Abby Swain – Executive Pastry Chef, Fowler & Wells

Photography courtesy of Evan Sung

Tell us a bit about where you grew up and how you got interested in food?

I am from a small town north of Philadelphia.  Most of what I remember from my childhood is what I ate.  My first lobster dinner at The Oyster House.  My grandmother got upset because she said no 10 year old needed a whole lobster.  My grandpa beamed when I finished everything.  Stopping at the farmers market on the way to the pool in the summers, searching for that perfect black plum.  It made me so happy when the fresh juices would run down my arm at first bite. Perfectly ripe tomato sandwiches.  Steamers and fried clam sandwiches at Klein’s fish market down the shore.

My dad has an incredible sweet tooth, we were spoiled with Halloween candy, Easter candy and doughnuts on Saturdays. (I still look forward to my annual basket of Josh Early jelly beans.) When I found out these were things I could make I wanted to learn how. My mom was a decent cook growing up, but she could not bake. So, I taught myself how with the Joy of Cooking. When I turned 14, legal working age, I got a job at The Bridge Cafe. The Chef/Owner is a CIA alumni and showed me all aspects of the business.

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Can you tell us about your experiences at the CIA + Cordon Bleu?

I had the unique experience of attending the pastry programs at both the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. The CIA had state of the art equipment and we made sweets in batch sized to accommodate a commercial kitchen. LCB was the opposite. We made only small batches or individual items.  Everything, from whipping meringue and developing gluten in bread, was done by hand.  By learning both peering over the mixing bowl and using my hands gave me a better understanding of baking and pastry.

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What did you think about working in France?

After Le Cordon Bleu I staged at pâtisserie Sucre Cacao for 3 months.  It was intense. My understanding of the French language was decent but only when spoken to slowly. Chef did not speak slowly.  I enjoyed learning the systems there. Production was on a schedule and super organized. We made viennoiserie, macarons, individual pastries, cakes and bread.  While I was there, Chef was designing and executing his pastillage showpiece for le Meilleur Ouvrier de France.

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Can you talk a little bit about your career trajectory once you came back to New York?

After Paris, I moved to New York City. I trailed at several places but fell in love with Craft.  The spacious pastry kitchen, the top quality ingredients, the energy of the staff and the style of Karen Demasco was exactly what I was looking for.  I worked there for 2 years before moving to Atlanta, Georgia.  I was a pastry cook at Aria, a fine dining restaurant in Buckhead.  Then I had the opportunity to open Bakeshop as a pastry sous chef.  I was really interested in the operations of a wholesale bakery with a retail space.  After Bakeshop I took my first pastry chef job at Serpas, True Food. I moved back to New York in 2011 and worked as the pastry chef at Craftbar.  After a year and a half, I was promoted to the pastry chef of Craft and Craftbar.  Then,this past fall I took another position within the company as the executive pastry chef at Fowler & Wells in the Beekman Hotel. I was excited to work my first restaurant opening and to learn the intricacies of a food and beverage program in a hotel.

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Who do you consider to be your mentors?

Ken Miller from the Bridge Cafe in Frenchtown NJ, Christophe Marquant from my externship at the Seaport Hotel in Boston and Karen Demasco from Craft NYC. All three chefs had a great impact on my career.  Ken taught me about hospitality and encouraged me to go to culinary school.  Christophe taught me how to prepare for multiple outlets and told me to go to Paris.  Karen taught me about the importance of the ingredient and how to showcase it.

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What inspires you and how do you approach developing new dishes?

I get inspired by the ingredients. I get excited when new produce comes into season. I start by writing down flavor profiles and different techniques then test them out. I usually end up far from my original idea but that’s the fun part of the creative process.

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Can you tell us about the bread program at Fowler & Wells?

At Fowler & Wells, we make lean dough, enriched dough, sourdough, laminated dough, and unleavened dough.  We use commercial yeast, natural levain, and preferment. Between breakfast, lunch and dinner we utilize a variety of breads and pastries. For breakfast we make assorted viennoiserie, bagels, sourdough waffle and English muffins. We bake multi-grain, country sourdough, and brioche loaves to serve as sides of toast. For lunch we have a number of breads for sandwiches; ciabatta, focaccia, potato brioche, and semolina rolls. For dinner we bake off loaves of bread that get grilled and served with a few Bar Room menu options and we are developing a dinner bread that I hope to roll out soon.

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What do you like to cook at home?

To be honest not a whole lot but if I do, I keep it quick and simple; sandwiches, eggs, pasta, nachos.

Any specific ingredients you are excited about using right now?  

I love this time of year. The produce is so vibrant and fresh that you don’t need to fuss with it much. A bowl of fresh berries with lightly whipped cream and a hint of lemon zest is what I look forward to in the summer. A more composed version of this would be the Frozen Parfait at Fowler & Wells. It’s strawberries with almonds, lemon posset and amaretti syllabub.

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Favorite places to eat?
There are so many restaurants I want to try that I don’t find myself returning to too many places except Okonomi. Their Japanese breakfast is one of those meals that makes you feel good.

 

Junghyun ‘JP’ Park – Chef Owner of Atoboy

Before coming to the US – JP worked in some of the world’s best restaurants, including The Ledbury in London and Cutler & Co. in Melbourne, Australia,  He was the Chef de Cuisine at Jungsik Dang in Seoul, South Korea before joining 2 Michelin starred Jungsik restaurant in New York.  In the summer of 2016, together with his wife Ellia, they opened Atoboy, a modern Korean restaurant with a unique banchan-style tasting menu.

Tell us a bit about where you grew up and how you got interested in food.

Though I was born in Gumi – a city about 4 hours drive south of Seoul – I call Seoul my home as I’ve lived there since I was four. I was fortunate to always have great home-cooked meals growing up as my mother was a great cook, but since both of my parents worked full-time I was often left with the responsibility of feeding myself and my older brother. Sometimes that meant re-heating the banchans or soups that my mother had prepared ahead of time, and other times it meant me being creative with whatever was in the pantry and whipping up a meal on my own.

Becoming familiar in my family’s kitchen, my interest in food intensified in a bit of a silly way also. There is a very famous Japanese comic book called Shota No Sushi or translated in Korean “Mr. Sushi King.” I got very into it, and for a good amount of time I really wanted to learn the art of sushi to become a sushi chef.

The bits and pieces of curiosity I gathered growing up led me to enroll in KyungHee University, which was well-known for its culinary and hospitality management programs. While in school, my desire to polish my skills abroad blossomed as I learned more about the culinary movements by becoming familiar with legendary chefs with books such as The French Laundry Cookbook. With this in mind, I decided that my goal would be to transfer into C.I.A. in Hyde Park to graduate so I was also busy studying English.

Towards the end of my university days, I got accepted to an exchange student program for restaurant management in Finland. This is when I really got a chance to immerse myself in the culture and the cuisine firsthand, and after the exchange student program I decided to go over to London to further my externship as I was fortunately six-months ahead of schedule for my graduation track.

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How did you start cooking professionally?

In London, I had a chance to work at The Ledbury under Chef Brett Graham who is originally from Australia. He became somewhat of a mentor for me and through him I was able to build connections to Melbourne. After the London chapter, I then decided to pursue my career further with Chef Andrew McConnell in Melbourne, Australia. I worked with him through his transitions to and from multiple properties from 3,1,2 , Cumulus Inc., and also Cutler & Co.

What is your food philosophy?

To cook delicious food, using balance as a main concept, whether it’s a balance in flavor, texture, color, cultural roots, new and old.   Furthering my pseudo-philosophy on balance, my favorite balance when it comes to food is the rising relevance and popularity of seasonality and local ingredients combined with the predominance of fermented, preserved, and dried ingredients which I am used to while growing up in Korea.

Korean Food is just recently gaining a wider understanding and appreciation in the US.  Why do you think it took so long?

I think it largely has to do with the change in society, especially the immigrant culture. I’m sure most of the Korean restaurants a few decades back opened to cater to the expats who may long for taste of home. Though there certainly is a need for that reason, it also keeps the food and the cuisine within limits. Nowadays as well as in the most recent years, many Korean restaurants are opened by second generation immigrants with the mission to not only please the palates of those seeking traditional Korean flavors but also to spread the word to the non-Koreans.

Moreover, there is also the inevitable rise in social media and its impact. Now, it’s only a matter of a few seconds for someone to see what Korean food looks or tastes like through the scrolls on Instagram or a quick read on Yelp. And I also can’t fail to mention the interest in the Korean culture overall from K-Pop, K-Beauty, and more.  But at the end of the day, Korean food is just soul-satisfyingly delicious and unbelievably well-balanced. I think it would’ve been just a matter of time until everyone jumped on the bandwagon of eating it.

