e2's Kate Romane is Cooking From the Roots Up
While her heritage is Irish, Romane has made a name for herself cooking up Italian cuisine.
photo by laura petrilla
Kate Romane, the executive chef and owner of e2 in Highland Park, is celebrated in Pittsburgh for her popular Sunday Sauce dinners, which feature roots-heavy Italian-American classics such as meatballs, polenta and freshly made mozzarella. There’s just one thing about those roots, though…
“I’m Irish,” she says.
After nearly 20 years of cooking Italian food in Pittsburgh, she ought to be granted a special dispensation. The 39-year-old chef moved to Pittsburgh in 1997 after dropping out of art school in Columbus, Ohio, where, she says, “I was a terrible artist. There was no way that was going to work out.”
Soon after her arrival, Romane landed a job working for Enrico Biscotti owner Larry Lagattuta. It wasn’t too long before she was “living in the Strip and working in the Strip and hanging out with all these old Italian guys. I got into it,” she says.
She befriended mechanics who worked in the garage behind Lagattuta’s storefront, learning the alchemy of red sauce, bacalao and wine-making. Instead of leaving Pittsburgh for culinary school, she decided to stay and help Lagattuta to open a cafe in the garage. At the same time, she enrolled in Bidwell Training Center’s culinary program.
She’s now on the board of Bidwell and notes that access to vocational training programs is just as important — perhaps even more so — than it ever was. “Everybody I talk to is dealing with a staff issue,” she says.
Romane found the Highland Park space that would become e2 in early 2009. She planned to use the kitchen for her budding catering endeavors with the idea that Lagattuta would use it to bake biscotti, but the business relationship between the two later dissolved. Romane found herself on her own and nearly broke.
“I was in a rough position. I’d never been in a situation like this before,” she says.
In September 2010, she started dinner service (she started brunch service in March of that year as a way to connect with Highland Park residents) with a small-plate concept, but she quickly found through conversations with the neighborhood that they wanted a no-frills Italian cafe.
It’s six years later, and Romane, one of the pioneers of the new wave of Pittsburgh’s culinary ascendancy, now sits in on the Pantheon of the city’s top chefs. Still, she’s not planning on resting on her laurels any time soon. Next up, Romane plans to expand upon projects, such as her Big Table dinners, that bring the community together.