"I'm just not good at school," David Sherman says. "I beared through it a little while, but I learn by doing, not by being told." Which is probably why his bio is a bit more colorful than one would expect of the chef and owner of a fine dining restaurant. Sherman opened Nasu Blanca, a Spanish-Japanese fusion restaurant in Locust Point, in 2006.
He got booted out of the Friends School of Baltimore at the end of ninth grade for bad behavior and was following Phish and the Grateful Dead when the rest of his friends went off to college. After dropping out of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Sherman got a job at an area restaurant called the Thirsty Bear. Chef Daniel Olivea took Sherman under his wing and sent the wild would-be chef to train in Spain, a country that he believed better suited Sherman's temperament.
In a new country, without the classrooms or grading system of culinary school, Sherman says he allowed himself merely to be wowed by the food. He recalls watching a chef in a bustling Barcelona café called Cal Pep, cigarette between his lips, cooking baby eels tossed in flour and fried with eggs to make subtle, delicious tapas.
"It was one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth," he says. And then there was that time Olivea's family showed him how to make paella on a Catalonian beach. "The best I ever had," Sherman says.
The Spanish way of life suited him, as well. "They really have a passion for life. They enjoy it. They don't complain like we do and they don't get down. . . . They really live to eat."
He came back with a taste for Spanish cuisine but finds it hard now to find the ingredients he needs: razor clams and other seafood, and certain types of cured meat. "I find ingredients over here that compare," he says. "I can get a Spanish piquillo pepper and stuff it with crab and lobster pimentón, but if I was over there, I would serve it with morcilla blood sausage." Nasu Blanca manages a pretty authentic paella using calasparra rice and local seafood.
The Japanese part of Nasu Blanca's fusion came from a second stint at cooking school, this time in the Culinary Institute of America, in upstate New York, class of 2004. An internship sent him to one of Nobu Matsuhisa's New York restaurants, where Sherman learned how to wield a sushi knife and make his signature sweet eggplant dish. They offered him a job there before he had graduated, but Sherman declined.
"It took everything in me to go back and finish school," he says. "I actually graduated this time."