Now that “Yes, Chef” has entered the popular lexicon, sous vides appear on wedding registries, and everyone with a sauté pan and a TikTok account is a recipe developer, it can be difficult to sort the culinary chaff from the hobbyist wheat. It takes more than a splattered set of chef’s whites to prove one’s kitchen bona fides. So SpotOn Hospitality Specialist Davey Rabinowitz carries a chef’s knife in his briefcase. Fileting fish on a busy line is the best way to make a first impression.

Davey’s culinary career has humble origins. He was a dishwasher, or in his words, a “ceramic aquatic engineer.” He immediately immersed himself in restaurant culture, drawn to the heat of the fire and the sense of belonging. In a time of personal upheaval—his parents were going through a divorce—Davey craved the community of restaurants. He changed his major from biotechnology to sustainable foods, then moved to Portland to pursue culinary school.

Davey Rabinowitz prepares food in a bowl.
Davey's kitchen experiences in Portland and Copenhagen shaped the early menu at Bisl.

It was peak Portland: food truck heaven, sustainability, farm-to-table. Davey rubbed shoulders with everyone from iconic chefs Greg Higgins and Vitaly Paley to new up-and-comers Gregory Gourdet and Gabriel Rucker. He got a job under Gregory Gourdet at Departure and found himself in a time loop of culinary school (8:30 am to 2:30 pm), Departure (2:30 pm to 12:30 am), taking the bus back home and waking up the next day to do it all again. “I loved every minute of it,” says Davey. “I loved being exhausted. I loved learning new techniques. The cherry on top was I met my wife working in the Departure kitchen.”

Davey eventually broke the cycle (but not before winning San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef) and moved back to Bozeman, Montana with his wife, Kierst. He joined the private catering game, which he found rich in resources and fancy tools he could use for R&D but weak in other areas. But restaurants are a give and take business, and access to fine ingredients and sophisticated kitchens was crucial to reaching Davey’s ultimate goal: opening a restaurant of his own. 

For Davey, Europe was the missing piece. The restaurant community that beckoned him in the first place came through. Davey became a stagiaire at Relæ in Copenhagen, spending three-day weekends fueling on duck confit baguettes and pints of brown ale at the market and kicking back with chefs from Noma, drinking natty wine and cooking outside. An ocean away, his wife (pregnant with their first child) was locking down the space for their first restaurant.

Davey Rabinowitz prepares food while holding a baby.
For Davey, cooking and fatherhood go hand in hand.

Bozeman beckoned Davey back to open Bisl (“a little bit” in Yiddish, a nod to Rabinowitz’s Jewish heritage). The hallmark of Bisl’s menu was a chicken skin taco. The shell made from Mary’s organic chicken skin, blanched in a 3% salt water bath, cleaned, shaped into a hard shell around aluminum foil, baked in a combi oven at 10% humidity for 19 minutes, trimmed by the Chefs de Partie, eventually filled with a traditional country club chicken salad. Seasonally, the tacos featured rhubarb gel with fresh parsley and ricotta. Always complemented with natural wine, a rarity ten years ago in the Mountain West. 

The chicken skin taco was exquisite, but it was costing him. It wasn’t the ingredients list. It was the labor. The dish would consume his Chefs de Partie for hours at a time, setting them back or forcing Davey to step in and pick up the slack. The chicken skin tacos and natural wine were a far cry from beer and bison burgers. There comes a time in every chef’s career when they must ask themselves: am I trying to replicate my mentors on a plate? What do I really want to eat?

He leaned into comfort foods passed down from his mom, who grew up in the South. It was a practice in adaptation.

“Restaurants have to evolve year after year to stay alive. It’s pure Darwinism at its finest."
Chicken skin tacos being prepared in the back-of-house.
Bisl's chicken skin tacos were a celebrated menu item.

The adaptation continued until the Rabinowitzes had an opportunity to sell Bisl that they couldn’t pass up. They had three young kids, and spending the Pandemic in a restaurant kitchen drained Davey of all the gas he’d had left in the tank. But he’d also seen the importance of online ordering and the potential of hospitality tech. “I’m the former chef who sold out,” Davey quips, “It’s rewarding—I get to work with some remarkable people.”

Davey focuses on new restaurants because he cut the ribbon himself not too long ago. “New restaurants need tech more than ever because people don't know who they are. They need to get their name out there.” Whether a new restaurant needs online ordering or another set of skilled hands on the line, Davey brings all that, and the chef-owner bona fides to know what’s required for adaptation. Raise a glass of natural wine to that.

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