About the Chef
I, Carmen Paponetti started my culinary journey standing next to my mother at a very young age learning to make Italian tomato sauce (sometimes called Sunday gravy) on Sundays. These all day sauces were a family tradition. My mother would let me put meatballs and Italian sausage in the sauce during the pregame show before the Browns games. Dinner was served at halftime. Little did anyone know, this was the start of a journey that would eventually lead me to the culinary world.
I first worked in the family business of steel heat treating. While it was ok, I never had any passion for it and spent my free time learning to cook more elaborate dishes at home. With the newly created Food Network I watched endless shows and subscribed to Bon Appetit Magazine I was building my passion for cooking. As the American steel industry started to fall on hard times, factories were closing and being moved to counties with cheaper labor and better government subsidies, I looked to the future and decided the stress of my job being moved to the other side of the world so someone could do it cheaper was not something I wanted. So I thought back to my earliest passion of making that Sunday sauce and signed up for culinary school.
I was accepted to the Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania! Because I was never interested in doing things the easy way, I attended culinary school, and got a job down the street at the Omni William Penn, my first job in the culinary industry.
At the job interview the Executive Sous Chef Rick looked over my resume, which only had heat treating experience on it, and said, "you have no culinary experience. What makes you think you can do the job?" It had never occurred to me that I might not succeed in the culinary world. With that question, I did for a moment wonder if, selling my house, moving to another state and reinventing myself was a mistake. Then I uttered, "This is an entry level position, isn't it?" From there the interview went well, I did get the entry level position.
I started in the banquet kitchen, making hundreds of salads for the large parties booked at the hotel. There was an entire part of the kitchen dedicated to cooking hot food. I did not get to touch any of that when I started. After proving I was reliable and hard working they let me work in other areas of the kitchen. My favorite was working in the hotel restaurant. Searing scallops, making pan sauces and I felt the pressure of coming up with daily specials. From 6:00 AM to 2 PM I was attending culinary school. Then I would walk from culinary school to work. My shift at work was from 3 PM to 10 PM. That was a very long year, but it built a foundation and understanding of what it takes to make it in the culinary world.
I did my externship for culinary school at the Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland, Ohio. It was essentially just working at the Ritz-Carlton, mostly in the Garde Manger banquet kitchen. Essentially I was back to making banquet salads. Then one day the Executive Chef Pual Carter walked into the Garde Manger kitchen and asked, "Does anyone want to pick up hours in sushi?"and because I was new, and on my externship I did not think I was allowed to speak up, but to my amazement the room fell silent. Making sushi in a restaurant seemed so much better than making banquet salads. How is it nobody said anything? So I meekly said, "I will" and with that lame story my sushi career began. At that point I had only eaten sushi a handful of times in my life and only made it once. At home, on a date, with my at the time girlfriend. But the head Sushi Chef and the Rizt started teaching me to make sushi, and I really enjoyed it. It was really cool to chat with the guests at the Ritz and make them sushi. I got to meet some famous people, from Yao Ming, REO Speedwagon to many Major League Baseball and Basketball players. Though I still did not love hotel work, because they never close and the focus of a hotel is not food, but a place to stay.
Next came my most influential step in my culinary career. I got a part time job at the new hip restaurant Parallax, in the up and coming neighborhood of Cleveland called Tremont. Esquire Magazine, Food Network, Cleveland Magazine, Scene Magazine were all there in the first few months I worked there. When they expanded the seating to include a patio I was offered a full time job. I quit working at the Ritz and work full time at Parallax. It was the busiest place I had ever worked, and the staff was so talented I really wondered if they would let me keep working there. It turned out, they loved me working there as much as I loved working there. When the head sushi chef decided to move on, they promoted me to head sushi chef. In 2006 Parallax won "Best Sushi" in Clevland by Cleveland Magazine, 2007 Second Best in Northern Ohio, 2008 outstanding sushi Zagat rating. In 2008 I left Parallax to implement a fully sustainable sushi operation for Bon Appetit. It was a corporate chef job, with full benefits, and along with a corporate job came office politics. This was really the first time in my life I had to deal with office politics, and I had no idea how ugly that was. Though I did find my people and made friends with chef's I am still friends with to this day I could not stay long in that environment.
Ultimately I ended up buying "the Cabin Restaurant" in December of 2015 where we won Diner's Choice Awards with Opentable every year until COVID shut down dine in options. One of the funnest things about being a chef/owner is appearing on many local television, radio shows and magazines to promote the restaurant.
In July of 2020 after many delays, both COVID and construction related I was able to open Domo Yakitori & Sushi in The Van Aken Market Hall. In August of 2020 I got a call from Cleveland Magazine telling me, we won "Best of Cleveland" for our okonomiyaki. I said that has to be a mistake. We have only been open a couple months. They insisted we did win, and we won again the next year.
The pandemic was difficult for restaurants to navigate. The Cabin was not very successful selling Prime Rib, Strip Steaks and Pork Chops in what was forced to become a takeout restaurant. So we decided to close that concept and pivot to a restaurant using only NON-GMO foods, or USDA Organic foods. We chose this concept because it aligns with our personal choices about food. It is an opportunity to live our family values and do our part to help change the food system. That concept became Timber Kitchen & Social. Timber Kitchen is operating today and is our flagship restaurant today.