Ivan J. Sheehan, Associate Editor/Food and Drink for Northern Ohio Live, wrote a short piece on me in their February '08 issue. Here's what he wrote:
Home Haute Cuisine
We've all dreamed of having a five-star dinner party in the comfort of our own home--blithely working the room with engrossing witticisms, free to be the life of the party as a chef sweats it out in the kitchen. Fortunately, one veteran chef was dreaming of the same thing: making your gourmand party dreams com true in your kitchen.
During his fourth trip to france [I probably misinformed Ivan on this point, it was my fifth, but who's counting!?], and his first stay in Provence, Ben Fambrough, the chef who helped make Sans Souci in the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel an award-wining restaurant, had an epiphany of sorts. "I blame this trip--in part-- for my recent life change," says Fambrough. "I returned to Cleveland and worked with my head somewhere far across the Atlantic. I could still see the color, and sense the heat, smells and tastes. The realities of day-to-day work diminished in importance to me. I sensed something greater for myself."
Embracing his emotions, Fambrough left his post as executive chef of Sans Souci and created Petit Soleil, a catering operation that allows him to work directly with clients to create specialized dinners and events, a venture in which he can pour all his "culinary passion, life experience and joy," he says. The chef's culinary inspiration comes from comes from places like Fance and San Fransisco, and culinary icons Daniel Boulud and Jacques Pepin. He finds seasonal illumination in the spring, citing ramps, morels and peas; summer produce, namely tomatoes, corn and chanterelles; and fall, incorporating cepes [boletes], apples, hard squashes and warm spices into his dishes. "Also, I really enjoy Indian food and using some Indian spice sensibilities," he says. "They are underutilized, and--while I have often derided fusion cuisine--I do plan to use some of these elements in my food." He is also excited to incorporate traditionally savory items in dessert preparations. "In France, I ate a chocolate and red bell pepper mousse duet that really pushed the palate," he says. "Of course, now familiar examples can be found in the variety of chocolate truffles: chili, cayenne, curry."
While his head may be in another country, Fambrough's heart is in Ohio. He has been a longtime friend of the The Chef's Garden in Huron, and the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio, often using their produce and participating in many of their fund-raising events and other events. "I am an admirer of their mission, their simultaneously innovative and ancient approach to farming," he says. "They are not afraid to harness technology, and they apply it in sustainable ways without manipulating the earth and what it will yield...what they do goes well beyond the current notion and legal definition of 'organic'."
It is Fambrough's flair for the exotic, grounded in local, personal and approachable foundation, that deftly guides his creations, and what he hopes to deliver with Petit Soleil, and later with a contemporary French and Mediterranean restaurant of the same name that he plans to open. "I am a one-man show that values the close chef-guest relationship." For more information, visit his blog at [you're already there!]
--Ivan J. Sheehan