Meridian Restaurant: A Chef’s Table and Getting to Know Mark Grohman
Kristi Maier | @triadfoodies
A sold-out foodie crowd attended last week’s Chef’s Table featuring the culinary talents of Chef Mark Grohman of Meridian Restaurant. Meridian, located “south of Business 40, yet still downtown,” has enjoyed a decade of success serving up northern Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, while utilizing local ingredients.
As of March, we’ve celebrated with local foodies and let the chef surprise us ten times. Each time has been different and festive and we all leave with our hearts and bellies full. That seems to be the common theme at the end of these evenings and we hope that one day you’ll give it a try, if you haven’t already. Just as much as it is about the food, we hope each Chef’s Table is an opportunity to get to know the chef a bit better. It’s important for me, as a food writer and champion of the local restaurant scene, that you get to know the fellow human that is taking care of you in his or her kitchen. These folks have achieved a dream and want to share it with you. Having camaraderie with the chef at our events is what makes them so special. And Chef Grohman shines when he’s one-on-one with his customers.
On my podcast, At the Table with Triadfoodies, Chef Grohman told us a little about his upbringing. “I was a military brat and lived all over the world. My parents chose to live off-base, which gave me a greater appreciation of the culture. I grew up shopping the local markets and we’d go on bike rides and see the farmers harvesting their fields and later in the day, we’d see them selling at the farmer’s market. It just makes you appreciate where your food comes from.”
Grohman has an interesting story of how he got here though. His destiny may have been a career in the culinary world, but it didn’t start out that way. He went to college and began pursuing a career in aviation and was headed to flight school.
And then 9/11 happened.
“All my old instructors and friends were losing jobs, no one knew when hiring would continue,” Grohman told me. “I had been cooking part-time, but didn’t take it too seriously because I knew I was going to be a pilot. But after 9/11, I decided then that I’d follow this culinary path because I love cooking for people, I love the hours, I love playing with food every day.”
Grohman’s training comes from “the school of hard knocks.” He says he was fortunate to work with some great chefs and knew that the ultimate goal was owning his own restaurant. And in February, Meridian celebrated ten years.
We did want to give you a glimpse of what delights we enjoyed at our Chef’s Table. Six courses of surprises that give a little look inside Meridian’s menu that evening. The restaurant menu changes often. You are rarely going to see the exact same item twice.
Apple Carpaccio with arugula and crispy prosciutto with balsamic reduction
This was a lovely beginning to the meal with very thinly sliced apples. The sweet balsamic reduction balanced with the peppery arugula and the prosciutto gave it the perfect salty bite.
Smoked Salmon Arancini with rosemary lemon creme fraiche and micro beet tops
I highly suggest getting arancini any time Chef Grohman has it on the menu. It’s always perfection. Crispy exterior, creamy perfectly cooked arborio rice within. Wonderful.
Pork Milanese with apricot mostarda, served with Shore Farms Organics Red Russian Kale
This is like a little fried pork cutlet. We loved the sweet and fruity mustard sauce. Chef Grohman encouraged us to try a similar version at home with apricot jam and a kicky or grainy mustard. Extra points if you make your jam or mustard at home.
Braciola on ricotta and prosciutto polenta with red wine marinara
Italian flavors are where Grohman shines as he learned most of what he knows from his days in Italy. The brajaole was incredibly tender and the polenta was amazing. The marinara had a beautiful sweetness with just a touch of wine to enhance the flavor.
Braised ox tail with foie gras gnudi and baby vegetables
Gnudi is very similar to gnocchi but made with ricotta rather than potato. Ox tail is an adventure for some but it is very approachable and is quite similar to other braised beef and Chef’s was incredibly tender and full of flavor. And that gnudi was divine.
Ravioli filled with dark chocolate mascarpone ricotta, Grande Marnier orange peel, lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar
The perfect little sweet ending to a filling meal. The ravioli was crisp and light and the filling was rich and creamy.
One of the reasons Meridian is such a local favorite is that Chef Grohman makes nearly everything in-house, like his pasta, sausage, stocks and dressings. He credits his mother’s family and his depression-era grandparents for teaching him about seafood and making things start to finish. “I’m not buying stock. I’m buying 100 pounds of veal bones to make veal glace. Everything start to finish, using everything you possibly can. That was instilled in me at a very young age and taking it into this business just feels natural.” Grohman especially loves making his own charcuterie featuring copa, bacon, salami, prosciutto and a host of other meats. You also owe it to yourself to try any of his pastas.
Grohman says, “If I can make it better than I can bring it in, I’m making it. Every time. Plus, it’s practicing the craft. If you don’t use it, you lose it. A big part of what I do in my kitchen is educational. Everybody needs to learn about these old school techniques, to see it and understand it.”
Grohman’s culinary team (Araceli Hernandez. Duchan Sumanasuriya Ali Utley. Ryan Teague) was also on hand last week. You could see the chef’s pride as they didn’t miss a beat. Even after 10 years of doing this, Grohman says he is still striving to improve. “The goal is to get better every day. If you’re not trying to improve and learn, you’re doing nothing for your business or for the people who work for you or those who spend their hard-earned money with you.” He hopes that the next 10 years give him plenty more opportunities to share his vision with the community. “There’s a value to supporting the local cafe, restaurant. It’s better. It’s fresher. It’s more interesting. Go for the experience, not just to get in, eat and get out “
In addition to being very hands-on, Grohman is well-known and respected for his support of local farms. “I’ve been doing it since 1996. Only because I want better product. Back then, I called it garden to grill.” Meridian set a bit of a precedent in Winston-Salem. “It rattled the cage here, but in a good way. Chefs got more creative and courageous with their menus. It helped raise the bar.” Grohman also says the culinary community has been great over the years. “In the beginning, it was very competitive. But now, we get together, talk about business, talk about food and share ideas. I have not met a chef in this area that I would not invite into my kitchen.” Now a husband to Kristie and a father to a seven-year-old little girl, Grohman says he’s loving life in the kitchen and relishing his time outside of it as well. “I’m enjoying myself very much in this town.”
Wanna go? Meridian is located at 411 South Marshall Street, WS. Open for dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, 4:30-10:00pm. MeridianWS.com