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Is there something that gets lost in translation for Korean cuisine coming abroad?  I know you worked in both Australia and London before coming to NY? Is there something or an essence about the cuisine that is not able to be replicated outside of Korea?

I think it’s the same with other ethnic cuisines like Thai, Japanese, and more. You hear people say all the time that the best sushi they’ve ever had was in Tokyo, or the best pho was enjoyed in Saigon. It’s just nearly impossible to replicate flavors that has so much to do with not only the seasonings and ingredients but also the atmosphere, climate, culture, and more.

But my job as a chef is to restlessly study, research, and test to put my best foot forward in hoping that the diners can experience that sense of nostalgia and excitement. In order to do this successfully, most often chefs would embrace the locale in which they are in and apply their techniques and memories to create these dishes. With that said, I think the most authentic experiences are best left in the places of origin.

For us, we try to embrace New York whether it’s the climate, the palette, ingredients, and techniques. If Atoboy were to be also opened in say, Paris or Seoul, I’m sure it would take on an entirely different flavor profile.

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Can you explain the meaning of Atoboy and how did the concept develop?

“Ato,” in old Korean means gift. So we wanted to create a restaurant that can continuously bear gifts for our guests, whether that comes through our food or hospitality. In creating the vision, we wanted to expand on the well-known and loved concept of pairing all things with a bowl of rice as you would when you eat a properly prepared Korean meal. That as a canvas, we also wanted to put banchans in their own spotlight by applying extra care and attention as well as modern techniques and unlikely touches and flavor combinations that is very much NYC.

Your background in Seoul and working at Jungsik here – is quite  fine dining.  Can tell us a little about what fine dining means for Korean cuisine?

Similar to the significance it bears here in the US, fine dining in Korea is always mostly reserved for very special occasions or for extremely special guests one would host. The origin was many Korean fine dining restaurants and its culture I can say perhaps is from the traditional Korean meals called “Han Jung Sik” where the variety and colorful banchan dishes grace the table with a perfectly cooked rice, a seasonal soup or stew and a meat, poultry, or fish dish of some sort. A great Han Jung Sik experience also must be accompanied by great sense of hospitality, which in Korean form is delivered with impeccable precision and grace.

What is a specific ingredient you are excited about right now?

Fresh bamboo shoots!

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I heard you recently moved across the street from the restaurant, and I know you both love dining out.  Do you ever cook at home and if so what?

If we do get a chance to be home for dinner (which is already rare), we try to dine out. It’s hard to have a well-stocked refrigerator or pantry since we practically live at the restaurant, but we also like to support our industry friends by stopping by when we can to enjoy their restaurants and say hello.

Before Atoboy opened, we liked to cook often—I’d make a lot pasta dishes, or foods that are far from the Korean flavor profiles since I am immersed in it otherwise.

Favorite places to eat in New York (or elsewhere)?

That’s a hard question since there are so many great places in New York, but Ellia and I really enjoy Estela and Wildair….and also I cannot forget Atoboy! Though I have yet to formally dine here myself.

In Seoul, there has been a really amazing rise in the modern Korean cuisine movement, so I would highly recommend destinations such as Mingles, Zero Complex, and also TocToc. This change in Seoul’s dining scene makes me really proud as a Korean chef on a mission to spread word about the depth of Korean cuisine and its deliciousness.

Daniela Soto-Innes – Chef de Cuisine Cosme

Can you tell us about where you grew up and how you got interested in cooking?

I grew up in Mexico City, and was interested in food because of my great grandma, grandma and mom.  My great grandma went to a culinary program in Paris, and my grandmother managed a bakery.  My mother wanted to be a chef, and she took courses and everything, but her parents said she had to become a lawyer, she continued cooking and teaching classes even after she became a lawyer.  I was so young and she didn’t want to put me in daycare, so she would take me with her.  For me, growing up, it was normal that on the weekends I would go with my Grandma to the bakery and on the weekdays after school I would go with my mom.  I loved it, and I think that’s how everything started.

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Araceli Paz

How did you get started professionally?

I moved to Texas and when I turned 12, my mom put me in a school that was focused on careers, where I picked cooking, I would cook three hours a day, five days a week.  There were a lot of people that came in to talk to us about what it’s like to be a chef or a wine director of a restaurant.  One chef came in, and he looked like he loved his job.  He talked about the reality of things, and how it’s a low paying job, but at the same time you realize that you’ll learn a crazy amount.  How you get paid is with experiences.  I wrote to him and pretty much stalked him until he gave me a chance to be in his kitchen.  

I started working at a hotel when I was 15.  I washed strawberries and took the strawberry tops off for hours and hours, and then I would just stay longer so I could see and learn.  The chef asked what I really wanted to do, and he told me I should go to culinary school.  So I moved to Austin for culinary school and continued working at the Marriott.  I thought it was good for learning.  Working at hotels is fast-paced and you see different things.  At the same time, I was staging at places all over Austin.  When I finished culinary school I travelled to Europe, and when I came back I went to intern at a restaurant called Mark’s.

It was a short internship, about 4 months, and I told them I really wanted to get my butt kicked.  At that time I was 18 and I wanted to have that experience of  a fast-paced kitchen, but at a real restaurant.  Brennan’s of Houston was opening so I started working there and went through all the stations and everything, and I guess I heard a lot about Chris [Sheppard, former chef who left to open Underbelly] and how he went off to do his own project.  I was very interested in butchering and things so I went to him and asked if he could teach me one day a week.  We always kept in touch and after working for almost 3 years at Brennan’s, I took a sous chef position at a restaurant called Triniti. After 5 months I realized that I didn’t know how to delegate.  I was trying to do everything by myself, coming in super early and leaving super super late. I just didn’t know how to be someone’s boss; I needed more guidance.  Chris said he was opening a restaurant and that I should come.  Of course I went, and I cooked with Chris for a year. We have a friend relationship also, but of course he’s my boss.  He’s the one who taught me to really enjoy what I do.  Regardless of how I messed up, he was always my friend and I think that’s what shaped a lot of how I do things now.  He was the best inspiration.  

I really wanted to go to [Enrique Olvera’s Mexico City restaurant] Pujol.. when I spoke to Chris, he let me go but he said, Go, kick ass and come back.  I was there for 6 months and then came back to Texas.  It broke my heart to leave but I am a resident here [in the U.S.]  so that’s why I could always only go away for 6 months.  I talked to Enrique about it and he said, You’re moving to New York, and you’re going to be the chef of my new restaurant [which was Cosme].

He said we were going to make the menu together, and even though I didn’t know anyone in New York, I said sure.  That was 3 years ago and here we are!

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Araceli Paz

It feels like the food world has really taken notice of Mexico City recently.  Why do you think it took so long?

I don’t know. I think each country kind of gets its moment.  It was Peru and now it’s Mexico.  I think that more and more, chefs are starting to do Mexican restaurants, and it doesn’t matter that they are not Mexican.  If they like doing it, then why not.  I think it’s pretty awesome.  The fact that they admire our cuisine and they want to go and learn… and it’s not that they are trying to be Mexican, it’s just that they like and respect it.  

I think there’s a lot to be appreciated about Mexican Cuisine, that is suddenly coming our way.  I feel like Mexico City is a really special place.

Really special, because everything sort of gets concentrated there.  

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Araceli Paz

Is there a food you long for from home that you can’t find here?

I think you you can find mostly everything here, except chongos zamoranos. It’s a curd that’s cooked with piloncillo and a little bit of cinnamon, and it’s like a sweet thing.  When you eat it, it squeaks.  It’s made with raw milk, which we really can’t use here.  That’s something where I’m like Oh my God I wish we had it here.

And of course all the tacos and garnachas.  Even if they taste the same, you don’t have the sounds of the streets.  It’s kind of like the whole scenario makes it what it is.  Tacos No. 1 in Chelsea Market is pretty fucking good.  

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Aracelli Paz

What can you tell us about the new restaurant?  

We’re taking over as a team.  Enrique and I are in charge of the creativity of the menu, we have a chef that worked with us at Cosme to be full time at ATLA, Hugo Vera.  Cosme is my baby so I can’t leave it just yet.  We’re still figuring it out.  We started with four cooks, now we have 20.  We have to organize. We’re planning to open late March.

What is the concept like?

ATLA’s name and concept come from an Aztec symbol ATL-TLACHINOLI.  Meaning the joining of water and fire.  Two opposite elements.  ATLA represents the union of drink (water) and food (fire).  ATLA offers busy New Yorker’s a casual, homey experience, a place to gather and unwind.  The space invites people to use it every day, at any time, as they were sitting in their own dining room.

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Aracelli Paz

How do you approach designing a new dish?

