Knack, who joined the inn as executive chef in mid-May, appeared on Season 7 of Hell’s Kitchen. When he met Inn owner Jack Carnevale, he was impressed with his passion for the business.
“It’s difficult as a chef because some restaurants will say it’s your menu and say ‘Don’t do this,’” Knack said, noting that he has been given free reign over the menus of the Inn’s three eateries.
“It’s about understanding who you are cooking for,” he said. “Food is always evolving.”
The Tavern at BVI, Knack said, will continue to offer bold comfort food with a twist. Putting a twist on classic dishes is something Knack said he has learned from great chefs over the years.
Knack described his dining room cuisine as “delicate” and noted that he wished he could get all of his ingredients from local farms but it would be difficult to do so and still be able to serve affordable dishes. He opts instead to support small farms through a middle man.
Knack said he makes a lot of gels, foams and powders for his dishes. He has been using a balsamic gel atop an heirloom tomato salad with a sherry vinaigrette, homemade ricotta, shaved fennel and onion, and will use a cheese foam to top his new steak and cheese, made with sliced beef carpaccio and onion jam, served on focaccia.
“It’s a steak and cheese but it’s not a steak and cheese,” Knack said.
He recently ordered a cotton candy machine to create unique, sweet dishes.
Knack will update all three BVI menus seasonally. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two handwritten lists of ideas for new summer dishes including a chilled tomato soup to showcase local heirloom tomatoes, seared scallops with corn and Fra Diavolo made with in-house-made pasta, calamari and scallops.
One summery dish on the menu is a mixed green salad topped with raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, toasted almonds and a lemon mascarpone dressing
“It’s not the hardest thing in the world to make; anyone can add berries, anyone can make dressing,” Knack said. “It’s just understanding that they all go together.”
Knack noted that while some chefs avoid making simple dishes, you do not need to mix together 10 ingredients for a dish to be good.
“You want to the food to speak for itself,” he said.
The main ingredient to running a good restaurant, Knack said, is respect. Cursing and yelling are not allowed in his kitchen.
“We are here to make people happy ... if you can make the customers happy, your owners happy, train your staff and treat people with respect and dignity, you will enjoy your job,” he said.
Knack, who has worked in the kitchens of Christopher’s in Phoenix, Ariz., and Beacon Hill Bistro, L’Espalier and Sel de la Terre in Boston, said he is ready to tackle the task of running three restaurants simultaneously.
“A chef’s job is full utilization,” he said. “What we serve in the Tavern we will cross-utilize in Corks and in the dining room; it’s a unique situation because most restaurants only have one menu.”
Knack said it is a great experience to have customers be able to visit the Inn for dinner two to three times a week and for them to be able to eat something different in a different atmosphere each night.
Working in a kitchen, Knack said, does not require formal training, talent or brains, as success in the restaurant in industry comes as a result of hard work.
“You can work with a talented chef and gain artistic talent … it’s the whole ‘teach a man to fish’ thing,” he said.
Knack also noted the rewards of working for a great chef as a perk of the job.
“[A chef] congratulates the kitchen staff because they did it as a team; that’s very rewarding,” he said. “I don’t know if you share that in the nine-to-five world.”
Knack was teaching at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont when the school’s public relations department asked him to call the casting company affiliated with Hell’s Kitchen. His outgoing nature during his phone interview scored him an interview in Boston, which led him to the final casting call in California.
Knack called himself “ignorant” to think that Hell’s Kitchen was a real competition — he noted that the production staff “made a lot of things happen.”
“Hell’s Kitchen has nothing to do with cooking,” Knack said. “You have got to be confident in what you do and be interesting so people will watch you.”
While Hell’s Kitchen personality Gordon Ramsay screams and yells at contestants of the show during filming, Knack said that he is never disrespectful and, off camera, can be endearing and personable.
Knack said what he took from his experience on Hell’s Kitchen was the ability to deal with adversity.
“Once you get through that, you feel like you can do anything in any kitchen,” he said.