At the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Jonathon Sawyer watched his fellow students throw ingredients together, just to show they could.Not his style.
“I like flavor in the simplest way possible, let the flavors of the food showcase themselves,” he explains. “I’m not the type of cook who will make 45 things just to show you I can. In fact, most of the items on the menu have six items or less.” He’s following in the footsteps of mentors such as Michael Symon and Charlie Palmer, both minimalists at heart.
The Bar Cento kitchen plows through about 25 pounds of fresh herbs a week, plus plenty of citrus and olive oil. Sawyer also admits he’s guilty of using a lot of pancetta and anchovies.
“We sneak [the anchovy] in,” he says. “It’s purely there for flavor. Most people don’t know how good it is or that it’s even in the dish, but they always seem to like what they’re eating. It’s a good backbone, adds a layer of flavor you don’t get anywhere else.”
A perfect example of Sawyer’s approach, and the one item that really matches his personal taste, is the caramelized fennel bulb.
“It’s a veggie that showcases itself well. Simple prep and execution,” he says, “something that doesn’t need a lot of work or stuff. This is the basic approach we take to everything.
“The fennel doesn’t come across very well on paper,” he adds. “Then someone tries it and they are like, ‘Wow, I’ve never had flavor like this before — I didn’t even realize I liked fennel.’ ”