Well, it’s a whole lot of team effort.  Enrique and I sit down and we talk about an idea and it’s a conversation.  He says I want cauliflower and I say what about this?  And I make a dish.  It usually comes out really fast.  Sometimes it’s like I have to make it 20 times in order for us to like something.  And we approach it with mind to seasons and what’s available at the market.  Sometimes a dish is one thing and then it becomes something else because New York’s seasons are short.  Sometimes things are only at the market one week, but it’s so awesome.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Most of all, we want people to feel comfortable and relaxed.  We think about food as something that should be natural.  It grows.  No tweezers or anything – we’re not that kind of kitchen.

Are there many ingredients you need to source from Mexico?

Yeah we use basic dried ingredients like dried chiles and corn and beans.  Then we use what we have available at the market, or often Montauk or Maine.

 

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Evan Sung

Is there something from the market you’re into right now?

We’re doing a play on a Caeser Salad.  We’re doing Boston Mackerel raw… for dressing it’s aioli with clarified butter and burnt blue corn to make it like a crouton.  It’s kind of crazy but good and the lettuce, we’re using radicchio, which is fun, and Castelrosso, which is a one of the cheeses we like.  It’s from Italy, but, why not.  We don’t want to label ourselves traditional.  We are making Mexican food because we’re using the basics, but we use what we have here just like we would in any region in Mexico.  They use their basics which is dried beans, chiles and corn.  

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Evan Sung

What are some of your  favorite kitchen tools?

Spoons – I have a spoon obsession… like, you have no idea.  My cooks have to have two empty bains, one that says clean and one that says dirty and 20 spoons without water. I can’t live without spoons.  Everywhere I go in the world when I travel, I have to come back with one spoon from every town I went to.  I was talking to Matt Orlando, and Danny (Burns), the chef at Torst and Luksus. The three of us have these crazy obsessions.   Instead of being a cat lady, I’m like a spoon lady.

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Evan Sung

Zaiyu Hasegawa – Chef Owner DEN Restaurant

Photography courtesy of Shinichirou Fujii / JESTO

Zaiyu Hasegawa is the chef/owner of two Michelin star DEN restaurant in Jingumae Tokyo.

Can you tell us where you grow up and how you became interested in food?

When I was a child, my mother worked as a geisha at a ryōtei (high end Japanese restaurant). When I ate the bento and some food that my mother brought back for me, I wanted to be a chef to make delicious dishes as well since then.  After graduating high school, I received training at a ryōtei called Kagurazaka Uwoto Ku from the age of 18.  I acquired experience in the other various restaurants with a focus on appreciating the value of Japanese tradition to incorporate excellent ingredients, the four seasons and unique Japanese culture.  Ultimately working to introduce a new form of Japanese cuisine that is different from the original Japanese style.

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You were only 29 years old when Den Opened?  How did the concept come together?

DEN is opened from Jan 2008. It is important to make delicious food but what is more important to me is to have a restaurant where the guests want to visit again and again, where the customers don’t need to care about the rules of how to eat Japanese food, and where they can enjoy the whole dining experience. One more thing is that for me, restaurants don’t  just provide tasty food but also a place to make people happy.

The first time we met, you were stopping in New York with your team to cook with Alex Atala at D.O.M.  What was that experience like?  Are there some influences or take aways from your time in Brazil? 

Alex doesn’t just make delicious food but also makes happiness for all the staff and the customers. He is so good at creating the wonderful atmosphere for everyone. I have a direct influence by him. I started to accept as many stagiaires as I can from all over the world, and I care more about the feelings of customers and the staff than before. One more influence is that I started to use ants in my salad dish.

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In June, San Pellegrino’s 50 Best List awarded you the title ‘One To Watch’  What was that experience like and what has the effect been on the restaurant.

DEN is pretty much the same like before. I feel very happy and honored that DEN is the first Asia restaurant to be awarded “One To Watch.” It will be a great chance for people to get to  know about Asia or Japan.

While you were in NY for the ceremony we got to enjoy your dishes at a collaborative dinner with CONTRA – what are the challenges/highlights of bringing your cuisine to a foreign country?

Firstly, I don’t know the most local and most seasonal ingredients. Secondly, the water. The water could be very different from Japan. Even The taste of the same dish I make would be totally different because of the water. I will need to change and adjust for the water there.

One of the most memorable dishes for us, was Dentucky Chicken – a tebasaki chicken wing,  stuffed with rice and various iterations.  Arriving in a customized box, aside from being incredibly delicious, it’s playful.  Can you tell us how you got the idea for this dish?

I can’t speak English well, but I hope to do something for the foreign customers and wish to make them laugh and feel relaxed at DEN. KFC is well known around the world. Therefore, I think letting them see something similar to what they have already known well might be a good idea. This is the idea for DFC.  It also applies to the Japanese guests.

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It seems like the number of women working in the kitchen at DEN is atypical for fine dining restaurants anywhere, including Japan – did you make a conscious effort to have more women on your team?  If so – are there benefits from a woman heavy team and what are they?

I didn’t hire women staff intentionally. After working many years with all the lady staff, I think it is good to have them in the restaurant. The mind and sense of women are pretty different from men. They have different opinions or feelings about the texture, the size of every bite, or if it is easy to eat. They can always see things from a special point of view. Here is another example, if we found some customer’s lost belongings, it is always the women who can point  out right away those items’ owners.  Ladies pay attention to many details that it is easily ignored by men. One more good point is as below.  There are more women guests than men in DEN as well. I think only women can understand women better.

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How would you describe the food scene in Tokyo currently?

Despite the genre of the cuisine, all the young chefs are trying their best to challenge themselves. It’s great to see they are active in the flow of current times.

What ingredients are you excited about right now?

I am so excited about all the local ingredients which I can only eat and cook in certain places, areas, or countries. That is why I am so excited every time when I can go to other places outside of Japan, even Tokyo.

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What do you like to eat on your day off?

I love to eat sushi, hamburgers, and yakiniku.

Is there a foreign cuisine and country that you haven’t visited yet but would like to? 

Spain

Any favorite restaurants in Japan and New York?

In Japan: Anis and Florilege.     

In New York: There are many restaurants where I haven’t been yet, but if I need to choose one, that would be Roberta’s. It was where we met for the first time.

 

Adam Nadel – Executive Chef at Casa Apicii

Slider photography courtesy of Evan Sung.
Adam Nadel is the executive chef of Casa Apicii, a seasonal Italian restaurant, located in the garden level of a historic 19th century Greenwich Village townhouse.

Can you tell us a little about where you grew up and how you got interested in food?

I grew up in Agoura Hills, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. I was raised in a close family that always ate dinner together at the table and used the kitchen as a central gathering space as much as a place to prepare food. Both of my parents are working professionals, but always found time to get the family in the same place for dinner. My mother was the family cook unless my grandfather was around. His influence left a lasting impression on me. He was always the figure in the kitchen during large family gatherings. It was while attending the University of Colorado that I really began to see myself cooking professionally. I subsequently enrolled at the California School of Culinary Arts.

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Quentin Bacon

We first came to know you from Nobu 57 ~ but can you tell us about your career history and how you came to New York?

I came to New York on a whim. I applied to what I thought were places I should work. I ended up at Nobu 57, which turned out to be a great starting point in my career. From there I went to open Nobu San Diego. Having spent nearly a year in San Diego I felt time to move on from Nobu, so returned to Los Angeles and worked for Michael Cimarusti at Providence. After a year and a half the need to return to New York hit me, so I drove across country and came back to the city. I initially began working at Tailor with Sam Mason until it closed. Soon after I received a call from Missy Robbins to help open A Voce Columbus, where I was Chef de Cuisine for four years. I then went to Lincoln Ristorante where I was chef de Cuisine under Jonathan Benno for nearly three years. I was approached about Casa Apicii as I was leaving Lincoln.

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Quentin Bacon

Obviously you have a strong pasta pedigree, how did Missy Robbins and Jonathan Benno, shape your education.

I think that I got a good handle at A Voce. It was unique in that there were no extruded pastas. We didn’t own an extruder. We did basically all egg-based dough, Emilia Romagna-style bases with slight variations on it. Everything was made in the house. Both restaurants have an army of people. I think that is where I grew a serious appreciation for it. You know, when you get to restaurants, you want to find what’s your thing, what your niche, what’s your specialty, what’s the thing that you would alway try to attain to be better and better at, for me it was pasta.

So, I had a great foundation there and then going to Lincoln where I had something to learn about extrusions and have a different appreciation for things, other people’s perspectives to pasta, other diners’ perspectives of what they wanted. So, it’s something that was a great foundation to built on.

Then coming here (to Casa Apicii) and kind of letting the rules lose a little bit. We do a lot of fun stuff here. Our pappardelle is a chestnut based pasta that has dried porcini in it. So, it really takes on this really cool sort of umami based flavor.

