Fresh Chef: Meet Dan Carlton of Nine on Nine
By Abby DiBenedetto
It’s mid-morning on a random rainy Wednesday, and I’m walking through Downtown Pittsburgh juggling my unnecessarily large purse, umbrella, and coffee. I arrive to my destination, Nine on Nine, and realize the restaurant is already bustling. Cooks, servers, and managers are prepping the eatery for the busy day ahead as I stand, waiting to meet Executive Chef Dan Carlton. The first of the lunch crowd is just starting to trickle in when he greets me from the kitchen. I finish off my coffee, and we sit down to discuss food, life, and everything nice.
What motivated you to become a chef?
I kinda just kept falling into it. Originally, I went to school at Penn State University, and while I was there, I got a job cooking at this little place called Billy’s Roadhouse. It was a bar and grill, and I cooked typical bar food, but I enjoyed it. I was always cooking, even when I was little, but never thought of it as a profession. Eventually, I ended up dropping out of college and going to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh.
How did you end up at Nine on Nine?
I used to work at Casbah, and I actually just came here for dinner one night — about four of five years ago — and the dinner blew me away. After that, I had to try to apply and get a job here. And I’m here now.
What’s your philosophy for the menu?
We do whatever we want — we have a good, young kitchen crew, and we’re trying have fun. A lot depends on what’s fresh and what’s available for the day. Our menus change daily and we try and do new, interesting things. We shoot ideas for different dishes around a lot, and then we’ll play with a dish for weeks before we put it on the menu, until we get it just right. Our chef’s tasting menu is eight courses, and we also have vegetarian options. It’s an adventure — not just dinner — it’s a whole experience.
Where do you get your food inspiration?
Everywhere. I do a lot of reading, sometimes it comes from that. Then other times I’ll be out to eat, or just watching television, and I’ll get an idea. Presentation inspires me and is important to me, that’s something we really try to work on here — we want to make everything on the plate look gorgeous.