Since it opened in 2016, Reno’s Liberty Food and Wine Exchange has garnered a reputation for locally sourced, inventive food. Their new Chef Geoffrey Caliger is carrying on the restaurant’s manifesto.
A South Lake Tahoe native, Geoffrey spent nine years cooking his way across the country, before coming home to Reno Tahoe. The arrival of his first child drew him back to his roots. Now Calliger is channeling his years of experience into authentic and welcoming dining experiences.
We sat down with Calliger to talk all things Reno, food and turning kitchen mishaps into culinary magic.
What do you think is unique about the Reno food scene?
GC: I think what’s unique about it is how much people love their fish out here. Growing up people were into sushi, but now you see a lot of Poke bowls and inspiration from California. Reno isn’t surrounded by a body water, the nearest body of water is still several hours away, but there is a fresh feel to what people like to eat here. It allows me to do whatever I want with ingredients.
How has the Reno food scene changed over time?
GC: Something that I’ve noticed and seen evolve over the past couple of years is that there are more and more people who are passionate about the craft that they do, whether it be a whiskey bar or breweries, which have gotten really really big here. Food is heading in that direction, people who are really passionate about the food and ingredients and the hospitality industry. I see more of a niche with restaurants popping up and people who are trying to compete with restaurants around the country. I think there is more love.
How did you fall in love with food?
GC: My mother always cooked and was an amazing cook. I’ve always loved food. Growing up my mom would make Indian Food, Mexican food, Middle Eastern Cuisine, Latin food, your standard steak and potatoes, French cuisine, Asian. I spent about eight years in Chicago which heavily influenced me. I developed a palate for everything. I was never allowed to eat crap food growing up. My family always cooked from scratch. I think that was the precursor for becoming a chef. At the end of the day, I’m a Chef because I love working with people, I love working in restaurants, and it’s something new every day. I like to take care of people.
How would you describe your cooking style?
GC: I cook based on the ingredient. I let the ingredient and my mood take me in whatever direction. My cooking style is centered towards ingredients. I don’t have an idea of dish and order ingredients around a dish. It’s the other way around. I have ingredients, and from there that’s how I create a dish. I might go Asian. I might go Mediterranean. Food is like a language, pair your ingredients with things that they naturally harmonize with. Once you learn the language of food and how ingredients come in harmony with each other that is when dishes come to life.
What is one ingredient you think is under appreciated?
GC: Parts of animals that people wouldn’t normally eat. A lot of people eat these parts of the animal not knowing what they are in the form of sausages, hot dogs, charcuterie. Someone might be eating something like head cheese not knowing what it actually is. It looks delicious; it tastes delicious. Once you find out what it is, you might never eat it again. I think underappreciated ingredients come from stigma.
Bay leaf is my favorite herb, and it is highly underrated. I put bay leaf in almost everything I make. Most people don’t know how to use them, but they should go in almost everything you make.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
GC: I cover up my mistakes really well. I make mistakes and turn it into something that tastes really good. I’ll take an “oh-shit” and make it something amazing. Most people don’t know there are some “oh-shits” in the kitchen.