Pop-Up Restaurant prince…
Gene Philbin simply wants everyone to enjoy his food. The 32-year-old chef is currently balancing his full-time position as a sous chef at Marywood University, his life as a married man and the busy body and brain behind Peculiar Culinary Co. Born and raised in West Avoca, Philbin will host his first Peculiar event, a pop-up restaurant, later this month at Jefferson Park in Pittston. His inaugural attempt at a pop-up restaurant sold out within three days of its announcement, even before Philbin had the opportunity to put the menu together. A graduate of Lackawanna Community College and The Culinary Institute of America, Philbin hopes the pop-up restaurant will showcase his unique culinary approach and give more people the opportunity to fall in love with his interesting cuisine. From dishes such as duck served three ways, salmon tar tar and pork cheeks, to good old-fashioned milkshakes and burgers, he loves to cook it all with his distinct style. Meet Chef Gene Philbin…
How did you get into cooking?
From all of my aunts in West Pittston; that’s all they did. They would cook and can tomatoes and they were hunched over the stove all day. I would go to my Aunt’s for a slumber party. She would be making marinara sauce, or “Sunday gravy,” as she called it. I thought I was being a little brat and I started putting seasonings in it when she wasn’t around. When she returned and grabbed her spices, I felt badly and told her I already seasoned it. She tasted it, said it was good and told me it only needed some basil. Ever since then I liked cooking.
Did you know that cooking was something you wanted to pursue?
No. In high school I was all over the place. There was a part of me that wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps, but I knew nothing about being an electrician. Part of me liked working on computers and graphic design. I almost entered the priesthood, then I had a change of heart. Then I wanted to learn how to cook.
What is the Peculiar Culinary Co.?
It’s hopefully my future and a brand. The original concept was Peculiar Pickling Co., where I wanted to do pickled products; jarred relishes, hot sauces; anything in the jar line. I also have a Peculiar Burger Co., which is my burger concept. The Peculiar Culinary Co. is the umbrella that protects all of them. The hope is that someday it will become a gastropub in northeastern Pennsylvania. I love this area and I want to stay in the area. Right now it’s like a catering, pop-up restaurant and supper club. Trying to change the palettes of a small town one pork belly at a time is the goal.
What is a pop-up restaurant?
The idea started in England. The idea is that a chef or restaurateur with somewhat of a following that has a certain idea or concept will do what they call a pop-up restaurant, which is opening a restaurant for a very short period of time, anywhere from one day to 12 months. I’ve wanted to do one for the longest time. Why not start by feeding the people first and build a clientele and a buzz about it? I put my feelers out on Facebook. For one night only, I’m going to open a restaurant. It might be in a warehouse, shack or my backyard. You’re going to get food and be served. You pay at the end of the night, tip and bring your own booze. I received a lot of positive feedback. I worked and worked and did my homework. I spent countless nights in front of books and the computer. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. I found my spot at Jefferson Park in Pittston. I wanted something simple; something I could decorate myself. I announced the date on a Monday and was sold out on Wednesday with no menu announced.
How did you go about choosing the location?
It’s very close to my house. I picked it selfishly in that it is very close to home and, in a pinch, I could run to my house if something happened. I want the first one to be as awesome as I can get it while making it easy for me to execute it perfectly.
Talk about the atmosphere.
Simple. I want it to a have a simple, cool mood with white table cloths, candles and a casual atmosphere. John Smith is going to perform an hour set. My whole reasoning behind that is because I want to bring as many local things together as possible: art, music and food.
What’s on the menu?
The concept is a gastropub. Basically it’s a bar with upscale bar food in a sense. The idea is taking something like bar food and bringing it up to higher levels. I think the palates in the area are changing. I wanted to play with different molecular techniques and getting into more of the scientific side of the menu. A friend suggested I make the menu “who I am.” I’m more of a rustic simplistic person, but kicked up a few notches. This menu is me and this is my kind of cooking.
How do you plan to make this pop-up restaurant your own?
I want people to eat the food that I create and say “that’s Gene’s cooking. I know that sandwich or burger anywhere. I know Geno’s food.” I want people to want to eat my food.
What are you hoping to do in the future?
I want to do one every two months if at all possible. If it is possible to do it more and get that kind of draw, I’ll do it every month. The goal now is to do it every two months and every two months offer a different menu — not necessarily a different theme because this is the direction that I want to go in; my rustic comfort food, nouvelle techniques here and there, and not pretentious, but fun and different.
What are you expecting?
I know a lot of the people who are coming to this first pop up. I would like my next one to be full of people I don’t know. I want people to come and try something different and be the first chef in northeastern Pennsylvania to do it, which is really exciting. I spent a lot of hours in the kitchen to get to this point and now I want people come and enjoy what I’ve worked so hard to do. I want people to eat my food and
say, “Oh my god! What the hell is in this? It’s so simple, but it’s so good!”
— tom graham
For more information on future events, visit facebook.com/PeculiarCulinaryCompany and @PeculiarCC on Twitter.