For the Service Bar Chef, the best food evokes fond memories, which is why he'll go to great lengths to achieve culinary perfection
The laborious process Avishar Barua employs in making French fries at Service Bar has already cost him three cooks.
It’s a three-day process that involves cutting the potatoes to a particular size (more on that later), brining them in a basic solution, steam-baking them in a Combi Oven at 192 degrees for 45 minutes, chilling them in a walk-in cooler overnight, deep-frying them at 266 degrees for eight-and-a-half-minutes, freezing them and then, finally, frying them again at 375 degrees before serving.
And this entire process starts with cutting each fry to a uniform size of three-quarters of an inch, which, for months after opening, the kitchen staff did by hand, since the largest available industrial fry-cutter blade was three-eighths of an inch, which also explains why a trio of cooks left the restaurant due to the endless repetitive hours spent precisely cutting spuds. (Service Bar has since machined a custom blade that allows an employee to perfectly cut a full potato with a single pull of a lever.)
At this point, it should be noted that French fries are not offered on the menu at Service Bar, but rather are served as accompaniment to the restaurant’s burger.
Regardless, the side speaks to the level of thoughtfulness, craft, inventiveness, precision and, yes, insanity that Barua and Co. pour into each aspect of a dish, the team always choosing the more difficult path if the end result is even a fraction better than taking the slightest shortcut.
“Ferran Adria (of famed Spanish restaurant El Bulli), his thing was, ‘What is the most important ingredient?’ He’d say, ‘This is the best squid from Spain. You’ve got some Romanesco peppers, and you’ve got some cauliflower. Which is the best of the three?’” said Barua, who cut his teeth at WD-50 and Mission Chinese in New York and 1808 American Bistro and Veritas locally before landing at Service Bar in 2017. “And everyone goes, ‘Obviously it’s the squid.’ And he says, ‘No. Everything is equally important because you’re serving it.’”
Though Barua is the chef at Service Bar, he doesn’t have the ego many associate with the role. He repeatedly referred to himself as a cook, and said he’d taken to working the kitchen’s fry station in part because he derives pleasure out of making perfectly browned, griddled burgers. Indeed, reached about being named Best Chef, he initially replied, “I think you guys got the wrong person. I’m just young, stupid, busy, tired and trying to solve new problems every day,” which suits the restaurant’s tagline: “humbly innovative.”
Fittingly, Barua is quick to praise both his team and the Columbus culinary community at large; the menu at Service Bar features elements that riff on dishes offered up by the likes of Hong Kong House and El Arepazo, in addition to the popular Cheesy Brisket Crunch, which was inspired by Taco Bell’s Cheesy Gordita Crunch and landed the chef a future invite to play around in the fast-food giant’s test kitchen.
Collectively, the menu is designed to ignite all senses — multiple dishes feature meat served on-the-bone to force diners to actually touch their food — and beyond that, the memory.
“The best food you’ve eaten in your entire life might not be the ‘best food’ you’ve eaten, but maybe you were with someone, or you had a moment,” Barua said. “If you have a memory tied to the food, it does make it taste better, and that’s what we try to capture.”