With a Hungarian father and a Chilean mother, John L. Csukor Jr. grew up in Chicago's suburbs in what he calls "a remarkable mixture of food cultures." Birthdays, holidays and mealtimes in general were social events for him and his many cousins — with platters for sharing and lots of condiments.
So it's natural that as Café Caturra's new chief culinary officer, Csukor is encouraging that kind of atmosphere by expanding the selection of small plates, with items such as braised beef short ribs.
Csukor, who also owns Hanover County-based KOR Food Innovation, officially began his role with Café Caturra in the spring. He joins at a time when the locally founded chain is expanding, with a sixth location opening in Arlington and six more planned by the end of 2012, including new branches in Charleston, S.C., and Charlottesville.
Assisted by his staff at KOR, Csukor says, "We do all the physical food development, flavor development, create the philosophy around the menu and provide training for staff." Linked in part to its relationship with Caturra, KOR is also expanding, adding 8,000 square feet to its 4,000-square-foot space on Atlee Commerce Boulevard. Csukor says that his personal involvement with Caturra — "being given a title and a seat at the boardroom table" — is an honor.
Building on what he learned about cooking from his family, Csukor, 43, attended a vocational food-service program in high school before receiving additional training as an active-duty Marine and a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University. His experience includes working at neighborhood restaurants and country clubs, serving as corporate chef for Motorola, directing marketing efforts for the California raisin board and developing menu items for Starbucks. "I've gotten around," he says with a laugh. Csukor moved to the Richmond area in 2005 to lead food marketing and menu development for AMF Bowling Centers. He started KOR Food Innovation in 2008. Csukor often travels on behalf of clients, and he draws inspiration from around the globe. A trip to Spain gave him the idea of developing a salad for Café Caturra that features a wheel of goat cheese pressed with smoked paprika as a garnish. His visits to Singapore and Indonesia have brought "subtle notes of Southeast Asian" cooking to Caturra's menu.
Café Caturra plans to retain customer favorites such as the BLT and the curried-chicken sandwich, but some of the ingredients may be tweaked. Additions include a Lebanese fattoush salad and a grilled romaine-heart salad served with house-pickled red onions and grilled chicken (shown). "Almost every time I go to Grove or Short Pump," Csukor notes, "I see tables where everyone has ordered that."