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A New King of the Kitchen at Popolo
Chef Tim Cocheo Is Handpicked to Grow Vermont Restaurant
A community-owned farm-to-table restaurant requires a rare sort of chef. After four years in business, it was a tall order when Popolo tried to find a new personality. In an age of specialization, Popolo serves a broad demographic: earthy but not snooty about it, their farm-to-table philosophy roots the Bellows Falls restaurant in the area. Popolo needed a like-minded advocate. Enter their new chef, Tim Cocheo.
“I grew up watching my grandparents cultivate their gardens,” says Mr. Cocheo, “my grandfather used to make his own wine.” Mr. Cocheo, 38, is of Italian and Croatian ancestry. He grew up on Long Island and learned from his family the pleasure of sharing food with others. He studied history and art in college and then graduated from the French Culinary Institute, now the globally acclaimed International Culinary Center of New York.
After culinary school he worked at some of Manhattan’s finest restaurants – La Caravelle, The Mark, and Wallse. Mr. Cocheo and his wife Taryn whom he met while at college, had their first child and decided to head out of the city to further his career, starting as sous chef at The Wheatleigh in Lenox, MA. Inspired by the experience and by the beauty of the Hudson valley, the young family relocated across the New York border, first to Ancram, where they started the Bottle Tree, and then to Millerton, where, with his wife, Mr. Cocheo built the ballyhooed Number 9 Restaurant. The media was ecstatic; Rural Intelligence beamed, “An inventive and constantly changing menu stocked with fresh-from-the-farm local ingredients… diners find they need to book a table well ahead.” Zagat gave high marks and praise: “A true fine-dining experience… this treasure is being increasingly discovered thanks to Tim Cocheo’s conscientiously prepared New American cuisine.” With his growing family – he and his wife now have four children – Mr. Cocheo has arrived to join the Popolo team.
Founding chef John-Michael Maciejewski has moved on to other pursuits but he and co-creators Gary Smith and Kristen Fehrenbach remain directors of the restaurant. Since Maciejewski’s departure, Popolo has carried on its mission seamlessly under the formidable skills of longtime sous chef Shawn Dyer. Guiding the next move, Mr. Cocheo will build on the taste and convictions that have earned the place such loyalty, while using his unique talents to move Popolo forward.
“I enjoy finding out what’s happening at the area farmers’ markets, shopping as locally as I can, and getting inspiration for dishes from the products of area growers,” Mr. Cocheo explains, and he believes Popolo’s regulars will embrace the next menu as he rediscovers his Italian roots, “Good food is universal. Creating a coherent vibe works the same way everywhere. My tastes are cultivated but simple, like my grandparents’ cooking, but I try to make it exciting for both the regulars and newcomers. That’s what makes a restaurant great.”
A community restaurant in every sense of the word, Popolo is the creation of more than twenty-five stakeholders who are equally excited by Mr. Cocheo’s arrival. Encouraged by a great year in 2015, there’s now talk of revitalizing the Windham Hotel, the long dormant queen of Bellows Falls buildings in which Popolo is a ground floor tenant. But first, the celebration of dining.
“It’s rare to be part of something new and something established at the same time,” Mr. Cocheo confesses, “I haven’t been more excited about cooking in years.”