With the opening of Inman Social this month, Wesley True, 46, brings a new taste of Italy to Cleveland.
This isn't the chef's first venture into the restaurant business. Before Inman, he owned True at BHB, a reference to the former Bald Headed Bistro, in the same location on Keith Street. The new place comes with major interior and some exterior remodeling and a menu change from a mix of Southern fare with a few Italian dishes to a menu with a strong Italian bent. His mission, he says, is to offer diners a welcoming, jovial menu that all can enjoy and afford, with made-from-scratch dishes using as much local produce as he can find.
"Our pizza is amazing," he says. "I've been working for years on perfecting the dough. And I've also been asked by many guests to put lasagna on the menu, but lasagna to me was always kind of boring — not too complex of flavors — and I was never really a fan. So I decided to create my own version, which is 26 layers. It's game-changing."
Here's a little more about this chef, a native of Mobile, Alabama, and how competing on Bravo's "Top Chef" helped further his culinary technique.
Q: Did you go to culinary school?
A: I developed a passion for cooking in college at Ole Miss and decided to go to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
Q: Whom do you consider the biggest influence in your life decision to become a chef?
A: I can't say I had one big influence — I've just always been very creative and had a knack for cooking. My father encouraged me to attend culinary school, though he wasn't much of a cook. Loved to grill, though. But my mother just loves to eat at great restaurants.
Q: What's one of your earliest cooking memories?
A: Making salsa when I was in high school. It was the first time I really experienced the joy of making food from scratch.
Q: You've worked under some well-known chefs, including Gordon Ramsay and Bobby Flay, so at what restaurants did you work with them and at what other restaurants have you been a chef?
A: I was a sous chef at Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay's original restaurant in Sedona, Arizona. I also worked at Gordon Ramsay's At the London (now closed) as a sous chef. I also worked at two Michelin-star restaurants: Aquavit in New York City under chef Marcus Samuelsson and at Bouley in New York under Cesar Ramirez.
Q: What is some of the best advice Ramsay or Flay gave you?
A: Not to knock Gordon or Bobby, but my biggest influence and mentor was Cesar Ramirez who is known for his Michelin three-star restaurant, Brooklyn Fare. He advised that to be successful in this business, I had to be able to talk and schmooze with guests, as well as cook to the best of my ability. He taught me to cook by taste and not by recipe, which aids in my creative spirit still to this day.
Q: Are you attracting people from outside the Cleveland area?
A: Yes! I meet many guests driving from Chattanooga, Ooltewah and Knoxville. It's worth the drive.
Q: How did you come up with the name Inman Social?
A: The name comes from our cross streets — Inman and Keith streets in Cleveland. The "social" part comes from our desire to have a local hot spot where people can come be social, whether it be by dining indoors or enjoying happy hour on the patio.
Q: What changes did you make to the decor when you closed True and reopened as Inman Social?
A: My partners and I decided to make a big change, and we did a total remodel. The restaurant now is an updated modern rustic with touches of original artwork from some of our favorite artists.
Q: What did competing on Bravo's "Top Chef" do to help further your career as a chef?
A: It was a fun experience that made me cook with a lot bolder flavors. It was tough to compete at that time because my wife and I had a newborn baby, and I had to leave them behind. I am glad I got as far as I did. I won several challenges and made great friends.
Q: What's the one cooking tool in your kitchen that would be hard to live without?
A: I'm really loving our Cooper Oak P3 pasta extruder. We also just acquired a commercial Imperial pasta sheeter for making raviolis. Nothing compares to freshly extruded pasta.
Q: Is there any new ingredient or spice that you're liking these days?
A: Bianco canned tomatoes from California. I believe you can get them at Whole Foods, but I know for sure you can get them from Amazon. They are way better than San Marzano. No comparison.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: I'm getting to the point where the pleasure of eating something bad for me is outweighed by the guilt, but I'd say fried chicken.
Q: What's your dream dinner? I mean, who would be at the table with you? What three other people?
A: Honestly, just my family. But if I had to name a celebrity I'd choose Anthony Bourdain — I do have a giant painting of him in my restaurant.
Q: Describe your favorite date night out in the Cleveland/Chattanooga area?
A: My wife and I work together, so we don't get many nights out. Typically, we stay at home, pop open a good champagne, cook a nice meal and finish it off with some red wine.
Q: Complete this sentence. If I hadn't become a chef, I would be a ...
A: Military pilot. I was in ROTC and almost signed the papers to go to the military but decided to go to Ole Miss instead. I did get my pilot's license, though.
Q: Restaurant kitchens can be a really hectic place, so how do you maintain calm in what can be a crazy environment?
A: I used to be one of those crazy chefs who yelled a lot, but I learned years ago that my cooks cook better food when they are respected.
Q: Is there a food trend that's being overdone these days?
A: There's so much information out there at your fingertips, so, to me, food trends are not as prevalent anymore. There are just so many ways you can go, it's totally wide open.
Q: Can you give us a good recipe for fall?
A: This cereal is something fun and different for apple season. It's a composed apple dish we're serving for brunch right now.
Apple Season Is Here Cereal
This is a three-part recipe that uses one piece of special equipment: a torch to roast the marshmallows. They're available in kitchen supply stores or online at retailers, including Amazon, starting under $20. They're also good for blistering tomatoes and peppers and for putting the finishing touch on creme brulee.
Salted caramel apples:
6 cups green apples, diced (peeled, large dice)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
Chai spiced oat milk:
1/2 gallon oat milk
1 ounce Earl Grey tea
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
4 bay leaves, dried
3 tablespoons green cardamon
1 cup sugar
6 cups Apple Jacks cereal
4 large marshmallows
24 ounces reserved chai spiced oat milk
1 cup salted caramel apples
For caramel apples: Mix apples with brown sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice and salt.
Add butter to a pan, and melt on medium-high heat. Add apples and let sit for about 30 seconds, then toss a few times and cook for another 2 1/2 minutes, then place on pan to cool. Set aside.
For chai oat milk: Bring oat milk to a simmer, then split it between two containers
Add tea to one container of oat milk and the rest of the ingredients to the other. Steep the one with tea for 3 minutes, then strain. Steep the other one for 1 hour, then strain. Combine both oat milks, and chill until ready to serve.
To finish: Divide cereal between four bowls, then top each with apples and a marshmallow.
Light marshmallow on fire with torch. When nicely golden brown, pour chai spiced oat milk over cereal and marshmallow to put fire out. Makes 4 servings.