2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Chef David Kocab of Trentina

2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Chef David Kocab of Trentina
November 2016

David Kocab is a born and raised Clevelander, who took a West coast culinary detour before coming back home. After dropping out of college, he found himself washing dishes and wishing he were on the line. Taking action, Kocab moved across the country to Portland, Oregon, where he studied at Western Culinary Institute and earned a degree in culinary management.
Walking out of school and into the bustling Portland food scene wasn’t lost on Kocab. He took a job working at Nostrana, learning as much as possible under mentor Kathy Whims and Chef de Cuisine Brian Murphy. During his time in Portland, Kocab also cemented a friendship with culinary school comrade and Rising Stars alum Chef Alvin Cailan.
When Cailan needed help opening now-kind-of-a-big-deal Eggslut in Los Angeles, Kocab moved south to help him launch the early food truck iteration. Thousands of coddled, scrambled, and fried eggs later, Kocab decided food truck life wasn’t for him. He packed his bags, presumably bought a new winter coat, and moved back home to Cleveland. 

Next thing he knew, Kocab was working for James Beard Award-winner Chef Jonathan Sawyer at Trentina, one of city’s most exciting kitchens. Kocab has flourished in the restaurant as its chef de cuisine, cooking confident tasting menus that weave together Alpine Italian influences and his Ohio backyard—the latter of which he had to escape to truly understand.

Interview with Rust Belt Rising Star Chef David Kocab of Trentina

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
David Kocab:
I’m a local guy. I spent a little time in Portland and a little time in L.A., but I was born and raised here. I dropped out of college, washed dishes, and figured out this is what I wanted to do. I  thought, “How do I get ahead of these guys? How do I work for Jonathon Sawyer without wasting away in this kitchen.” I went to culinary school in Portland and graduated in 2006. I went out there to get out of Cleveland and lucked out—the education there was super awesome. A lot of people argue whether it’s worth to go to culinary school or not, but I would argue that I got five years of odd job culinary experience in a year and a half. You’re only going to get out what you put in. 

CH: Where did you work before coming back to Cleveland? 
I went to Nostrana in Portland for a year and two months, and learned a lot. That’s where I got the wood fire—that’s what drew me there. I’m really thankful for Kathy Whims and everything she taught me. The chef de cuisine there, Brian Murphy, is awesome too. After that, I went to L.A. to help open the Eggslut food truck with Alvin Cailan. I was working out there and it was super loaded. There was so much talent is L.A., and no one was going anywhere. I was a line cook ,and I thought I reached my peak, so I hopped on a plane and came back to Cleveland to work at Trentina.

CH: Who's your mentor?
In my career, definitely Kathy Whims and Jonathon Sawyer. Those two have influenced my style the most. I also get a lot of inspiration from Chris Cosentino.

CH: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
Keeping up with Sawyer. The guy’s brain is on another level. It’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. It pushes me to be as creative as possible without being wacky or weird. I’m really proud of what we do here. This job gives me a lot of freedom, and I don’t always know what to do with that so it’s great to have him.

CH: What's your five year plan?
I would hope that 90 percent of chefs would say “Yes, I want to open my own restaurant.” You’ve got to have some kind of ownership in something. Business-wise, you have to think about it like that. You can’t be a line cook forever. I am in a position right now that I thought that I would not be in for a couple more years. I’m elated to be in this position and am trying to run full speed with it. I’ve admired  Sawyer for so many years before I started working with him. He treats products like they do in Portland. Food is entrenched in that community, and they have such respect for it. Cleveland wasn’t always like that, and it’s still in the process of getting there.