When someone mentions your city’s multiple James Beard award-winners and nominees, people start to take notice. When the New York Times praises your youth driven food boom, Millennials make plans to visit. But when you’ve toppled the usual contenders from New York to Seattle and San Francisco, to be named by Zagat The #1 Food City in the U.S., the pressure is on to keep raising the bar. No need to worry. Pittsburgh is taking the challenge seriously.
The Steel City, once better-known for pierogis and working class food, is clearly in the midst of a culinary revolution. Foodies are flocking to chef-owned restaurants like Morcilla and Cure. And chefs, who once dreamed of opening restaurants in those aforementioned culinary meccas, are being lured by cheap rent to bring their inspiration to Pittsburgh instead. All that adds up to destination dining experiences that make the city a prime choice for meetings and events. But behind the scenes, there’s a little known strategy aimed at making the city’s culinary notoriety more than just a flash in the pan. They have a restaurant incubator.
Bringing New Restaurant Concepts To Market
Smallman Galley is a launch pad for some of the best new restaurant concepts in Pittsburgh. Through their programs, restaurant and event space, the incubator cultivates and accelerates Pittsburgh’s undiscovered chefs by providing a forum to showcase their capabilities, hone their craft, and develop the business acumen required to run a successful restaurant. A chef’s time at the Galley puts them through all the paces, sans the huge investment and risk. While in the program, they create menus, hire staff, and test their concepts on actual patrons. Part of the genius behind this innovative idea is that it basically allows unknown chefs to build a loyal following before going it on their own. Over 18 months, they receive weekly training that covers everything from branding and marketing to business management. Once they’ve completed the program, Smallman even helps them line up locations and secure financing to open their own storefront.
A Youth Driven Food Movement
Recently named the city’s Rising Star Chef by Pittsburgh Magazine, Nate Hobart might argue with the notion that he’s part of a youth driven food movement in Pittsburgh. But the 23 year-old chef de cuisine at popular Morcilla Restaurant, acknowledges his recent distinction, along with the national press from Zagat, The New York Times and Travel + Leisure ups the ante on the city’s foodie reputation. “It definitely brings a lot of attention to our city, but I actually think we put more pressure on ourselves than any sort of press could ever do,” he says. According to Hobart, there are a number of reasons Millennials are making the leap to Pittsburgh, particularly in the food industry. “There are a bunch of awesome young people that are trying to achieve their goals in a city that’s very affordable. I don’t think we’re trying to change history,” he says, “but we’re definitely showing what we can do to help move Pittsburgh forward as a national attraction.”
Inspired Dining At The Convention Center
Not to be left out of the vibrant Pittsburgh food scene, Dominique C. Metcalfe of Levy Restaurants and executive chef at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, has co-opted the center’s rooftop garden and locally sourced ingredients to reinvent convention center meals as more of a fine dining experience. “When we have more intimate events, we are able to utilize local farms and our roof top garden when it is in season and customize the menu based on what’s available,” says Metcalfe. The center’s super popular “Sweet ‘n Sassy” pork sandwich lets local favorites shine. “The pork is from Cunningham Meats in Indiana County and the Sauce is made by Adrienne’s Sassy Gourmet, right here in Pittsburgh,” she says. “We also work with Penn’s Corner Alliance, Wild Purveyors, The Cobbler World, Engine House 25 Wines, Silver Star Meats, Pizza Plaza, and the list goes on.” Chef Metcalfe says she’s excited about the culinary boom happening in her city and how the Smallman Galley is adding to it. “I believe it will add so many amazing restaurants and talented chefs to the growing food destination that Pittsburgh has become.”
The true secret weapon in Pittsburgh’s culinary arsenal lays in creativity of up and coming chefs, and cadre of experienced pros who are willing to inspire, educate and kick start them. Their collaboration, and eventual competition, means the city will keep pushing culinary boundaries. With that kind of power behind their food scene, I suspect Pittsburgh won’t be relinquishing their #1 Food City title anytime soon.
To find out more about eating and meeting in the Steel City, contact the sales team at VisitPITTSBURGH.
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