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Evan Sung

Are you using chestnut flour?

Our chestnut pasta, which is dried and ground chestnuts (chestnut flour), whole wheat flour, double zero Italian wheat flour and dried porcini. I use a lot of egg inside of my durum extrusions. I think that the egg protein really helps give it a good mouth feel. Traditionally, you’ll find extrusion pastas to be all durum white. Just by virtue that the place is where this stuff comes from. It makes more sense to sell the eggs than it does to use them themselves, and just trying to develop something that’s awesome. A rigatoni, or a strozzapreti, bucatini. All those have egg inside of it because it creates a little durability.

Aside from more focus on extruded pasta going into Lincoln, is there another philosophy that you can really pinpoint?

For so long I was really like anti doing anything not Italian, something that you wouldn’t find in Italy. That’s the divisive, that’s kind a crazy. I think you have to allow yourself to break out a little bit. Jonathan’s perspective on food is sort of an all-encompassing approach. You know my tortellini filling has black garlic in it. Little things like that when it’s not like changing cultural boundaries, just kind of incorporating stuff. I think that that’s the important thing. To me, it’s either side of the pendulum so long it’s really – it’s dangerous on food because you compartmentalize yourself, you put yourself in a box that says. “I will not do this or this”

I think that the success of a restaurant means you have to be adaptable. You have to be willing to make your guest happy, make yourself happy, make the restaurant successful. If you find ways to keep eliminating yourself from being able to do things, you’re never going to achieve that.

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Quentin Bacon

How did you get from Japanese to Italian food? In Japan it’s often said that the two cuisines have a lot of similarities. What are your thoughts on that?

My job experience was based on other factors than just cuisine… as much luck as anything else. I was fortunate to be able to travel and relocate while working with the Nobu Restaurants, but at a crucial point in my career I had hit a wall and needed to move on. Providence (Los Angeles) was a perfect environment for me to land. It was blending French and Japanese cuisine and utilizing California products, all while striving for an elevated dining experience

It took returning to New York to get a better understanding of Italian cuisine. My time at A Voce and Lincoln were invaluable, and from that I’ve been able to bridge the similarities between Italian and Japanese cuisines, i.e. starch preparations (pasta and noodles), vegetable-focused menus, regional dependency and the varying eating habits of differing social classes.

Tell us about the food you’re cooking at Casa Apicii and how the project came together?

Casa Apicii revolves around the idea of accessible luxury and neighborhood hospitality. I met Casey Lane (chef of The Tasting Kitchen in Los Angeles) as he was planning to open Casa Apicii. Casey and I have very similar views on cuisine and our approach to Italian food philosophy. We wanted the menu to be interesting, inventive, approachable, local, hand crafted and representative of how Italian culture enjoys dining.

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Evan Sung

How do you approach menu development?

I use seasonality as the base for constructing the menu. We take ideas from regional research and apply locally grown ingredients.

We recently had one dish on the menu, that paired persimmons with black olive and burrata. Can you tell us a bit about that dish?

You know, you find cheese and fruit all the time we use – persimmons like a melon. I mean, like at the end of the day it eats like a melon and sort of has that taste like a melon. I think that’s kind of where it ultimately came from. To be honest I don’t know where the black olive came from, just kind of evolved that way. I think I was sitting downstairs one day trying to figure out what we’d do with persimmons and saw a big thing of dried dill and when eaten together, it turned out to be really good. I love dill. Maybe because my proclivity is northern Italian, I tend to find things like those northern flavors way more interesting. . The Friulian use of cumin and caraway together, super fun and it kind of evokes this Austrian meets Mexican flavor. For me cumin means Mexican food to me. It’s like when you grew up in LA and you’re used to eating street food you get the flavor of cumin as very reminiscent of tacos for me. Again, you know it’s mostly what you can find, mixing, and matching the same ingredient depending on your application to make it Mexican or Italian or Hungarian.

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Evan Sung

Can you share some of your can’t live without kitchen tools?

Chef’s knife and slicer, pasta sheeter and extruder

Are there specific ingredients you are excited about right now?

I love working with cold weather items (cabbage, apples, salsify, persimmons) and alternative flours (buckwheat, chestnut, fava, chickpea.)

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Evan Sung

What do you like to eat or cook at home when you’re not working?

My wife and I try to keep a vegetarian diet outside of work. When dining out we visit restaurants similar to where we work for inspiration and points of reference.

Favorite restaurants?

Lilia, Vic’s, Upland, Han Dynasty, Uncle Boons

Alex McCrery – Founder Tilit NYC

Photography courtesy of Tilit and Huge GaldonesGreg VoreHeidi Geldhauser and Dan Dry.

Alex McCrery, a former chef turned designer, started Tilit with wife Jenny Goodman in 2012.  Their goal is to provide durable, functional and stylish American-made apparel for the hardworking people of the restaurant industry.

Can you tell us a little about where you grew up and how you got interested in food?

I grew up in Covington, Louisiana an hour outside New Orleans, my mom and grandmother were great cooks, I was a terrible eater and so in my early teens I started making stuff that I wanted to eat.  My mom was basically like.. “if you’re not eating my food make something for yourself or go hungry.”  And in New Orleans, Louisiana everyone is interested in food.  It’s just part of the culture.  After graduating highschool, I cooked a little bit and after college, I went into cooking full time.

What did you study?

Advertising, my degree has actually come in handy since we started the business. I went from Kansas where I went to school, to St. John in the Caribbean.  There was an eco resort that is not there anymore, but I basically worked to live.  I chose a job in the kitchen and that’s probably where I found out that I loved to cook.  They basically had a stockpile of frozen shit.  Everybody thinks the island has all this abundant fresh food but truth be told, it’s usually frozen stuff.  We got to cook whatever we wanted and people really loved my food and I think that was the catalyst for actually taking it seriously.

When I moved back from there to New Orleans, I gave myself six months to get a job in a real kitchen.  I worked first for a Vietnamese chef, who was a James Beard Award Winner Minh Bui  in New Orleans.  I actually went to Commander’s (Palace) first, applied and they told me I was crazy and had no food knowledge.  I could see them laughing at me inside the kitchen.  Which I thought was really rude and heartbreaking (laughs) at the time.  So I came back and applied six months later got the job and stayed there for three and a half years before moving to New York.

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Where was your first position in New York?

When I came to New York I worked at Aureole.  I went there to do a stage for the summer.  At the end of the summer, Hurricane Katrina happened so there were no jobs to go back to.  No house.   So I stayed in New York and took a job as the chef at Antonucci, which was an Italian Restaurant opening on the Upper East Side.  I ran that for 2 years,  From there I opened a restaurant in Brooklyn called GOODS.  As an owner and chef  and quickly closed it 6 months later.  As a former owner, that was a great learning experience, also heartbreaking but you have those ups and downs that keep you going.  During the same time I was also a private chef and continued that for 4 years while I started Tilit.

How did you get the idea to start the company?

It was a combination of being in the industry forever and wearing and hating the clothes.  Then when I went to private, I was the only one wearing the clothes.  And I was walking out on the street, going to the grocery store wearing the clothes and feeling absolutely ridiculous.  So it just felt like something had to be done.  So I went and searched for someone making something cool for chefs, nothing was there.  It was the same time that companies like Carhartt were going nuts with their ‘Work In Progress’ line.  And workwear in general became more popular streetwear, but no one would dare do it for chef wear.  So we had the crazy idea to do it.

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Did you start with aprons?

We actually started Tilit with the idea that we were going to be a clothing line.   We started with a shirt a pair of pants, and two wax aprons.  We’ve kept the basics of those items.  The pants have changed the most, because they take the most abuse.  And we really deviated from standard design for kitchen pants, which were baggy, made from a really cheap material and made to be thrown away after three months.  It’s just a bad garbage garment.  As soon as we got a lot of feedback from everyone as they wore it we tweaked the designs from there.

Still I imagine it’s quite a process from having an idea for style in your head and getting a pattern made and the item produced?  Can you talk about the design process and how you were able to bring those steps together?  

We were lucky in that I have a friend from school with who was working for Kate Spade and she connected me with one of her friends who was super instrumental in giving us advice and people to be in touch with.  Through her I met our pattern maker.  I took sketches that I had drawn with details and measurements ~ very rudimentary.  

We still work with him a lot and he’s great at interpreting Japanese menswear specifically workwear.  He just got it from the beginning and did everything old school.  He takes our drawings and creates paper patterns, nothing digital about it at all.  He was super intuitive on picking up what we were going for and he introduced us to our manufacturer.  

And everything is made here in New York?

Yes, 100%.  The patterns are made in Queens and apparel is manufactured in Midtown Manhattan.  

How do you go about sourcing materials?

