Q&A: Inside the Market Italian Village

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

The owners of The Crest, brothers Abed and Ali Alshahal, opened The Market Italian Village in late July with a rather lofty goal-to offer a little something for everyone at all times of day. What was once a rundown corner convenience store is now a sleek 2,000-square-foot gray-and-red marketplace where diners can grab coffee, get a quick lunch or sit down for dinner after 5 p.m. Those on the go can snag prepared foods and some dry-good groceries.

Chef Julian Menaged admits The Market is a busy space. "It can be overwhelming when you walk in-there's a deli case with all these imported meats and cheeses, a cooler with compound butters, beer and wine," he says. "There's a lot going on here."

We caught up with Menaged, who's been charged with giving this multifaceted space a cohesive culinary direction.

When The Market opened, the plan was to offer a locally sourced, European-influenced menu. How has that idea evolved?

We use a lot of product from The Crest. Dustin [Brafford, The Crest chef] has helped me connect with farmers. We still want the food to have that European feel. We make our pizza dough. We make our own cured dry sausage. We're trying to find that fine line between high-end and casual. I want it to be more than a once-a-month location. Take the Baked Feta. Instead of doing a fondue, we use our house tomato sauce, and we cook and serve it in a cast-iron skillet. So it feels interactive for the diner. We'll do chicken osso buco, applying that classic technique to chicken instead of a game bird. A lot of cooks don't put enough energy into cheaper cuts of meat-it's all about how you execute it.

Sounds like you have a classical cooking background? I actually started washing dishes at La Chatelaine in Worthington and just picked it up from there. I asked a lot of questions. I tried to work faster and harder. I loved the fast pace of the kitchen. It's like a bunch of pirates working on a ship.

I'm self-taught. I worked under a lot of good chefs at Flatiron and The Refectory (where he worked the last seven years). A lot of it was classical training with some German and Spanish influence. I was really focused on learning the technique. Now, I'm developing my own style.

What is that style? Simple food executed well. I want my food to be approachable and technique-driven. I was really excited about starting from ground zero at The Market and working for a family that is doing some cool things in the city. I want to continue to grow.

Speaking of family-was there a lot of cooking at home growing up? And does that influence your style? It definitely does. I was born and raised in New York and moved here when I was 13. My mother is Puerto Rican, and my father is Syrian. With Puerto Rican dishes, they do a lot of fricassee and tomato sauces, and they use everything. There's no waste from snout to tail. [Come fall and winter], we'll do hearty stews with a bunch of meat, and maybe a really good gumbo.