Alumna Finds Success as Chef, Restaurateur
After a three-day journey from Ukraine, Natasha Pogrebinsky, along with her parents and younger brother, arrived in the United States on January 2, 1991. They had three suitcases and just $200. Two weeks later, they left New York City for a permanent home in Parma, Ohio.
Today, the CSU alumna is an acclaimed chef, culinary instructor and expert on Eastern European cuisine who has appeared on eight television shows, including Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay, and been featured in The New York Times.
It’s been quite a journey and acclimating to a new country shortly before her 10th birthday was not easy.
“It felt like a slow motion, black and white movie,” she recalls. “I experienced a lot of stigma from other children. It was hard to make friends and getting used to the food was a huge culture shock – harder than the language. But I loved cereal and Saturday morning cartoons.”
Not until she was a student at Normandy High School did Pogrebinsky feel truly comfortable in her new homeland. Following graduation and hoping for a career in teaching or nursing, she started college at Case Western Reserve University, then transferred to CSU, earning a BA in history and social studies in 2005.
“CSU was more than a school — it was a community in which life background and passions connected. I really felt comfortable and grew because of the diversity of the student population,” she says. “I had amazing professors and our student voices and influence could go beyond the classroom. CSU opened opportunities for me.”
Following college, Pogrebinsky taught school for four years in Ohio, Maryland and New York, as well as hospitality management as an adjunct professor at the City University of New York for five years.
While teaching and also working part time in restaurants, she took a step that would alter her career – enrolling in the French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Center) in New York “just as culinary arts were starting to take off.”
After graduating and working as a chef and executive director of culinary operations at several New York restaurants, she and her brother opened Bear restaurant in November 2011. With its menu of refined European dishes, Bear was a success and for the next several years, the duo continued to wow New Yorkers with tasty ethnic delicacies.
In 2016, they closed Bear and she returned to the Cleveland area where she is now the executive chef and director of culinary operations at The South Side and Hi & Dry in the Tremont area.
Her menus showcase Eastern European dishes made from fresh ingredients – “eggs, milk, beef, pork and chicken from farms located 20 to 40 miles away, bratwurst and kielbasa from the West Side Market, Ohio City pasta,” she says.
“Food has no borders. Eastern European cuisine goes beyond ethnic recipes and uses a lot of ingredients in our culture,” she adds. “I am always looking to blend recipes slightly differently, create new flavor spectrums and expand the sphere of what we know as modern cuisine.”
The chef is currently working on a documentary with CSU’s School of Film & Media Arts. Chef in the Land, a concept she brought to the film school, will explore a chef’s life in Cleveland and include visits to restaurants, interviews with fellow chefs and even a recipe book. She is the film’s creator and writer; CSU students are filming, editing and doing post-production work.
In addition, she and her brother Alexander (also a CSU graduate) are working on a tech startup in Cleveland that she says will revolutionize the restaurant industry. They hope to release a working prototype in early 2020.
The alumna is proud of her success and feels the best is yet to come.
“I opened a restaurant in New York, was successful and achieved status in the field. I was one of the first American chefs to promote Eastern European cuisine that is modern and relevant, not mom-and-pop style. I am always looking for new projects. I want to grow The South Side and hire CSU students. I want to complete Chef in the Land and open a restaurant here. I want to keep progressing in my career – I’m not even halfway finished!”
Also in this Issue...
Sam McNulty, BA urban studies ’97, owns and operates very successful bar/restaurants in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland – ranging from a nano brewery where experimental beers are concocted to Market Garden Brewery, a full brewpub with close to 500 seats. His properties also include McNulty’s Bier Market, Bar Cento and Speakeasy. Read more >>