Jason Giordano didn’t even have to taste it. The pale green color said it all. The Romaine lettuce had not been properly charred, so he had the whole dish redone, sides and all. Although it only took five minutes, time, as any restaurant worker knows, is invaluable, especially with hungry, waiting customers. But Giordano does not believe in cutting corners, and as executive chef at The Bedford (110 Bedford Avenue), has built a reputation for simple, yet first-rate fare.
Giordano’s perfectionism comes in handy in Williamsburg. As the neighborhood has transformed into a cultural mecca, residents have come to demand higher standards when dining out. Taking a rare break from his kitchen on a busy Saturday afternoon, the soft-spoken chef does not give the appearance of a tortured obsessive. He is of medium height, tidy and sports a ducktail beard and closely cut hair, leading one’s focus to a warm smile and deep brown eyes. Originally from Long Island, Giordano began his interest in culinary art in North Carolina when he had an epiphany at Goldberg’s Bagels. “I was cutting vegetables for the cream cheese, and I realized ‘Hey, I really like doing this,’” he recalled. “I think I was 19.” Three months later, his sister’s boyfriend found him a job at a restaurant preparing salads and desserts, and a long education commenced.
“Later, when I started working under Michael Schiffer [at Maximillians Grill, an NC-based fusion restaurant], we were taught if it wasn’t good, we’re not sending it out,” explained Giordano. “Which is easy in a tiny place like that.” It was there that he developed two mandates that he applied whether cooking in a fine restaurant or experimenting in the kitchen with his family: keep the ingredients fresh, and never compromise the food.
Schiffer’s passion for food was contagious. By 2000, Giordano had completed an 18 month-long program at the Culinary Institute of America, leaving with an impressive technique he later expanded under a formidable chef at Tocqueville, a widely acclaimed French American restaurant at Union Square. “He stood 5’3”, but he scared the life out of me,” laughed Giordano.”Everything had to be perfect. It was the first time I had dishes thrown back at me. $50 worth of truffles? I don’t care, do it again. Six brutal months.”
Soldiering on as sous chef at the Spice Market, chef de cuisine at Mia Dona, and executive chef at Hotel Griffou, Giordano developed a culinary philosophy now on daily display at the Bedford: straightforward, flawless cuisine without frills, but always packing a twist. And while the gastropub’s menu features a few mainstays, meals are tweaked every few weeks either to please changing palettes or simply to get a dish closer to the ideal in Giordano’s mind. “It’s never perfect,” he admitted. “You’ll always find a way to make it better.”
The Moroccan Chicken ($20) is a popular case in point. First introduced in January when Giordano started working at The Bedford, the dish recently returned in a “cleaner, more technical” form, fusing a classic roasted chicken with a combination of Asian spices. It took Giordano months to find the right balance of ingredients – leaving in the ginger while taking out the cinnamon and nutmeg – so as to retain the earthy taste of the meat, while providing a wallop to the taste buds. Vegetarians can enjoy the above-mentioned Grilled Romaine ($12), a charred head of lettuce moist with hot cherry lemon vinaigrette. Countering the oils are buttery cranberry beans and sharp feta cheese. For brunch, regulars recommend the Huevos Divorciados ($11), a refreshing Mexican dish consisting of two fried eggs covered separately by salsa roja and salsa verde.
The Bedford aims to deliver excellent cuisine at affordable prices, like $1(!) oysters, served either on the half shell with Bloody Mary cooktail sauce and mignonette, or grilled Charleston style with shallot herb butter. There’s also the Bedford Burger ($13), an opulent helping of “la frieda original” that comes with Brooklyn Brine Pickle, caramelized onions & fries. A dollar adds gorgonzola, gruyere, cheddar or bacon.
In July, Giordano achieved something perhaps even more impressive than his career: finding an affordable apartment in Williamsburg. The long-time resident of the East Village finally become “fed up with walking up six flights of stairs” wherever he lived, and moved in with a fellow graduate of the Culinary Institute. Living in the neighborhood has strengthened Giordano’s cooking style, and he enjoys the sense of community. During Hurricane Sandy, patrons crowded The Bedford to full capacity and Giordano relished the experience, working 25 hours in two days. But he still likes to be challenged. Last Thursday, he prepared four courses for special guests, each paired with a Bourbon provided by Jim Bean. “It was amazing to see how he paired Bourbon so well with things like beef and duck,” remarked Melanie Abramov.
Giordano just wants to continue to improve his craft. “I recently heard a Japanese chef say ‘If what I do makes people happy, then I’m happy,” he said. “And that sums up my life. But it’s not easy.”