To The Aperture’s Jordan Anthony-Brown, Creating a Great Menu Is Like Taking a Photo

The Cincinnati native chef on food, photography, and cooking during the pandemic.

Illustration by Chris Danger

Construction on this chef’s forthcoming restaurant The Aperture, in Walnut Hills, was delayed when the pandemic struck. In the meantime he has found new ways to keep serving customers as they wait for his doors to open, namely through creative, socially distanced pop-up dining events.

What inspired the concept for The Aperture?

The Aperture is kind of a photography reference. It’s related to the idea of light and that things kind of need to be illuminated and in balance…. I’ve shot many rolls [of film] over the years. With film there’s a little more focus, more intention, more understanding the settings around you and understanding how everything around you impacts the final product. That was kind of the loose beginning inspiration for The Aperture, just understanding that idea of balance. And that’s what it stands for: illumination and balance. Illumination in terms of making people feel warm, welcome, comfortable, satiated, safe, and balance in providing a balanced experience. The big thing for me with that is…those center points focus not just [on] guests but internally, too. We want to make sure all our employees feel happy, safe, and comfortable.

How does that translate to the menu?

The menu focuses on two [regions], one of which is the Mediterranean—think Italy, Greece, going up into the Levantine, Israel, some of those Middle Eastern influences—and then the other is the American South…. What we want to do is to make sure the menu is balanced, it’s focused. At any given point we’re really not going to have more than 13 or 14 savory dishes on the menu at one time. And that allows us to really make sure that everything that hits the table is well thought out, simple, something where we put a lot of work in behind the scenes.

Why are pop-ups the right venue for The Aperture for the time being?

[Pop-ups] accomplish a few goals. The first of which is just making sure that you’re cooking…. At the end of the day, opening a restaurant is a huge prospect and to the extent that you can test your product to the market and see how comfortable and familiar [it is], and how people react to it [the better]. The more information you can gather that way, the better informed you can be…. If you just put stuff on the table that nobody’s really asking for, that doesn’t make anybody happy. At the end of the day, we’re in the hospitality industry and our goal is to make our guests happy and to keep our employees working in a way that they feel creative.

How have you been dealing with promoting and opening a restaurant during the pandemic?

We’re really just in a stage right now where we’re observing and gathering information, and frankly we’re fortunate in the sense that…we had very little to gain by just pushing forward with no level of certainty of where things were going to go with the pandemic, and realistically, we had very little to lose by slowing down…. As things open up a little bit more we want to stay on the safe side, but we want to look at some opportunities to continue to cook and get back out there in whatever way we can where people feel comfortable and safe.

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