Tony Clement, exec chef of Roam, on finding the best ribs, cooking for rappers and mangling his foot with a chainsaw
This is part one of my interview with Tony Clement, exec chef of Roam. Part two of our chat will run in this space tomorrow.
A few months ago, when the former Wild Catch temporarily shuttered after then-executive chef Justin Brunson packed his knives and walked out, followed by numerous other staffers, including the kitchen line, owner Daniel Kuhlman was on the hunt for a new chef -- and he got lucky, because Tony Clement, who'd cooked alongside Frank Bonanno for nearly six years at Mizuna, was available -- and willing to take a risk on a restaurant that was weathering a wicked storm.
After Clement jumped on board, Wild Catch changed its name and concept, and now all roads leads to Roam, the title of which is indicative of Clement's meat-and-game-heavy menu -- and of his love of the outdoors: He lives on 200 acres of land in Evergreen, cooks at home in his wood-burning fireplace, and admits that his greatest triumph as a chef was learning how to slaughter animals.
But first he learned how to cook, which was an early hobby. "I definitely played around in the kitchen a lot as a kid, and my mom would take me to the library, and rather than getting a children's book, I'd always check out books from the cookbook section," remembers Clement, who also spent time learning the ropes at his aunt and uncle's cafe in New York. "Working there was my biggest inspiration, mainly because they allowed me to be creative and come up with a lot of recipes, which was super-exciting for a kid who was only fourteen."
One afternoon when he was messing around in the kitchen, Clement had a chat with his mom that gave him plenty of food for thought. "My mom and I were having a what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-life? talk and she mentioned culinary school, which sounded cool," he recalls. It sounded cooler when he spotted a poster at his high school ballyhooing the Culinary Institute in Philadelphia: "I wanted to get out of the small town where I lived, and I figured that even if I didn't like culinary school, at least I'd learn how to cook better."
He liked it enough to stay the course and graduate, then bounced around kitchens in Philly for three years before heading to the Big Apple. "New York was the next big step; I wanted to learn to cook in fine-dining restaurants but didn't have the money to tour around Europe," Clement says, "so I staged at a few restaurants and ended up getting a job at an upscale American restaurant with a huge wine focus.