We generally find things we like, test it, wash it, I wear it.  We try to get as much as possible from the United States, although there are not a ton of mills left so there’s not that much to choose from.  So we go to Italy for stuff like chambrays.  Denim and a lot of materials for aprons come from Japan.  And we’re getting into custom stuff now, which is a challenge but I think it will be good for us in the long run.  The fabric on the pants was tough to get right so we are now custom milling our own.  

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How much of a role do you think open kitchens have played in your success?

Definitely the increase in open kitchens helped a lot, as well as chefs being owners or partners or invested in some way, other than just employees.  When I started out everyone worked for the owner who was someone else.  So now the idea that more chefs are owning everything about the restaurant, not just the food, and they are making rounds to the tables and being more out in the open.  

At the same time we started the company, the industry started taking ingredients more seriously.  You know, wanting it to be local and understanding where things come from, so it seemed like a natural transition as a chef that you’d want to do that with everything in your repertoire, your clothes being part of it.  People like to know the story of where things come from, whether it’s your food or the shirt on your back.

Was there one experience that you think was essential to your success?

We were lucky in that we started very small.  In hindsight it was fortunate that we failed so miserably with the restaurant, because I was was super risk-averse with all the stress of losing all your money and your dream.  I started working on the idea three or four months after closing the restaurant.  We didn’t start the business until almost a year later.  But I think the idea of starting low risk is what helped us.  

We went real small on inventory and kept the line small.  We didn’t jump into chef coats because we had no idea what to do at the time.  And then we got lots of feedback, and I think by listening to our customer rather than thinking this is what our customers should wear, that really made a big difference.  We still do that, we test in a very small way with limited runs to get feedback and then once we know that people love it and it holds up and stands the test of time, then we go bigger.

We heard you’re working on a cool collaboration with David and Anna Posey on their highly anticipated new restaurant Elske in Chicago.  Can you tell us a little about that?

David has been wearing our stuff for a while.  I met David at Blackbird a while ago ~ he had been wearing the chef shirts and I saw some of Anna’s drawings on Instagram and we had the idea to do our own print, for a shirt or an apron – not for pants, we’re not printed pants people.  It was one of those things that all lined up and it was perfect.  We started going at it from there.  And at the same time they were working on Elske and it was the perfect timing because they were just about to figure out their uniforms.  It was definitely challenging on our end to get the colors and fabric right to make the prints look super clean and the color we wanted.  

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Is it for the front of our and back of the house?

This is just for David and Anna, and then we’ll do a limited edition run for retail.  And we have aprons for them as well.  The front of house will have white shirts from us.

Any new products we can look forward to?

We have trench coats that are new.  It’s kind of butcher inspired.  During our last Japan trip we thought that lab coat/ trench coats were super in.  We just embroidered some today for a new client Cloud Catering.  They are our first group to wear it, which is cool.  We have a dress for retail as well.  On the custom side, we have four dresses in our line for hotels.  Also 3/4 sleeve and long sleeve blazers.  Tons of stuff that’s custom.

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You’ve recently become parents – How has that changed dining out for you?

It’s a lot earlier so you don’t have to wait for a table as much.  I also feel the kitchen is fresh at when you come in at 5:30.  They are happy to cook for you at that time.

Any recommendations in New York or elsewhere that you want to give a mention to?

Lately we stick close to our neighborhood so the Contra and Wildair guys are super nice guys and great food.  Musket Room has great food and my friend Gerardo (Gonzalez) is about to open up Lalo which we’re really excited for.  

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To learn more about Tilit visit them at tilitnyc.com

 

Gregory Gourdet – DIRECTOR OF CULINARY OPERATIONS, DEPARTURE RESTAURANTS

Photographs courtesy of Michael Persico, Departure Restaurant and Gregory Gourdet.

Gregory Gourdet is director of culinary operations for Departure Restaurant, with outposts in Portland, OR and Denver, Colorado. A finalist on season 12 of Top Chef and former chef de cuisine for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Gourdet’s cuisine highlights a love for asian flavors and ingredients resulting in a culinary point of view that is vibrant, seasonal and delicious.

Can you tell us a little about where you grew up and how you got interested in food?

I grew up in Queens, New York. My parents were immigrants who moved here from Haiti for a better life and to pursue education and careers in the medical world. I actually was around food often, because we were often cared for by aunts and grandparents and there was always Haitian food simmering- stews, pots of rice, always a jar of pickled chilies on the table and I always loved dessert. We always had Sunday dinners because we were raised Catholic, so it was a big thing to have dinner after mass.

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How did you start cooking?

I thought I wanted to be a doctor and ended up going to medical school, at NYU premed one year. After freshman year I realized that it just wasn’t the best fit for me. I was looking for something else and I wanted to get out of the city. I ended up transferring to the University of Montana where I left the city for small town living and pursued wildlife biology. That academic program too was not the best fit for me, but it was out there that I was for the first time cooking on my own. I was living on my own for the first time, renting a house, supporting and feeding myself. I had this awesome roommate who was from Long Island (New York) and we would make big dinners together and it all kind of stemmed from there. It was a small liberal arts college town and we had dinner parties and would make food for each other and hang out and it grew from really enjoying making food for lots of different people.

I got my first job washing dishes at a restaurant and at the same time cooking at a vegetable focused deli. While I was at the restaurant the chef told me I should go to culinary school. Way back then, it was before the cooking channel and reality TV and all this stuff and being a chef wasn’t as glorified and it was a little more under the radar. I started checking out culinary programs around the country and decided moving back to New York would be the best thing for me and ended up going to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). My parents were extremely supportive as I entered my 6th year of college, they believed in me.

My first job out was through my extern at Jean-Georges, I did three months there during culinary school and when I graduated, I sought employment there. I worked for him for six and a half years. Under Jean- Georges and my mentor, his culinary director Greg Brainin I learned the fundamentals of flavor combination and techniques. Making things as clean and delicious as possible was very important to us. My first Chef De Cuisine position was with them at 66 which was a modern Chinese restaurant in Tribeca.

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How did you decide to move to Oregon?

My last couple years in NYC were dark. I got super caught up in the party scene and drugs. My sense of responsibly was lost. My life became a series of long nights at clubs, after hours and even shadier after- after hours. Hard days and partying were catching up with me. Some old friends from Jean-Georges had moved to San Diego and were running a big restaurant complex there so I moved to work with them. After8 months I felt that I wasn’t in the best place for me. San Diego didn’t seem like the best fit at that time. My friend Ned Elliot, who is the chef/owner at Foreign and Domestic – was living in Portland, (Oregon) and he suggested I move to Portland. In 2007 I did.

What has your experience in Portland been like?

Portland has been absolutely amazing. I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t move here because I read about Portland in the NY Times, I was just looking for something different. But so many life changing things have happened in the eight years I’ve lived here. I’ve gone through a complete lifestyle change. I’ve refocused on my passion and I have found health. I am inspired daily by all the amazing things that we have here in terms of the outdoors, nature, the amazing products we get to cook with and a community who supports all this. It’s really a utopia for a chef.

We are big fans of Portland, what do you think makes the culinary scene here so special?

I think there is truly a sense that you can accomplish anything you want here. We live in a community that supports each other so much that anything is really possible. There’s a huge creative movement and we see that through all the chefs that come here and the types of cuisines represented. Because of the weather here – we have 12 months of growing season. We’re surrounded by woods, farms, vineyards and the ocean so we have a growing area for every type of thing that you could desire. The vegetables, year round fruits, and iconic region defining ingredients like berries, hazelnuts, apples and pears all growing in the pacific Northwest, Dungeness crab, salmon. We even make our own sea salt here. It’s a fantasy land for a chef.

What do you like to eat when you’re not working?

When I’m not working I am out trying to explore and see what everyone else in town is up to. I love to support my friends in the industry. A lot of use the same farms, purveyors and ingredients so it’s really fun to see what other people are doing with them.  It’s fun to try to keep up and see what new things are happening here. We also have unique restaurants in the sense that there are tons of pop ups and new food carts coming up all the time and things going to brick and mortar so there is always some kind of creative outlet that we get to experience and that’s really cool. I’m an avid traveler as well. I love and pursue experiencing different culture and cuisines around the world.

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How would you describe your culinary style?

The food I cook is Asian inspired, I like to reference historical and classic dishes and interpret them in a modern way, not necessarily changing things completely, but understanding the base of it and having a take on it. Also, I love to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible. We’ll take a traditional soup from Thailand, but we’ll put local Dungeness crab and local organic greens in it to make it something that speaks to where I live currently. With the bounty that we have here, of course you want to highlight it as much as possible.

Were you interested in Asian ingredients before working for Jean-Georges?

I developed my affinity for Asian cuisine working for Jean-Georges. He started his career in Asia at a very young age. He’s one of the pioneers of the fusion movement that was big in the 90s and I caught the tail end of that. We always had a lot of Asian ingredients on the menu. I was always exposed to that and those flavors caught my attention the most.

