Chewing the Fat
Johnny Orr on Relish
The owner of a new cheese store and restaurant talks shop
By Gwyneth Doland
Johnny Orr is the owner of a new cheese shop and restaurant called Relish (8019 Menual NE, near Flying Star). Orr came to Albuquerque in part because he could afford a whole year's rent here for the same price as a month's rent in New York City, where he worked in several well-known restaurants.
What is your dream restaurant?
I have two dreams. I'd either like to take over an entire strip mall and have a wine shop, a deli, a cheese market ... a place you'd go when you're planning a dinner party—or I want to reinvent tapas ... here in America when we entertain we put out bowls of Doritos but I'd like to use all of our great ingredients and make a place where you really can eat tapas-style. People can really try a little of this and a little of that.
Where do you get your cheese?
We are getting most of them through a company out of New York, they mostly come from the East Coast. We're only making mozzarella now but I want to make buratta—it's mozzarella on the outside but inside it's either mascarpone or a thin cottage cheese. I also want to make ricotta and ricotta salata. I plan to start curing our own corned beef too.
How many kinds of cheese do you carry?
Right now we have 40 but my dream list has 55. It's been tough getting our ingredients here. A lot of the fresh cheeses like Reblochon and vacherin that have a shelf life of only about a week, those are tough to get. I'm pretty happy with our hard cheeses and we have a good selection of the blues. We got a Gorgonzola dolce, a mascarpone that they impregnate with the Gorgonzola mold. That cheese I would really only put on a cheese plate. It's too fine to cook with. I'd serve it with pears or grapes, maybe a sangria or a nice, crisp white wine.
Do you offer tastes of all your cheeses?
I'm trying to get people to taste everything.
Are they shy?
Yeah, I think they are. Even simple cheeses like Boursin [a mild and mellow, creamy cheese], I'll spread some on a piece of bread and some people will sniff it like, "hmm, I don't know."
You worked at a number of well-known restaurants in New York and went to culinary school upstate but I can tell from your accent that you're not from New York.
[Laughs], No, I'm originally from Iowa.
How did you get from Iowa to New York to here?
I'm in business here with my best friend. We all split after high school. I went to school for horticulture in River Falls, Wisconsin and then I went down to the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale. I love gardening and I wanted to own my own nursery originally but throughout those years I was cooking. I devoted two years to horticulture school but I've been cooking all my life. The past eight or nine years I've just been working towards opening my own restaurant.
You also serve lunch and dinner there, including sandwiches and salads. Are you doing more cheese business or more lunch business?
I'm not selling a whole lot of cheese right now. We're doing a lot of lunch mostly. We're looking into getting our beer and wine license so I think that will help.
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