Ones to Watch 2014: Josh Poletti

Josh Poletti

Why Watch Him: His culinary journey began before most are allowed near the stove.
Age: 28

From his first job at Imo’s Pizza to serving as Josh Galliano’s right-hand man at The Libertine 12 years later, all Josh Poletti ever wanted to do was cook. In between, he studied at the Oregon Culinary Institute and worked at Portland’s esteemed Bluehour Restaurant. Locally, he interned at Harvest and cooked at Niche, Dressel’s Public House, Araka and Monarch. Here, Poletti explains how to stand the heat in the hottest of kitchens.

My earliest memory of cooking is when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I started cooking pancakes, bacon and eggs for my mom while watching Saturday morning cartoons in the background. I’d serve her breakfast in bed.

Penn Station Subs set the course. I had a great work ethic for a 16-year-old and the manager said, “I’ll make a restaurant guy out of you.” But what really got me to do this professionally was working at Il Bel Lago when I was 18. Carmelo’s [Gabriele, owner of Il Bel Lago] mother-in-law Rosa taught me old-style Italian. She cooked for me all the time – how to do it the right way, give it a lot of love. She was the best inspiration for me early on.

Being a sous chef, it’s a job you have to love. It can be exhausting sometimes, but I have to keep pushing no matter what. I don’t hold anything back. I don’t do much else. All I really do is cook and read cookbooks. I put everything I have into what I do. It can be stressful, but that’s what keeps it interesting.

I love Josh [Galliano]. He’s a great mentor. My two years at Monarch were very intense; I was still green. I’ve never had a chef be so hard on me to make things perfect. But it was tough love; we got along really well. After about a year, he softened up a bit. I’m a very intense person myself, so I appreciate it. It’s like a pirate ship in the kitchen. There’s a lot of swearing, and it’s mainly me.

It doesn’t matter if a critic* or big shot is in the room. We don’t do anything different. Just mind your Ps and Qs; do the food the same way. Everybody is a VIP.

* Speaking of critics, this interview was conducted by phone to maintain the anonymity of Michael Renner, our New and Notable reviewer.