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What was your experience like on Top Chef?  Is there something you’d want the audience to know, that it doesn’t?

I think overall it was probably harder than it appears on TV. I think what they don’t show is a lot of times – we’re not just making a few plates for the judges. But we’re making 60, 200 plates, we are actually feeding tons and tons of real people. So it wasn’t just you have to make 6 plates and I overcooked the steak a little. You’re literally in a service for 60 people and you had 2 hours to prep and you have to serve the judges during it. Overall it was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve experienced in my life, but it was definitely rewarding, because I’m a thrill seeker and I live off adrenaline and I love challenges like that. I think overall a lot went on that we had to go through to make the show happen that doesn’t necessarily make it on TV.

Do you have any favorite ingredients you’re working with right now?

Our Portland Chef de Cuisine, Jami Flatt has been fermenting everything in sight and it has been very tasty, informative and fun. From kimchi to early fall fruits like grapes, to rice, root vegetables and sausage. My favorite combo lately is smoked, turmeric fermented daikon which one of our line cooks created actually. It is salty and sour and smoky sweet with the slight medicinal taste of the turmeric- lots of fun, funky umami.

Departure Denver recently opened. Can you tell us a little bit about how that project came together and how it will be different or similar from Departure in Portland?

We had been looking around the country for the perfect fit for our second location for about 5 years. The company I work for, Sage Restaurant Group is based in Denver so it wasn’t too soon before it was realized Denver was the fit. Many other American cities are experiencing a boom but it seems like the boom in Denver is a response to the city’s need. Lots of things are booming in Denver with a result being lots of great new restaurants.  Much of what we do at Departure Portland is inspired by the markets and the ingredients we grow here. In Denver we are more focused on traditional Asian flavors and techniques. The Denver kitchen is open and we have 2 counters expanding our sushi and kushiyaki programs. The Denver location also serves brunch and lunch. They have been two fun meal periods to create. We serve pork banh mi, dim sum and coconut flour pancakes just to name a few dishes. Some of our classic dishes like bibimbap, kampachi with taro and of course the wings made their way to Denver. Departure Denver too is a highly designed space. It is inspired by taking your private jet around Asia.

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What are your can’t live without kitchen tools?

For me definitely my Chubo knives!

Good Plug!

Seriously, I really don’t leave the kitchen without them. They’ve travelled with me around the world. Outside of that a couple KUNZ spoons, a mandoline – I use that a lot and a vita prep blender.

I think Sakai Takayuki Grand Chef was one of the first knives you got from us. How did you choose that series?
I think I like simple knives. I think the first time I went onto the website it was a knife that caught my attention. I was transitioning into more intricate and specific Japanese knives, I think they were shiny too. I purchased one and I loved it and it stayed sharp for a really long time. It was light and functional. It travelled well. And I committed to that series.

I think they’re amazing. But they’re not the most flashy or popular so we thought it was awesome that you were attached to them and built out your collection.

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Can you give us some restaurant recommendations in Portland or elsewhere?

As the year ends, I think about my favorite meals of the past year, with my travels, nahm in Bangkok was a meal that changed a lot of things for me in terms of seeing flavor and how you can use so many different aromatics and ingredients in a single dish and where that can take you. I think in terms of technique, dining at Saison in San Francisco earlier this spring was really impressionable. To see how that kitchen runs and the care that they take, the aging and crisping and dehydrating and marinating and the amount of flavor that they’ve been able to get into perfectly cooked and thought out ingredients. That really blew me away.

Locally, Whisky Soda Lounge, the Andy Ricker bar across the street from Pok Pok (also a fav of mine), is the best for late night eats in Portland. Really amazing bold Thai flavors, super casual, open late, really flavorful unique stuff like turkey butt and clams with krachai.

Greg Baxtrom + Ian Rothman – Olmsted, Brooklyn

Photographs courtesy of Evan Sung.

Greg Baxtrom and Ian Rothman are a chef/farmer duo who are partners in Olmsted, a 50-seat ingredient driven restaurant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and how you got interested in food?

IR: I’m from West Hartford, in Central CT, a middle class suburban neighborhood. None of my friends or family were raised in an agricultural family.  When I was in middle-school my grandmother passed away. We went to her estate to claim a few things that were meaningful to us, I picked a dumb cane, which is a common house plant and a couple of chairs.  This plant stayed in my room all through Middle School and High School.  When I brought it to college, it promptly started dying, leaves and branches yellowing and falling off.  It had a lot of meaning to me, so I went to my friend who had a room full of plants and asked her to help me save this plant.  So we took cuttings, rooted them in water, transplanted them into sand and potted them back into soil.  The whole process worked, intrigued me, and that was exciting.  I wanted to know how she learned it and she said in an organic farming/gardening class that she had taken.  So that next semester I took that class and it opened up the world of farming to me in college.  Now in the restaurant, we have dumb cane plants represented on our living wall.

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GB: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, 30 minutes south of the city. It was a pretty small town, my parents bought a small farmhouse when they got married.  It had a barn, silo, corn crib and a chicken coop, but they didn’t farm it.  Someone else had bought the surrounding farm land.  It was a pretty suburban life, but surrounded by cornfields.

I grew up on fast food 3 or 4 nights a week and don’t think I had a mushroom until I was in culinary school. I got into cooking through the boy scouts. When I started something I wasn’t allowed to quit, even when I had a good reason. So, 18 years in the boy scouts.  As you get older, you have to start cooking three meals a day when you’re out camping, which I was doing for weeks if not months at a time since I was young.

Just like setting your tent up properly or rolling up your sleeping bag so it fits in the compression sack just right, I started to like that challenge of making the beef stew better than the other guys bringing theirs in a can. So then, after noticing that, and doing a couple of boy scout culinary competitions, there was a summer camp at Kendal, the culinary school I ended up going to, and it confirmed for me that I wanted to cook. I started right out of high school.

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Can you share some of your career highlights?

GB: My first job was at Wendy’s. I started off as fry cook, I liked that station, but one time I got really badly sunburned and it was hard to reach under the heat lamps. That experience stuck with me.

IR: He hasn’t been outside since!

GB: After Wendy’s I went to a country club, but my options were limited as a 15 year old kid.  While in culinary school, I did three different, three-month internships.  One in France, another was at a bakery, Fleckensteins, in Mokena, run by two master bakers.  After that, I went to Alinea.  It happened to be the very beginning, Grant (Achatz) was testing food at Nick Kokonas’ house and I didn’t understand what I was looking at, but it was on Halsted (Street) and I lived on Halsted and my culinary school was on Halsted, so….

So your first real kitchen job was at Alinea?

GB: Yeah, I guess so.  I worked an unusually long time without getting paid.  Grant milked that as long as he could.  It wasn’t until I graduated culinary school that he started paying me and even then it was like $21,000 a year.  $300 a week or something like that.  I was there for three and a half years.  Then I left to jump around, mostly because I set up a stage at Mugaritz.  If you could find a place to stay at that time, you could make it a few months on very little cash. You just needed to buy beer and a coffee once a day.  I got housing so I stayed at Mugaritz for three months, then staged at El Bulli and Arzak as well.

I came to New York and worked at Per Se.  After some time, Grant ate at Stone Barns. Dan Barber asked him if he knew of anyone looking to move up.  Grant recommended me, the move felt like the right opportunity so I took it.  After two years at Stone Barns, I spent four years bouncing around, learning how to approach build-outs and open restaurants.  I did that at North End Grill, Atera, Lysverket and worked as a private chef for two years.

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How about you Ian?

IR: After university I founded an organic vegetable farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.  I did that for five years.  Then I moved to New York and the first job I got was at Dickson’s Butcher Shop in Chelsea Market.  I saw it as a way to pay rent while still supporting farmers and agriculture. While working there I met Kate Galassi, who had been working for Compose, the restaurant in the space Atera would take over. Kate said “You should meet this new chef, he’s from Portland and loves agriculture and food.  It started with a coffee with Matt (Lightner) and talking about how to create access to the outdoors when there is no outdoors to access.  We came up with the (indoor) garden in the basement of Atera and that was almost four years.  After that I started working with other restaurants to build green spaces.

How did you two know you wanted to work together?

IR: We were both in unique positions (at Atera).  I wasn’t part of service, although I was working a lot, there was some flexibility in when I had to be there.  Greg was there just to lend a hand to anyone who needed it, I worked in this refrigerated room, and while everyone was silent in the main kitchen, everyone would come into the cold room to vent for nine minutes and then go back out. Everybody talked to me.

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So Ian was like the therapist?

IR: It was pretty wild. In that room talking was allowed for whatever reason.  Greg had grown up surrounded by farmland and I liked farmland and we started having conversations.

