R.I. chef Nick Rabar chronicles his culinary journey in novel ‘The Cold Side of the Grill’

R.I. chef Nick Rabar chronicles his culinary journey in novel ‘The Cold Side of the Grill’

A local chef has just published his first novel.

These are words I wouldn’t normally expect to say. Chefs don’t write novels. They write cookbooks. Right?

But Nick Rabar, chef and co-owner at Avenue N in Rumford, is not just any guy. He created Jackson Cahill, whose story is told in “The Cold Side of the Grill.” Or is he Jackson Cahill, the character inspired from his personal experience navigating the early days of a culinary career?

Readers can ask Rabar those questions and more after they read the novel, which will be sold in his The Pantry at Avenue N starting tomorrow and in local bookstores in coming weeks.

My first question: when did Rabar have time to write a novel? This guy has been busy, first as the executive chef for the Chow Fun Food Group,which brought him to Rhode Island, and then as co-owner, with wife Tracy Rabar, of Avenue N and its Pantry.

“I started it 10 years ago,” he said, explaining that the book took nearly a decade to finish.

He’s well into the sequel, however. The writing bug has bitten Rabar.

“The Cold Side of the Grill” tells the early years of Cahill’s education and work life from age 15 to 22. Twists and turns at the end of the book certainly made me anxious to learn what happens next to Cahill. So I hope he takes less time to pen his next novel.

Even though Cahill grew up in upstate New York (Rabar is from the Hudson Valley) and went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. (as did Rabar) and ended up in New England, Cahill and Rabar are not one. But they have a lot in common. Cahill did an externship at the imagined Dexter House in Manhattan, run by a celebrity chef. Rabar did his at Main Course, a trendy restaurant in New Paltz, N.Y.

Like Cahill, Rabar showed up cocky and ready to be taken seriously because he was studying at the CIA. What both learned was the humility of doing long days of unglamorous prep work, which included slicing up crates and crates of eggplants for a ’90s dish of eggplant caviar. And at Main Course, the entire kitchen staff was from the CIA.

“Some things in the book have happened in my career, but other things had to be punched up for the sake of drama,” he said.

That was not one of them.

The most fascinating chapters are about what happens behind the scenes in restaurant kitchens, where teams of chefs work in a hierarchal system with defined jobs and a pecking order.

The story is relatable to those who aren’t chefs. Folks in any business can identify with being young and ambitious and not always having a balance between work and life.

Did I mention there is a love story in “The Cold Side of the Grill”? It’s a PG-13 version. But it’s pivotal to the story, just as marriage and fatherhood have been to Rabar, because it reflects how life changes with maturity.

“Cahill is an all-in kind of guy, working seven days, 80 hours a week,” he said. “But at the end, readers will finally start to see some balance.”

Rabar’s struggle starting a restaurant with his wife was a dose of reality captured in some of the emotions of his characters, he added.

“‘The Cold Side of the Grill’ is my love letter to the industry,” Rabar said.

The book is also available now as a paperback, and soon as an e-book, on Amazon.com and its self-publishing company Createspace.com and will be offered on iTunes.

Grilled Margherita Pizza

8 ounces raw pizza dough
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 vine-ripened Roma tomato
1 large mozzarella ovaline
1/2 cup whole milk mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
8 basil leaves, in chiffonade
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

On a well-oiled cutting board, stretch dough by hand until thin. Stretch the dough out with your fingers, not a rolling pin.

Place dough on a well-seasoned, preheated, cast iron stove top grill pan over medium heat and cook until golden brown grill marks form (about 4 minutes). Flip dough and lower heat.

Add sliced mozzarella, sliced Roma tomatoes, shredded cheese and crushed tomatoes.

Cover using an inverted sauté pan or tall pot cover. Cook until cheese has melted.

Remove and top with basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt and pepper, plus a drizzle of olive oil.

Roasted Eggplant Caviar Crostini

2 large eggplants
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Remove skin from eggplant then cut brunoise (finely diced to 1/8 of an inch).

Marinate in the olive oil and salt for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, place marinated eggplant on a sheet tray (nonstick or lined with parchment paper) and bake on low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally to cook evenly. Add garlic and bake for 20 additional minutes. Remove from oven and fold in chopped parsley.

Serve warm with grilled or toasted crostini.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe inspired by “The Cold Side of the Grill” by Nick Rabar

- By Gail Ciampa at Providence Journal -

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