All it takes is the smell of slightly charred tortillas to transport Kyle Nottingham back to his roots.
His great grandmother’s kitchen was the setting for his fondest food memory, watching her slow-roasted beans and toasted tortillas over an open flame to produce a char that he can still smell today.
That was his introduction to the role that rustic plays in the epicurean experience and it’s in that spirit that rustic cuisine defines his new menu at Commoner & Co., 6960 E. Sunrise Drive.
“To me, rustic is about food that takes us back to a moment in time, a special place, a memory, and I think this is a pivotal part of the dining experience,” said Nottingham, chef and partner with Ares Collective, which owns and operates Commoner & Co. and its sister restaurant Prep & Pastry. “Rustic is about not being too sophisticated, pretentious, or manipulative; it requires a real respect for food.”
Rustic is now on display with his pan-seared trout, with couscous, mushrooms, a blistered grape and parsley salad and briny olives.
“I grew up doing lots of fishing and foraging, and my stepfather would take me fishing every chance he had so we could explore the streams together and learn where food comes from,” he said. “This dish reminds me of that time, that just-caught-trout moment that we’ve dressed up nicely with some earthy tones and a bright finish.”
Another rustic exhibit is his mac and cheese, with local chorizo, house-made macaroni, crispy shallots, chile croutons, and a béchamel sauce with cheddar, jack, mozzarella, Havarti and Velveeta cheeses.
The dish takes him back to where he first started in the business, as a dishwasher and then a cook at Montana Avenue, Nottingham recalled.
“I worked for a chef who showed me that good food shouldn’t be complicated, and I really looked up to that,” he said.
Nottingham told me that much of his professional inspiration comes from Argentinian celebrity chef Francis Mallman, and it’s Mallman’s work with “open fire in the elements” that yielded the idea for his New York Strip.
“This dish is the epitome of rustic cuisine,” he said, “with roasted and charred beef, sliced and served over smashed potatoes that we confit in beef fat, and topped with a tomatillo salsa.”
I guess we all have Mallmann to thank for inspiring this beef fat moment. I hope the memory lasts a lifetime.
The one dish on Nottingham’s new menu that he said “best reflects who I am” from a rustic perspective is the braised chicken thigh with house-made fettuccini, olive and caper tapenade, red pepper romesco and goat cheese.
“I worked at Canyon Ranch for a while, and one of the chef’s dishes that spoke to me was a broken-style stew with braised chicken, even the aromas were enough to take it to an elevated level,” he said.
His version of the chicken marks that memory with some “bright flavors that produce a warm feeling to finish it off.”
Nottingham comes to Ares Collective following a stint at Miraval Arizona Resort and Spa. What was the biggest part of his transition from spa food to comfort food?
“I can use a little bit of butter right now, a little duck fat,” he joked. “I get some toys back in my repertoire.”
Here’s to rustic cuisine, and to Kyle Nottingham’s new toy box.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.