GB: It really came from me asking questions and picking his brain. How do I make this farm (at my parents house) that can service my restaurant?

IR: We started planning that and taking every single layer that we could and peeling it back and back and back and rebuilding it and talking about how to make a farm that would support a restaurant.

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GB: A couple of years ago, I remember talking to these friends of mine — not industry people — just friends asking what I wanted my restaurant to be like.  What do you want your guests to feel.  My answer would be ‘challenged or intrigued or confused’ (laughs)   All these stupid things.  Bill Kim said that to me in Chicago – keep your parents in mind when you open up a restaurant.   Do you want them to feel uncomfortable in your own restaurant?   It took four years for me to really understand that I don’t want a sterile environment where it’s just about me and my food. It’s almost the opposite. Now we just want to create something special and appealing.  Not — here’s this box of everything that we’ve learned and either you get it or you don’t sort of thing.

Who are some chefs or people in the industry you consider mentors?

GB: For me Grant (Achatz) is by far my biggest influence. For whatever reason he took me under his wing when I was there and I’ve always been able to go back to him and Nick for advice.  We’ve always stayed in touch. I don’t know how I got that lucky.

As we know, Grant came in to eat recently. What was that experience like?

GB: He came up to me and we hugged each other and I said, “I’m terrified. I want to throw up a little bit.”  And he just laughed. He couldn’t have been more supportive though.  His reservation was 6:00 in the beginning.  I took that as meaning he had something to do afterwards, and he was squeezing it in. Then he changed it to 8:30 – but I still had the same mindset, that he gets bombed on all the time.  He has such long experiences.  He has other things to do, so I was sending out the food as fast as possible basically.

He just refused to move onto the next thing until he was finished and he just sat here for five hours and we closed the restaurant and he just hung out for another hour. When it was over I had to go outside by myself and sit for a minute.  It was a huge thing for me.  It’s funny because I was on such a high that Tuesday, I was telling everyone.  What did he say? He wouldn’t tell me anything negative.  I was just like… forget the critics, nothing else matters. Of course, that day I turned around at 5:30 and I’m in the shits and there’s a major restaurant critic.

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IR: For me, having come from the farming world, I really had no idea what I was getting into when I met Matt and signed up to be a part of the Atera team.  What it meant to work for him or that kind of restaurant, trying to be the best in the world.  I remember one of the first months telling Jamie (Young, former Atera chef de cuisine) “I don’t know what I’m doing – I have all this kitchen work and I don’t know how to complete it”.  Jamie said you have to watch Michele Bras – Inventing Cuisine. That will help you to understand what’s happening here.  I went home and I watched it and watched it again, I probably watched it over a dozen times over the course of my tenure at Atera, because it was a world I had no interaction with previously.  Since then, I’ve come to understand better how restaurants at the highest levels work.

The garden at Olmsted is one of the most beautiful and Instagrammed places in the New York this summer.  Can you tell us about what you have going on there?

IR: It’s set up in two beds. The outer bed is an example of things we use.  Sunchokes, fiddlehead ferns and asparagus.  But just a few feet of each.  It’s not enough to support the restaurant.  Then the inner bed is our actual growing of a product to support a dish on the menu.  We’re planting radishes on a five week cycle and it’s very lucky that it’s actually worked out that the greens are sufficient to supply all we need.  It’s really exciting.

GB: There are a few things that it can keep up with like the lemon balm and nasturtium — it’s more functional than I would have ever expected.

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How about the quails? We know they are pets and not food, but are you able to use the eggs?

GB: One of the first things that Ian did while we were building this thing is plant some horseradish. He rooted it and it grew and we do this french toast thing – pain perdu — we caramelize it and put a quail egg on top.  Just one bite and we try to do it when we can.

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Olmsted has an impressive tea program. Can you tell us how that came about?

IR: That was just about having a relationship with Jeff (Ruiz), who also did the tea program at Atera.  That was our way to bring Jeff into the project. And let him showcase what he’s passionate about.

GB: For me it’s two parts, the more talented people with skills around, the more you want to give them the opportunity to share what they’re passionate about. We like Jeff and he has a thing for teas so why not let him have an outlet for that.  And then with the garden, we wanted something lunch related… like tea time in the garden.

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Who are some favorite purveyors you’re working with?

IR: Mauer Farm provides our Guinea Hen – it started small buying 25 hens a week. But it grew and we’ve literally dwindled their stocks.

GB: She said thank you – but now I have to close for a while.

Do they only raise Guinea Hens?

IR: I think Guinea Hens is their thing. We had to take a break because it was so successful. But the cool thing is — it started out we had this dish on the menu – Guinea Hen Two ways.. really great, but as we grew, so was the amount we were able to buy.

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GB: She also has all these eggs that she didn’t want to fertilize because she didn’t want the farm to get that big – and there is no market for guinea hen eggs – starting out I had never even thought about them, but now we buy them for the chawanmushi.  And we’re using the livers in a mousse we run 8-10 jars a night.

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IR: Through this one relationship, we have three dishes.

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Can you share some of your favorite New York restaurants with us?

GB: I love Casa Mono – it’s been a while since I’ve been been there, but the razor clams when they have them are a favorite. Just roughly chopped garlic and lemon on the plancha.

IR: I’m going to go with my staple. Blue Ribbon Bakery + Kitchen – I spend a lot of my free time there. They offer pulled pork as a topping and it’s amazing. I’ll pretty much add it to anything.

Kyle Hildebrant – Our Daily Brine

 

Kyle Hildebrant is a partner at the branding agency OVO by day, and in his off time, publishes the culinary blog Our Daily Brine. Billed as a “personal journal of food exploration and experimentation”, it is focused on topics like fermentation, preservation, charcuterie and salami. We highly recommend checking it out.

Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how you got interested in food? Was there a moment when it really clicked for you, in regard to the kind of culinary projects you’re interested in?

I was born in Roseburg, a small town in Southern Oregon. We actually lived outside the city limits of an even smaller town called Dillard—which last I checked, had a population about 500 souls. We lived atop a hill with a long, gravel driveway so steep it required a somewhat precise entry angle and sufficient momentum to ensure you didn’t end up sliding down backwards—something few of our relatives would even attempt.

If you were city-folk, you might have called our place a farm. There were several sheds and a main barn, three times the size of our modest mobile home. Water was from the well and a good portion of the food came from our garden. We had cats, dogs, chickens, goats, a couple pigs, a cow, a horse, and at one point what seemed like thousands of rabbits. As a way for my father to supplement his lumber mill worker income, we’d raise and sell rabbits to a local abattoir on the weekends.

That all lasted until about 1989 when the local economy collapsed. The lumber industry, who’d been plagued by environmental battles and labor disputes found itself in a multi-state union strike that put an entire economy on hold over night.

We moved south, to Phoenix, Arizona, in search of work; trading the rural life for suburban bliss [sarcasm]. I lived there some 24 odd years—for the most part hated it—then in 2010 I moved with my now wife, Lisa, to Portland, Oregon. Portland is home. Outside of missing family, we couldn’t be happier here.

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Spanish dried chorizo

As for how I came to be interested in culinary pursuits, that’s a question I’ve been asked many times now, and one I really don’t have a great answer for. There wasn’t really any one inciting incident or ah-ha! moment for me. It’s been more of a slow progression; a lot of little moments that have gradually led to an obsession.

I’d like to think that as a child I was more open-minded to a wider range of flavors. It seemed like your average kid couldn’t get excited about anything outside of the typical mac and cheese, chicken nugget and pizza repertoire. Whereas I was the weird one eating onions like apples.

My childhood is dotted with these very distinct food memories—and maybe more specifically, scent and flavor memories. Warm milk, straight out of the utter; lips coated in fat from a chicken and dumpling soup; Crown Prince brand kipper snacks with saltine crackers; the first time I smelled lamb cooking; spinach stewed with butter; liver and onions; and fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes. The lingering smell of tomato vine on your fingers is just as good as it gets for me.

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Spanish chorizo, during drying process

 

What is your approach when tackling a new project?  Seems the word ‘recipe’ falls a little short in discussing what you do.

You might describe my approach as obsessive. When I am interested in any particular topic I research it fanatically. I’ve never been content with just knowing the how. I need to know the why. For example, many cooks would be content knowing how to get the perfect sear on a steak. Some may even know several different methods to achieve that same end. And that’s perfectly fine. But for me, I want to know why. Why is that brown crust so delicious? What is happening at a molecular level? Who is this Maillard guy? How did a French physiologist who studied the metabolism of urea in our kidneys lead us to a better understanding of cooking?

