Josh Moore defies stereotypes the moment he walks into a kitchen in Louisville, Ky., or anywhere else.
It’s not the tribal tattoos emerging from the seams of his white coat nor his linebacker stature that give him away. It’s his food.
No formal culinary education, “just the school of hard knocks,” sustained Moore through 20 years of making a name for himself in an industry he calls home.
His role as executive chef, executive pastry chef and partner at Volare Italian Ristorante in Louisville is the fulfillment of a dream born long ago.
Ambition is the answer
Moore is young. At 34 he’s approaching his tenth year at Volare, but the idea of one day running his own restaurant dates back much earlier.
“My mom says she would bring me home from preschool and sit me down in front of cartoons and I would change the channel to a cooking show. So it was kind of just born into me,” he recalls.
What seems to have accompanied that innate longing is his drive. While most kids were playing football and hanging out in parking lots, Moore was icing and slicing cakes.
Oh, he had the talent and physique to play football in high school, enjoyed the excitement and camaraderie of teamwork, but it took him away from his real passion: becoming a chef.
“I get asked all the time what I would do if I wasn’t a chef,” he says today. “I don't know how to answer because there’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted to do other than this.”
As a 14-year-old, homework was the least of Moore’s worries as he charted his future by working at a nearby Italian restaurant after school, eventually tackling two jobs in addition to his studies.
“I’d go to the [Wildwood] Country Club and basically do pastries and then I’d leave there and go to Porcini, in Louisville, to work the salad station and sauté,” he says.
“There was nothing better for me. I couldn't wait to get out of school so I could do what I loved to do.”
A shared pride
A trailblazer in a tough industry, Moore picked two of the most labor-intensive trades and brought to life consumers’ burgeoning desire to eat local. A farmer and a chef, he didn’t take the easy way out. Instead he made a difference, something that’s rewarded him as well as his patrons.
Perhaps the most talked about theme in his career is rooted—and produced—from his desire to deliver fresh ingredients to customers. Buying a 110-year-old farmhouse and acreage with partner Lindsay nearly a decade ago brought on the idea of a little garden to grow some items for the menu.
A first year’s dozen tomato plants turned into 600, and his now two-acre “garden” boasts a spring assortment of cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and herbs. Summer favorites include eggplant, peppers and cucumbers, along with those faithful tomatoes that recently yielded 100 pounds per day.
“Everybody always asks, ‘So, when do you sleep?’ and my answer is, ‘Winter,’” he jokes.
Moore’s never been one to shy away from hard work, something in common with the ranchers across the country who supply high-quality beef for his restaurant.
“Knowing the hard work that goes into it, just like I know the hard work that goes into being a farmer, my hat’s off to them,” he says. “It’s not an easy industry as a whole. It takes so many elements, partners and people to get a plate of finished food on a table.”
Moore takes it a step further by delivering his farm to your table.
At home he uses an antique 1950s Ford to till the soil, and hauls five-gallon buckets of water by hand. But put him in a kitchen and he’ll delicately craft sugar art or carve a sculpture out of ice.
Mornings on the farm are spent weeding, planting and loading up produce before the 40-minute drive from Taylorsville, Ky., to town and the restaurant.
Italy, with a Southern charm
A staple within Louisville’s prominent food scene, Volare is inviting. Elegant, yet lively, its old-world ambience of burnished wood and exposed brick partners with a four-sided bar and a floor-to-ceiling wine rack. While a mural of Venice hangs in the balcony and live jazz music flows through the dining room, it’s the menu that’s most appealing. Whether shrimp and grits with a touch of polenta, or roasted duck topped with raisins and toasted almonds, the cuisine channels traditional Italian with a bit of a Southern flare.
But if left up to Moore, his recommendation is the ribeye. Simple and classic, he’d take it as his last meal.
In a box of steaks he looks for consistency and quality, as delivered by the Certified Angus Beef ® brand and a key to Volare’s beef sales growth of 58% this year.
Beef. If you happen to miss the steer tattoo on his forearm, he quips, “It’s obviously a passion of mine.”
Inspired by an 18th-Century butcher’s chart, Moore’s been known to pull up his sleeve to educate guests on where their cut of meat originated.
But humor aside, the chef has one word for the life that allows him to be near his family, raise five-year-old son Gibson on the farm, and live out his dream: “Blessed.”
“It’s crazy how that worked out but it does work,” he says, wearing the hat of farmer and chef. “They really go hand in hand. As consuming as it is, I wouldn't give it up.”