Five Questions: Marigold Kitchen’s New Chef (Plus an Exclusive First Look at the Menu!)

Are we finally getting scientific? Robert Halpern has cooked with some of the molecular gastronomy greats — including Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago — but now, at 33, he’s moved back to his native Philadelphia to take over as chef-owner of Marigold Kitchen on September 1st. Though the name will remain the same, the food will, once again, be quite different from what it’s ever been before. (See our exclusive first look at the menu following the Q&A.)

What appealed to you about the Marigold Kitchen space?
I was looking for a BYOB specifically — they are so popular here. And, of course, there are financial reasons — for me, obviously, but also for the customer. It’s better to bring a good bottle of wine you bought at the State Store than pay a 400 percent markup. Also, I like West Philly politically; it’s open-minded and liberal and diverse. We have a lot in common, West Philly and me.

You’re a new owner with a very different menu. Why not change the name to reflect that?
We did have a name picked out when we were considering other places: Alchemy. But I’ve loved Marigold Kitchen over the years, and it has such a great reputation. I want to keep it going and honor all the hard work Steve [Cook] has put in it over the last five years.

How would you describe your food?
It’s tough for me to describe. It’s a combination of traditional and modern — modern technique applied to traditional dishes and flavors. For example, I like to dehydrate things. I use certain modern ingredients like soy lecithin, to emulsify, and Activia, which is like a meat glue. I like to manipulate texture and give people new experiences.

I spy a few “slow braised” items on the menu. Is this code for sous vide, where food is vacuum-packed and cooked to a specific temperature in a circulating water bath?
Yes. The pork belly will be cooked sous vide, and probably the rib eye, too. It’s a great technique — I love to cook fish that way, too.

I know you resist the term “molecular gastronomy,” but that’s what people think when they see terms like “foam,” “froth,” and “essence.” Why use these terms and techniques in your cooking?
It’s really exciting to try new things. And when I go out to eat, I like to try food that’s not easy to make at home. Actually the techniques are easy, easier than classic French techniques, but most people don’t have the specialty ingredients and equipment you need to make this stuff.

Marigold Kitchen’s New Menu

Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon “Martini”
Housemade Mozzarella, Lavender, Toasted Pepitas, Watermelon Radish

Curried Buttermilk Bisque
Cucumber-Peanut Relish, James River Oyster, Cilantro Oil

Late Summer Cobb Salad
Point Reyes Blue, Bacon Toffee, Quail Egg, Avocado, Ice Wine Vinaigrette

Slow Braised Pork Belly
Creamy Grits, Pickled Carrots, Pickled Fennel, Spicy Caramel Froth

Pan Fried Sardines
Apple Salad, Saffron-Nutmeg Vinaigrette, Crouton

Wild Mushrooms in Parchment
Fresh Parsley, Garlic, Yuzu, Shallot

Pan Seared Diver Scallops
Black Truffle, Sweet Potato Puree, Essence of Pineapple

Slow Baked Salmon
Vanilla Croquettes, Baby Beets, Fennel, Berries, Housemade Yogurt

Crispy Onion Crusted Halibut
Consomme of Tomato, Local Basil, Baby Artichokes

“Pork, Beans & Beer”
White Bean Puree, Proscuitto Crisps, Brussel Sprouts, Guinness Foam

Feijoida Beans, Herbed Chimmichurri, Collard Greens, Garlic

Seared Squab Breast
Chocolate Ragout, Raisin Puree, Braised Shiitakes, Spinach Compression

Avocado in the style of Foie Gras
Seared Avocado, Fruit & Vegetable Medley, Chilled Almond Broth

Tasting Menu: $55
Chef’s Tasting Menu: $95