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Chiara Chef Thrives on Worldwide Inspiration

Chiara Bistro's Bret Pelaggi has gained experience in the cooking industry from extensive traveling.

Bret Pelaggi has been all around the world mastering the culinary arts.

Whether it was when he was a busboy in Norwood, an intern at a restaurant in Germany or a sous chef in Boston, it has prepared him for his work as Chef de Cuisine at Chiara Bistro.

"When I was 15-years-old, I helped the cooks at a place called 'Carla's' with small tasks in the kitchen," said Pelaggi. "Once I saw action in the kitchen, I knew I was interested in being in the food industry."

Pelaggi grew up in Norwood and began his culinary career as a busboy at Carla's, now the Old Colonia Cafe. He worked there throughout high school and eventually began working at Brookline Country Club, where he met and learned from Chiara's Executive Chef, Steve LaCount.

Pelaggi worked with LaCount during the summer before culinary school, where he attended New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. He later graduated with an Associate's Degree in Culinary Arts and then interned at the Brookline Country Club, where he said there was was a well-rounded internship that featured banquets, lunch, dinner and breakfast to name a few.

Pelaggi also interned in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where he worked at an American owned hotel. He has worked at L'Espalier for Frank McClelland, James Beard Winner, then moved on to open King Fish Hall with Todd English, another James Beard Winner.  

During his four-and-a-half year tenure there, he was promoted to Sous Chef and was selected as culinary trainer for the new Olive Group restaurants in Seattle, Orlando and Boston.

Pelaggi said that this was a chance for him to travel the country to places like Seattle and Orlando to show cooks certain company staples. He then moved on to help open Sibling Rivalry as Sous Chef, working for one year with Bob Kinkead, James Beard Winner, and his brother David Kinkead. 

With all this experience under his belt, Pelaggi teamed up with LaCount to open Chiara Bistro.

Pelaggi was thrilled to hear that LaCount would be opening a restaurant and came before the opening to help get things going. It opened on December 22, 2005 and is going strong. One new aspect of the restaurant that he is proud of is the new lounge area, which has been open for just over a month.

"We have a good development of high-end dishes and service at Chiara, but sometimes people didn't want to be in here all night," Pelaggi said. "We added the lounge and some casual fair items to cater to everyone."

Pelaggi enjoys his work for a number of reasons, which includes the lack of a corporate environment, the hours and the all around working atmosphere.

"Many of the workers here share similar lifestyles," said Pelaggi. "It's the camaraderie that I really enjoy."

Pelaggi said that while it is very difficult to be 100 percent local and sustainable, Chiara does its best by going to places like Ward's Farm and local herb gardens.

While not at work, Pelaggi plays hockey enjoys going out for sushi. His favorite meal at Chiara would be gnocchis, but he said that he really likes most of the menu.

"We have a good representation of classic dishes and some you won't really see anywhere else," said Pelaggi.

Chiara's dishes fit the theme of Mediterranean cuisine, LaCount says, touching on everything from French dishes to Italian deserts and appetizers.

Below, Pelaggi has shared a recipe that thinks is great for the upcoming fall season:

Pumpkin Seed Crusted Halibut Fillet (serves 4)
(with parsnip hash, ginger nutmeg crema, chanterelle mushrooms)

Crust:

  • 1/4 cup ground pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup Panko break crumbs (ground)

Fish:

  • 1 egg yolk beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Four 7 ounce Halibut steaks
  • Brush egg yolk on one side of the Halibut fillet and season with salt and pepper. Place one side of the fish crust side down in a skillet that pre-heated with one tablespoon of corn oil and one tablespoon of butter.
  • Cook crust side for 4 to 5 minutes and flip then bake in a pre-heated (400 degrees) oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Hash:

  • 1 cup diced red bliss potato (cooked)
  • 1 cup diced parsnip (cooked)
  • 1/2 cup diced onion (cooked)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped sage
  • 1/2 cup parsnip potato puree

Make parsnip potato puree by boiling one medium peeled Idaho potato and three medium parsnips until fully cooked and soft. Pour through a food mill and keep warm. Set aside.

To Assemble:
Combine cooked and diced parsnip and potato with the cooked onion, sage and potato parsnip puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Crema:
Reduce 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, with 1/2 tsp of fresh grated nutmeg and 1/2 tsp of fresh grated ginger until cream is reduced to 1/4 cup. The mix should have the consistency of pancake batter.

Mushrooms:

  • 18 to 24 medium chanterelle mushrooms (about 6 ounces quartered.)
  • Clean the mushrooms with a towel but do not rinse with water. Heat a large skillet with one tsp of corn oil and butter
  • Sear mushrooms about one to two minutes, shaking the pan frequently. Season with salt and pepper and place on a paper towel lined plate. Keep warm.

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