You met him at Food Gang (years before it closed), saw another side of him on Top Chef, and get messy with him every now and then at Bulldog BBQ on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 154th Street. But who is Howie "Bulldog" Kleinberg: fine dining doyen or rib wrangler? "I'm not a barbecue guru," he admits. "I just did this because I felt it was needed."
"Sometimes people take food too seriously. Nine times out of ten I would rather be in shorts and a T-shirt." Guess that makes sense, since he confesses an attraction to previously frozen White Castle burgers reheated in a microwave. Chefs. Geesh!
And now insiders tell us he's reinventing himself one more time by opening another resto, Bulldog Café, next Wednesday at 19048 NE 29th Ave. Many details haven't been released just yet, but Short Order was slipped a brief description: "It's a cafe featuring contemporary light fare: salads, sandwiches, and frozen yogurt." That oughta get some tails wagging.
New Times: What was your most embarrassing cooking-related moment?
Howie Kleinberg: Wow, I've had a few. Recently I was doing an event and we had a malfunction on one of our burners. It shot up -- we almost had a fire on our station. We had to bust out the fire extinguisher. I was in good company of chefs. It took me a couple minutes where I had to go outside and collect myself before serving food again.
If you came back in your next life as a food item, what would it be and how would you like to be served?
I guess I would be bacon... served in a really good BLT.
If you could serve a meal to any famous person, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you cook for him/her?
It would probably be Thomas Keller
. He's definitely one of my culinary idols. I would do my scallops with gnocchi--one of my signature dishes. I saute the gnocchi in oil and get a nice crispiness on it.
What food/utensil/technique still confounds you?
Calf's liver. That's one flavor I could never get into my "likes."
What was your best or worst dining experience?
in New York. It was like a religious experience, an awakening. I had never really eaten at a Michelin star restaurant. Seeing someone so masterful with technique, sourcing the greatest ingredients, putting three things on a plate, two of them being salt and olive oil, and just put out something that would blow your mind. And the restraint of a chef. And you know Eric Ripert
is one of the best chefs of our time.
He did a tasting menu for us. I remember two of the dishes. There was a tuna carpaccio -- with bluefin tuna, and underneath it was a really thin crustini with a spread of foie gras terrine that was melting into it. And the other dish that blew my mind was a little custard served in the eggshell with some caramel on top of it and really coarse sea salt, that was probably a sel gris, the way that it set off the custard... It was unbelievable.
What's your favorite soundtrack/song to cook to?
A lot of that depends on what I'm cooking. Because when I cook here and I'm in the barbecue restaurant, I always think Allman Brothers, that Southern Rock genre. If I'm doing burgers in a gastropub, it would be more punk rock. High end would be classical music.
If you weren't a chef, you'd be...?
A football coach. I was actually in school to get a teaching degree to be a football coach. But I needed to work when I was 19 years old and my mother--she's always been in the business, she's a party planner--knew someone at the Intercontinental and they got me into a kitchen and that's how it all started.
What's the hottest thing a date could whip up for you in the kitchen and why?
My first reaction to that is anything! Anytime someone wants to cook for me, it doesn't even matter. Don't be nervous to cook for me. It's great to be on the giving end of hospitality, but it's also very nice to be on the receiving end.
What's your favorite junk food and where do you get it?
White Castle hamburgers. You can't really get them down here, but they do sell pretty good frozen ones. I wouldn't say you'd confuse 'em for the fresh ones, but they're definitely eight out of ten.
Please complete this sentence: Never trust a chef who/that...?
Never trust a skinny chef... because I'm a chubby chef! (I might as well work it to my own advantage.) We are the kings of indulgence.