bill of fare.
“I think we’ll be pushing the same direction,” Heaggans said. “We’re not dumbing anything down. We’re just going to step into it a little more gently.”
For starters, Randazzo is bringing to the table a dish that will be familiar to most with midwestern upbringings. Veal parmesan, a recipe somewhat butchered by her grandmother, will appear on the Ambrose & Eve menu, containing veal sweetbreads and a raspberry marinara sauce.
As the duo gets a loyal following, the Ambrose & Eve menu might get a little “weirder.” Randazzo said it’s just easier to get someone to try a new, different dish when they already trust the stuff you’ve been putting out.
And for Heaggans, it’s not all on the guest to branch out, trust the chef and try new dishes — chefs have a responsibility, too, to make sure the customer has a consistently good time and enjoys what they’re eating. In the past, he’s even urged staff members to approach guests who haven’t touched their plate of food to see what can be better and what could be done to make it edible for them.
Education is a primary priority as well for local chefs to begin breaking culinary norms. The more traveling, reading, and experimenting the head chef does, the more information they have to pass on to their sous chefs, prep cooks and servers, and the more the guest can learn through those servers.
“It’s restaurants educating consumers: ’This is why this is worth that money, this is why we only have so many of these, this is why I don’t sell this year round,’” Heaggans said.
Keeping up on certain trends is another way for innovative chefs to bring their food in from the margins, and there are ways chefs can do that without losing their identities.
“Trends are trends. They come and go. But, you still have to keep up on them while maintaining the basics and keeping things simple at the same time,” Randazzo said. “Avocado toast is super trendy right now, but it’s trendy because people will buy the shit out of it, and if you can find a way to do it your way and still make it your own dish and not make it like every single other person is doing, then I think you’re outside of the trend and you’re staying true to yourself.”
The two see big things for the year to come and expect Columbus chefs to introduce plenty new concepts to the hesitant population. With Ambrose & Eve opening in the spring, Veritas coming Downtown, Avishar Barua running the kitchen at Middle West’s Service Bar, and Andrew Smith hosting regular beer dinners over at Rockmill, Heaggans sees the area’s culinary offerings taking off, with or without the city at large.
“The next year in the city is going to be kind of explosive,” he said. “I’m hoping that the city will be down to come along for the ride.”
For more information, visit Ambrose & Eve on Facebook.