Edible Ink: Molly & Jeff Bresnahan of Donato's Restaurant
By Matthew Hacke
Jeff Bresnahan, executive chef at Donato’s Restaurant, doesn’t need to look far when seeking advice and input on new menu creations. His wife, Mollie Bresnahan, happens to be the sous chef and general manager of the Italian steakhouse in Fox Chapel. The couple met while working at La Montana, a restaurant in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and eventually found their way back to Pittsburgh and back to each other.
Since then, they have been bringing their culinary expertise and modern flair to Donato’s Restaurant. “We really made sure to put in research to see which items needed to stay. It was more of a gradual introduction to new menu options,” says Jeff. “We took a nice combination of the old classics that were selling very well and added more of a gastropub feel to modernize things.”
Their chemistry with each other radiates through the kitchen, as the new selection of harmonizing dishes brings “more of a complete dining experience, as opposed to an à la carte style,” Jeff says. And they also bond over another hobby outside of the kitchen: getting tattoos. While he has 10 already and she has two, they plan on getting their next one together. “Jeff and I are actually getting a wedding tattoo,” Mollie says. “It’s going to be circa 1950s salt and pepper shakers on our wrists. I’m going to be the pepper, and he’s going to be the salt.” Jeff adds, “As anybody who is a good cook knows, there is never salt without pepper.”
Donato’s Restaurant, 46 Fox Chapel Road, Fox Chapel. 412.781.3700. donatosrestaurant.com.
How They Got Into Tattoos:
HIM: Honestly, it was the restaurant industry. Seeing a lot of people I looked up to — particularly older, more experienced cooks and chefs that had them — is what lead me down that direction. My first tattoo was for a friend of mine who passed away — that blend of desire to honor both him and the industry. The tattoo has his initials, E.T.M., for Edward Tyler Morris, above a Celtic protection knot. I got it over 15 years ago. I didn’t really know what to look for in a tattoo artist, so it’s not actually the nicest, cleanest lines, but the meaning of the tattoo keeps me from altering it. My tattoos are a timeline for me, recalling a particular moment or place.
HER: I was 25. I was just out of culinary school and I was living in Aspen, Colo. It’s a Chinese symbol. It means strength and it has a little heart next to it, which is strength of the heart. For me, the reason was because when I first went into the culinary field, I tried to go into restaurants and go into the kitchens and they wouldn’t let me. They wanted to put me as the host or as a server, which is where I didn’t want to be at the time. Going into culinary school and moving to a place where I knew no one, it was a reminder for me to stay strong with who I was and what I wanted to do. There are a lot of beautiful, wonderful female chefs out there who are just paving the way and going above and beyond in the restaurant industry. As a whole, though, it’s still a very male-dominated industry.
Where They Get Their Tattoos:
HIM: My reason for having all of mine on my legs is acceptance from others. It’s something that I can hide very well. By having them on my legs, it’s almost as if my tattoos are for me to enjoy only — they’re not on display for coolness.
HER: Like Jeff, my future tattoos are going to be a little more hidden as well. I have plans for a flower formation draped over my shoulder. My maiden name, Flores, means ‘flowers’ in Spanish. And way back when, when Jeff and I met each other, I was the only girl in the kitchen. We all had nicknames, and the guys in the kitchen used to call me ‘Black Rose.’ So my future tattoo will be all of the state flowers of the places I’ve lived (California, Colorado, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania) and then at the base is going to be a black rose.
HIM: My favorite tattoo is a World War II era pin-up girl with the saying ‘Sink or Swim.’ This saying really applies to the restaurant industry. People either make it or they don’t. If you’re not willing to go full sail into it, you’re not going to make it. It’s not so much my wife’s favorite tattoo of mine. It’s her only competition [laughs].
“Back in the day, if you were a sailor, when you crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific, you got a tattoo of a swallow. Each time you made the crossing, you got another,” Jeff explains. “For me, [a swallow] indicates one decade of being in the restaurant industry. When I reach my third decade, I’ll get a third one, and so on.”
“I’ve always had a fascination with turtles,” Mollie says. “To me, they represent stability and staying true to who you are. I got them on my foot to commemorate 10 years of being in the restaurant industry full time, but also a turning point in my life where I had just moved here to Pennsylvania and away from San Diego, San Francisco, and Colorado.”