Jason Hua – Chef of the Kitchen, The Dutch, New York City

We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Chef Jason Hua to discuss what inspires him, what it was like to work for Jean Georges and how he incorporates new ingredients into the food at The Dutch.

Tell us a little about how you got into cooking professionally?
I grew up in LA.  I left when I was 17 to go to Boston University, where I studied Business and Finance, but I started cooking in the middle, working at restaurants. I actually did finish school, but when I left, I came to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America.  I had already worked at good restaurants in Boston, like Clio and Uni, but for the sake of experience,  I went to work at Jean Georges as an intern on the amuse bouche station.  It was a humbling experience.  I learned there is never a job or position beneath me and you can always learn what is happening around you without being on that station.

I spent four years cooking there until reaching the sous chef position and then went on to stage at the Fat Duck in Bray, England.  I was Chef de Cuisine at Fiamma under Fabio Trabocchi, then I went to Boqueria before coming to The Dutch.  Cooking is my bread and butter.  It is my craft, and I intend to practice it until I am physically unable to.  I am grateful for all the people who have shared their knowledge with me, and I intend to teach the cooks who work with me the right way to do things.

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How would you describe the food at The Dutch?
It’s American Food.  We cook what we like to eat and do it the best possible way we can.  Our menu can have anything from prime steak to shellfish towers, sandwiches, pies, mexican tripe, fried chicken, curries.  We enjoy making dishes around ingredients we are excited about each season and that is also what inspires us.

What inspires you?
Travelling, reading, farmers, the people who work hard in our restaurant daily to achieve a common goal.  Museum visits are a great source of relaxation and intellectual exercise.  It is always refreshing to see talented craftsmen in other industries committed to being the best at what they do and they inspire me.  Getting outside to run or bike is a great way for me to recap my week and look forward to goals I would like to focus on for the restaurant each week.  I am always excited to try something new and achieve more at our restaurant.  Even though we spend many hours in our restaurant, I always feel like there is not enough time in one lifetime to learn everything I would like to learn.  The pursuit of further knowledge and skill in my craft keeps me excited to constantly move forward.
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What ingredients are you excited about right now?
My buddy, Evan Strusinski is a is a forager and right now he’s getting lots of matsutake mushrooms from Maine that we’re using in many different dishes. We are also aggressively changing our bread program and working closely with the Baker James Belisle of Lafayette. Emily, our executive sous chef and Patrick, our sous chef found roasted buckwheat that is amazing. I want to put it on everything from grilled fish to yogurt and berries.  It is part of our job as chefs to consistently see what new ingredients are available and use it responsibly.

What are your essential tools?
Obviously a sharp knife.  I like a Nenox 9.4″ chef’s knife, Michel Bras utility knife, and an 8.2″ Masamoto knife. For equipment, we have a Southern Pride Smoker that we use everyday.  We smoke our own bacon, turkey, pastrami salmon.  I also love having a plancha and the one we have is the best one I have used in any restaurant.  And a cake tester; I’ve been using it to test the doneness of fish for so long i can’t remember how I checked fish before.
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In New York, you are known for having quite a knife collection.  How did you first get into Japanese Knives?
I was working at Clio, which was my first serious kitchen.  Ken Oringer looked at some stuff I cut and he just threw it away.  So I got my first Japanese knife, which was an 9.4″ Masamoto chef’s knife.  I realized how thin the blade was and the more experienced chefs there showed me how to sharpen it, clean it and how to take care of it.  I realized how important that is to doing your job properly.

How has dining changed in New York in the 10 years since you started cooking here?
I think the public is much more knowledgeable now.  You can bring in more unusual ingredients and they are more receptive.  Dining out is more spontaneous and the dining public know where to find good food because of social media.  I am amazed how in tune my non-restaurant friends are with the dining scene here. I worked in and loved 3 Michelin Star restaurants, but it’s not the kind of food most people eat all the time. I am very happy cooking at The Dutch, and it is where I want to continue to grow and evolve as a cook in NYC.
One of the main reasons i love living here is because the food keeps getting better. The ingredients available are better. The available options of what to eat on any given day are endless in NYC.
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Do you have any advice for young cooks starting out?
You need to have dreams, even if they constantly change.  It is what keeps you motivated in a very unforgiving yet fulfilling profession.  If you do the work right, you cannot fail.  There is no substitution for first hand experience.  You cannot be proficient at trussing a chicken, making pasta, making omelettes or shaping bread just by reading about it on the internet and making it a few times.  It requires doing one task hundreds if not thousands of times to really master it.  After that, you still need to keep practicing.  Treat yourself like a professional athlete.  You need to build your hand skills for your craft and keep yourself physically and mentally healthy at all times.  Respect your coworkers; you will spend most of your life with them.  Read as much as possible.  Be humble.  Be patient.  Have FUN!

