Metropole Executive Chef David Kelsey Jumped on the Chance to Return to Cincinnati


The new executive chef of Metropole returns to Cincinnati with a focus on interesting proteins, but says he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. We sat down with him to chat about his culinary background and how he’s refreshing Metropole’s menu.

Illustration by Chris Danger

Tell me about your culinary background.
This is a second career for me. Back in 2009, I wasn’t happy with where I was—I was working as a CNC programmer at a machine shop—so I decided to make the change and enrolled myself in culinary school here in Cincinnati at the Art Institute. From there everything took off. I got my first restaurant line-cooking job, and then after I graduated from culinary school I got my first executive chef job with Taste of Belgium. I spent a little bit of time with them, moved to California for a little bit and worked out there, then moved back to work with Taste of Belgium again and ended up getting an opportunity with Metropole at 21c. I’m actually celebrating my four-year anniversary with them. At Metropole, I started out as a sous chef and worked my way to chef de cuisine before I took a position as the corporate executive sous chef [in Louisville], which was a traveling position between all the properties. Last October the opportunity to come back to Cincinnati arose and I jumped on it.

What was it about the restaurant industry that made you want to switch?
Food has always been a passion of mine. I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself about food and how it impacts your overall health. When I was a young adult, figuring out that I was going to die at a young age if I kept eating the way I was—which was fast food for every meal. I changed my diet and educated myself on food as nutrition. That’s the most important part of it for me. It’s how we sustain ourselves and how we get our energy and how we heal ourselves—all through food.

What made you want to return to Cincinnati?
I love Cincinnati so much. The community, the people—it’s one of the more beautiful cities I’ve been to.

What changes have you seen since becoming a resident again?
There are a lot of places now. You can find anything. I think it was maybe 2010, 2011 when everything started to kick off in Over-the-Rhine, but I’ve noticed it’s spread out from OTR since then. Not only has the neighborhood continued to grow, but it’s reached into downtown and up into other neighborhoods like Northside and East Walnut Hills.

You were there right when Vine Street was taking off as a food destination.
We opened Taste of Belgium in late 2011, and there was Lavomatic and Senate and then we were kind of that next wave, which was Bakersfield, us, A Tavola. From Liberty to Central and on every sub-street, it’s really grown.

What was your strategy coming in and creating a new menu for Metropole?
I start with a simple idea and see where it takes me. That’s my process. As far as changes, I just focus on making everything taste good. I tried to change things up a little bit as far as how we prepare protein and what surrounds it.

Do you utilize local farmers and artisans?
I try to use them as much as possible, but with three services a day, and we’re in a hotel, so we see a decent amount of volume. It would be great if we could just focus on one service, but we don’t have that luxury. As much as possible we try to use local ingredients. We use local connections to source our chickens, which are farmed in New Vienna. We’re using Urban Stead cheese. Our charcuterie, most of that is made in house, but the cheese is purchased from local farmers in Kentucky and Indiana. Everything we can we try to source local.

What are you most excited for diners to try?
The new summer menu I’m working on right now. I’ve got a couple ideas I’m kicking around, and I’m hoping to have it ready soon.

Were there any dishes you felt like you had to keep on the menu?
I take the it’s not broke, don’t fix it approach. The burnt carrot salad is amazing. Even though we’ve been making it for seven years or whatever, there’s still someone who comes in every day and tries it for the first time. I try to keep that mentality. Even if I’m bored with something, it’s still new and fresh to some people. The steak tartare [is another that] is great and I would never change it. It’s fantastic. I’m fine with leaving a few things there, too, because I get the whole rest of the menu. I like to focus on some of the things some would consider an afterthought. We have duck breast on the menu, and that’s the one where I really try to nail in and be experimental but keep it really interesting for people. Steakhouses and one of the best restaurants in the city, Sotto, surround us, and everybody loves pasta. I don’t want to venture into their territory. I want to focus on other proteins. I love working with seafood, and we get lots of salmon and it’s amazing. And the chicken is amazing. I like to make those more centric to our menu.

What do you think most defines Metropole?
I very rarely get to sit in the dining room, so I don’t always get to experience it the way a diner would, but we really focus on making sure everybody is happy and they leave having a great experience. That’s No. 1 priority for us and it always has been.

Metropole, 609 Walnut St., downtown, (513) 578-6660

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