Scott Switzer, who opened Blue Apron Restaurant in Salem last year, combines classical French culinary training with a dedication to “everything working together” for his diners.
We’ve been talking for half an hour and you’ve barely mentioned the food. What kind of chef are you?”
I was talking to Scott Switzer, the chef and owner of Blue Apron Restaurant on Main Street in Downtown Salem. We were sitting in the adjoining Red Rooster Bar (something of a bantam rooster; the cozy bar is set up in a narrow shopfront next door to the main restaurant, just wide enough for three stools), and I had just realized that this Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and restaurateur was focusing pretty heavily on the restaurateur angle.
I’ve met a number of chefs who never seem to see anything beyond their passion for great food, but Switzer seems to take a big-picture approach. He stresses his focus on having all the different departments in the restaurant work together smoothly in order to give his guests a seamless experience.
“Our word for it is ‘choreography.’ When you’re sitting there as a customer and you know that your server is in the weeds, and the hostess isn’t helping out, or it just feels weird, it’s over. There’s no recovery from that. We can bail it out from the kitchen, and maybe they’ll give you a pass.”
But, Switzer says, it’s much better to have everything working together. “When things are on, your guests are happy, and you know that everything is just awesome, it’s just a big sense of feeling good about what you’re doing.”
My wife and I had paid a visit the previous Friday, and had seen first-hand the dance that Switzer’s choreography produces. Open since December of 2010, Blue Apron boasts a well-trained, but warmly non-stuffy front-of-the-house staff that does an admirable job of blending attentive, knowledgeable and professional service with the kind of heart and soul that makes you feel like you’re being welcomed into someone’s home.
We arrived a bit before our 8:30 reservation (I have no idea where our manners were; we were both raised in the South and therefore know better than to do anything so gauche as to show up for dinner early), and the host showed us into the bar. Though the trio of stools was occupied, the cheerful bartender quickly mixed us up a champagne cocktail and a Hemingway (a sort of a reboot of a crushed ice daiquiri served in a stainless steel martini glass), and the folks at the bar didn’t seem to mind my boardinghouse reach.
Though the Red Rooster Bar is small, seating maybe nine people, it’s an attractive room, with exposed brick and a table in the front window for people-watching. We were just settling in and having fun eavesdropping on the happy conversations surrounding us when the host returned to let us know our table was ready.
More of Switzer’s dance was in evidence in the dining room, which was full to the rafters with energetic and happy-looking diners (always a good sign). Our server gave us enough time to get to know the menu, and then waltzed over to our table.
“Can I answer any questions about the menu?”
“Pull up a chair,” I answered, “I’ve got plenty.”
She was a good sport, giving us plenty of information without making us feel like goobers for not knowing what words like “gremolata,” “noisette,” or “orecchiette” meant.*
* In order: A lemon zest and herb condiment; another word for hazelnut; a floppy, disc-shaped pasta.
Despite having a few terms that I had never come across and a broad array of foods with origins in many lands, the menu was strangely unpretentious. A single page, there was no real demarcation between appetizers, salads, soups or entrees. If you preferred to start with a smaller portion of the seared rare hamachi, moving on to a big old plate of mussels for your main course, it’s all up for grabs. And nothing on the menu, regardless of portion, rings in at more than $26, which was a pleasant surprise.