Favorite places to eat and drink in New York?
I love Kyo-Ya in the East Village.  Especially their pressed sushi.  Speedy Romeo in Brooklyn – I always get the St. Louie pizza and they have the best ceasar salad.  I always have a craving for Shake Shack for the shack burger and concrete.  I like Dominque Ansel bakery for canele and DKA [Kouign Amann].  In Jersey City, where I live, I like to go to Taqueria Downtown and Mitsuwa market.  The best cookie ever is chocolate chip walnut from Levain Bakery and the best gelato is Il Laboratorio Gelato.  Brooklyn Fare and Blue Hill Stone Barns if it’s fine dining.  Pok Pok NY for Thai.  Locanda Verde for Italian – Chef Ron Rosselli is great.  Pouring Ribbons for amazing cocktails.  Dead Rabbit in the Financial District for drinks and The Room – for a huge selection of beer.

 

Chris Cosentino – Executive Chef, Incanto, San Francicso

We had an opportunity recently to sit down with Chef Chris Cosentino to discuss his culinary background, how he got into offal cookery and his favorite spots to eat in San Francisco and beyond.

How did you get into cooking initially and what is your food background?
My first job was as a dishwasher at an IHOP.  Growing up in New England, I also worked on local fishing boats, lobstering and repairing fishing nets with a neighbor who was a fishing captain.  Later, I went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales and after graduation I moved to Washingon D.C. to work with Mark Miller at the Red Sage and later at restaurants including Rubicon, Chez Panisse, Belon, and Redwood Park in the Bay Area. I became Executive Chef at Incanto in 2002 and have been here ever since.
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Who have some of your mentors been both in and out of the kitchen?
Mark Miller taught me to look at history to understand the culture and techniques of cooking.  Jean-Louis Palladin had so much passion and love of the craft; he was a true chefs’ chef.  Fergus Henderson helped open my eyes to the deliciousness of offal cookery and is just an all around fun guy to be around.  Really, there are so many chefs that inspire and amaze me that I could go on forever.

In the U.S., you’ve been a pioneer in nose to tail eating. What inspired you to cook this way and how have diners’ perceptions changed over the years?
I helped out at an animal harvest and saw how much was being thrown away and I swore that I wouldn’t do that anymore.  But, the thing about it is that I am not doing anything new.  I am just bringing back old recipes that have been put to rest.  These are viable cuts of meat that are eaten around the world.  Why did we stop eating them?  My goal was, and still is, to get people to give these cuts of meat a try.  Now, I see more and more diners that seek me out specifically to experience offal for the first time or in a new way.
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What’s the creative process for you in creating new dishes at Incanto?
It all starts with the product and then it is just a flow of flavors in my head.  I taste the ingredients together before I even start to cook.  I want to make sure they are going to work well together.  Sometimes, it’s about a texture combination or adding umami to a dish or just using enough acid and herbs to get a balanced dish. Each time is a bit different but the end goal is to make it delicious.  If it’s not, it doesn’t make the menu.

Are there any ingredients or cooking techniques you are particularly inspired by at the moment?
I am inspired by so many different techniques and right now I am reading a lot of old cookbooks and getting re-inspired by the classics.  It’s amazing what could be done back in the day without all the fancy equipment we have now, like in the days of Escoffier.
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Since Incanto opened in 2002, how has the restaurant evolved? How has the San Francisco dining scene evolved?
The city is forever evolving and at the restaurant I am trying everyday to improve the guests’ experience, with both the food and the service. We did a small remodel a few years ago and continually look for ways to enhance the experience.

What are your thoughts on culinary school? Do you feel it’s necessary?
I think culinary school depends on the person. Some need the direction and thrive in that environment.  But, I do find it to be very expensive and can be misleading if grads think it will surely lead them to a future of fame, fortune and grandeur.  At the end of the day, the most important trait you bring to the table is a strong work ethic.
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As a chef who has had great success with food television, what are your thoughts on how Food Network and others are affecting food culture in the U.S?
Food television has been positive in many ways, but with every positive comes negatives.  There are many people around the country now who are eating better and cooking at home because of food TV.  There are also a lot of young cooks who only want to be on TV but don’t want to put in the time to really know what they are doing.

What are some of your favorite places to eat in San Francisco or elsewhere?
There are so many incredible places to eat that it’s hard to just pick one.  In Chicago, it’s Blackbird and Publican. In New York, it’s Takashi, Empellon, and Hearth and in San Francisco, it’s State Bird Provisions.
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Any words of advice to young cooks starting out?
Eat out at great restaurants where you think you might want to work.  Read cookbooks and work your ass off.  Listen and learn.  It’s not personal, it’s business.  Make sure that every dish is so perfect you would serve it to your grandmother.  Listen, take notes, come prepared, keep your knives sharp and never be late.