“How did I do? This was my first interview,” Chef Rolando Anoceto told me. After sharing with me his journey towards becoming the chef at Railroad House Inn, I was surprised to be the first to publically share his story with the community.
Many people fall into their careers which may start as aspirations and working toward a specific goal. For Chef Rolando, it happened quite differently. “I fell into cooking randomly, almost accidentally,” he says. When he was 16 years of age, he remembers standing up in class and saying “I need a job.” A girl sitting next to him told him about an opening at Cucina del Arte (which means “Kitchen of Art”), a local restaurant which still exists today. It supported local art by displaying paintings on all of its walls. The art changed over frequently giving it a boutique/gallery effect. Rolando started as a food runner but felt connected to the personalities he discovered in the kitchen. It didn’t take long to become intrigued by them. They made him feel intimidated but he looked up to and admired them strongly; he admired their control and their passion for food and wanted to be just like them. Rolando says he looked inward and realized he had those same characteristics his entire life, and it all at once clicked.
Rolando asked if he could help the chefs and they happily obliged. “I told them, ‘I want to do whatever I can do to get in the kitchen.'” Rolando recalls. He started helping make their soup with veal stock, which has now transformed into a nostalgic aroma for Rolando. He eventually spent all his working hours in the kitchen and became an expo for two years. (An expo is the person who makes sure the food is delivered from kitchen to table as quickly and efficiently as possible.)
So how did he end up in Pennsylvania? He and his wife, Hillary, had a summer romance for years in Florida, and he eventually moved to Lititz where her family is from. He gained even more experience in the restaurant world by working at some local places like The Belvedere, Gibraltar and Penn Square Grille. Two of the most influential people in his life, Kyle Lucas and Carl Vitale, he met through having these positions. “They took me from a cook to a chef over a period of a few years and brought me to the level I am at now,” Rolando explains. When he was a server at Penn Square Grille, he was informed that Joey Bowden from Railroad House Inn was in need of a chef. Rolando reminisced, “I went for it. I called Joey, went in and was totally digging the concept. Once I saw the place I was all in for it. It’s just amazing here.”
Growing up in Palm Beach, Florida, Rolando was enveloped in the cultivating world of agriculture. His father grew several Cuban root vegetables, plantains and what he describes as “some really strange fruits.” The historical Railroad House Inn features a yard and a garden (which is just now starting to sprout beans, herbs and other edibles for the restaurant to use). “For my first chef position, it’s all that I could have ever hoped for,” Rolando says. In Lititz, where he now resides, he and his wife have a 10 by 24 garden which they have tended to for almost 4 years. The Railroad House Inn garden will be growing edibles such as lemon cucumber, a variety of carrots, heirloom melon and both cold season and summer season greens. The chef enjoys foraging his own ingredients to use in flavorful dishes. Rolando and Hillary’s son, four-year-old Adrian, helps out in the garden and loves to bake with his mom. Maybe Adrian will be cut out for the kitchen one day since he and his father have a lot of the same personality traits. Rolando described his son as “strong-willed and a little temperamental, but very kind.”
The first thing Chef Rolando does when he steps into the kitchen is prioritize his day. He turns up some music, either reggae or metal, and gets started by writing down all of the tasks that need to be completed followed by delegating these tasks to his kitchen employees. Each day is prioritized in a way that maintains freshness from kitchen to table. Although Rolando is good at divvying up his kitchen tasks to the employees, he always has his hands in everything to make sure everything is right. “People who have worked with me know how I am. They may laugh and say I’m obsessive, but it translates to happy guests and that’s what we have here,” he explains. The kitchen loves to have fun, joke and laugh but they are always pushing themselves. Everyone is on board with making the food as perfect as Rolando wants it. So, when you have your first meal at Railroad House Inn, you can expect it to be insatiable and beautifully plated.
The Railroad House staff is very excited for their upcoming menu change this Wednesday, April 15. They will be changing over to a new menu that is fit for spring taste buds. The menu will include a ramp chimichurri atop new short rib with Israeli couscous, spring vegetables and a sherry reduction sauce. Ramps are wild onions that grow in mountainous regions. Chef Rolando brings his ramps in from the west coast to pickle and preserve for future dishes as their growing season is short-lived.
The spring menu will also include Rolando’s version of a strawberry rhubarb cake. The rhubarb is baked into a crème fraîche cake and stacked into a layered tower: cake, strawberry jam and matcha buttercream.
Chef Rolando is most excited about his fennel pollen-dusted striped bass with sautéed escarole and frothy oyster cream. My first question was, “What is oyster cream?” and I’m sure yours is, too. The kitchen uses the juice that comes out of the oysters when you shuck them and adds it to sweated-out aromatics like garlic, shallots and thyme with a little wine. The mixture is reduced and cream is added; the sauce takes on the briny ocean flavor of the fresh oysters. Fried oysters are also featured in the dish, adding yet another textural component.
Our interview ended after he gave me a tour of the yard and garden. As you can tell, Chef Rolando Anoceto has a vibrant personality and an incredible work ethic. He doesn’t just “create food,” he pushes the envelope in color, flavor and texture. His innovative combinations are endless and will only become more exciting as new flavors pop up through the soil in the backyard of the restaurant. “I have always been into gardening and plants but also needed an artistic outlet, so I combined both worlds,” Rolando says… and then he laughs, “It’s HOT in both, that’s for damn sure.” Though challenging, Chef Rolando and his team are working extremely hard to do something different in the food world. “Rest doesn’t feel as good when you don’t go to bed hurting.”
Don’t Miss the Pig Roast! On June 20, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. there will be a Pig Roast event. For just $17, guests can enjoy all-you-can-eat pig, rice and beans in the gorgeous yard and patio of the property.