To address “recipe”: I’m personally interested in the components or building blocks of recipes. So, rather than a complete dish, I like to dig into the ingredients that the dish is composed of. Maybe that is a fermented vegetable broth, or a salami, like ‘nduja. I think most chefs—and I’m not classifying myself as “chef” here—look at recipes as a sum of different parts. They think “Ah, I could use that ingredient in this way…”, or “I could take this fermentation method for miso and apply it to something like chickpeas.”. If you look at a progressive restaurant like Noma, they have a team of folks that work outside of the restaurant, in their lab, working on different methods or fermentation or ways to enhance or manipulate raw ingredients. That’s more where my interest lies. Behind the scenes, building the blocks used to make a dish.

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‘Nduja, mid­smoking over beech wood

 

Any anecdotes about a trial that went horribly wrong?

Gochujang. I’ve failed twice. The second time I set out to attempt it, I found myself scouring the aisles of our local Korean market, searching for something—I think it was fermented soybean powder. I asked a worker if they stocked it, when this little old Korean lady overheard my request and interrupted. She asked why I wanted that. I tell her that I’m going to make gochujang and she laughs. A silly-white-guy sort of laugh. She tells me: “You don’t make gochujang. You buy gochujang.”, pointing to the aisle behind us, which is packed floor-to-ceiling with the stuff. She goes on to say: “Korean people don’t even make gochujang…” as she walks away.

I’d like to say I didn’t let that deter me, but I failed a few months in and I haven’t tried again since. The issue here, in Portland, is that it’s not as hot as in Korea. You’re supposed to keep the stuff in the sun during the summer days, and bring it back inside every night. And you have to stir it every day, or it goes moldy. Mine went moldy. One of these days I’ll prove her wrong.

Is there something you’ve wanted to tackle for a while, but haven’t.  If so, why?

Sake. Beer. Wine. Despite all of the fermentation I do, I’ve never ventured into alcoholic beverages. I’m not sure why. Sake is of particular interest, but requires such a commitment of time and long periods of sustained oversight. One day.

Cheese is another frontier that I’m really eager to explore in more depth. Really, the list is long. And I do keep a list.

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Finocchiona salami

Although it is certainly on the upswing, mainstream preserving in America seems to have been forgotten for a while.  What do you think is driving its resurgence?

That’s a great question. I think people are tired. Humanity has always had this drive to be more, to be better. Faster horses. Cars. Automated machines. Computers. Networked everything. It’s progress. But I think deep down inside of us all we long for simplicity. If you ask people what they want, they will tell you options. Choices. I call it the Mexican Restaurant Menu Syndrome. You’ve seen those menus at mexican restaurants that have a million different dishes, right? But people really do not want to choose. It’s one of the reasons that In-and-Out burger is so successful. It’s why we see restaurants around the world rolling out tasting menus. Or the litany of new, high-end restaurants who only offer prix fixe dining, allowing no choice at all.

We’re overwhelmed with choice and starved for authenticity. We have a thousand Facebook friends yet have never said a word to our neighbor.

I seems like the resurgence of food preservation is a manifestation of our desire to connect to something more tangible. Food is key to our existence. And I think these type of practices, like canning, feel honest and rewarding. I could go on. No doubt there’s no single reason, but I think that’s at the heart of it. It’s what’s driving all of this “back to our roots” way of living.

From your writing and recent travels, Asia must be a topic of interest to you. Is there something you can share that you’ve learned from Asian cultural perspectives?

I fell in love with Japanese culture as a young boy. My grandmother’s brother spent a lot of time in Japan and would return to our little town with all of these Japanese treasures. Woodblock prints. Records. Incense burners. Dolls. Pottery and porcelain tableware. I would retreat to my grandmother’s den, light incense, and spend hours staring into this display case crammed with Japanese artifacts. Our tiny town was free of much worldly influence and our TV had maybe a channel or two. So, for me, this was like opening a window to a whole new world.

My first serious foray into cooking was Japanese cuisine. I learned to make dashi before I learned to make chicken stock. Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by by Shizuo Tsuji, was one of the first cookbooks I purchased. Today, the majority of food I cook is Asian-inspired. Primarily Japanese, with a bit of Korean and Vietnamese influences.

I recently returned from a month in Vietnam. I and a few others were invited by Cuong Pham, the owner of Red Boat fish sauce, to come spend time with them and check out their operation. My wife and I traveled with Michelle Tam and Henry Fong of the beloved Nom Nom Paleo, Vietnamese author and chef, Andrea Nguyen, food stylist, Karen Shinto, chef Chris Cosentino, chef Jenn Louis, and a few others. I fell in love with the Vietnamese people. It was an incredible experience. The Pham family was impossibly welcoming. We traveled with them for a few weeks; starting in Saigon, then to the island of Phu Quoc where the Red Boat facilities were located. We ate an absurd amount of food. Like 4-5 full meals a day. That experience, the people and the food, will no doubt have an immense impact on how I approach cooking moving forward. There’s just so much to learn and nothing is as illuminating as leaving your comfort zone and immersing yourself in a different culture.

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Red Boat owner, Cuong Pham, and Kyle Hildebrant; standing in front of fish sauce fermentation barrels

Any specific ingredients you are particularly excited about right now?

Honestly, I’m still a bit obsessed with fish sauce. While it’s just not possible to make something comparable to the quality of Red Boat, or some of the other Vietnamese makers, I’ve been enjoying the process. I even just recently commissioned a hand-made wood barrel to be made specifically for fermenting fish sauce.

I’ve been experimenting with making different vinegars, miso, tofu, and of course I am always making various type of salami. ‘Nduja, a spreadable salami that originates in Calabria, Italy, has been of particular interest lately.

Favorite purveyors you can share with us, both near and far?

My good friend and occasional partner in crime, Evan Brady, runs Craft Butchers’ Pantry—in the off time he’s not working alongside Agostino and Antonio Fiasche, who own ‘Nduja Artisans. Craft Butchers’ Pantry are sourcing some amazing stuff from Italy that you cannot get anywhere else. Various hard-to-find casing for salami, Calabrian peppers for ‘nduja, and a whole bunch of other stuff that is exciting for those of us making salami. ‘Nduja Artisans is also making the best ‘nduja available outside of Calabria, Italy. Not to mention all of the other excellent salumi.

I’m also starting a collaboration with Creminelli Fine Meats, who are making some of the best artisan salami available in the States. If you’re ready to have your mind blown, order some of the Tartufo (black summer truffle) salami from these guys. It’s something special.

And there’s also Hanna Instruments. They are providing a wide range of scientific instruments to the food industry. We collaborated about a year back and they made me the first prototype of a pH meter that was designed to measure pH of salami–and other foods—during fermentation. Since then that meter has gone into production and a lot of people in the industry are using it. It’s exciting to see that collaboration result in this new tool, the Halo FC2022 pH Meter, that didn’t before exist, be available now. On that topic, I’ve recently published a small book that is a guide to testing pH in food and drink.

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Prototype pH meter collaboration with Hanna Instruments

Kitchen tools you’d have a hard time living without?

A knife, right? Although that smacks of the expected answer, it is the truth. I’d have to say my knife roll, a Nomiku immersion circulator and a scale. The circulator I can probably live without, but it’s so handy, especially when cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. I also may need to add my phone to that list. I keep all of my completed recipes in Paprika Recipe manager. And all of my notes on in-progress recipes, experiments, menu plans, prep lists, etc., are in Evernote. Also, if you have never used it, Siri can be super helpful for quick conversions, like: “Siri, how many grams in a cup of water?”. And on that subject, can we please all agree to stop using volume and Imperial measurements in the kitchen?

Any restaurants or chefs that you are especially inspired by?

That’s another really tough question. I have a huge amount of respect for Jamie Oliver. I started to get more serious about cooking in the early ‘00s when he was just starting his first show, The Naked Chef. Here was this young guy, passionate about food, cooking for parties and friends. I identified a lot with that. Now there are a million and a half “Celebrity Chefs”, at that time there were just a couple TV shows about cooking and he was certainly the youngest. Moreover, he seems to be a man of integrity. He’s doing some great things with his money. I feel like he’s used his platform to make a very positive impact on the world. And for that, I have a great deal of respect. As for his food, and his cooking, there’s not a lot there I find personally inspiring. Italian cooking—outside of salami—is not something that resonates with me.

Nobu was one of the first chefs I found inspiring, from a culinary perspective. Later on, Morimoto. Jacques Pépin, Julia Child and Ming Tsai were inspirations, primarily because they all had shows on PBS, and my access to any sort of “paid” television was limited.

Discovering Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking was another big milestone in my combined interest in food and science. I’m always astounded by his ability to simplify an immensely complex topic and make it digestible for all. I believe it was Einstein that said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” McGee is a man of prodigious talent.

One last one: James Peterson. Not a celebrity chef and probably a guy that is way too often overlooked. Sauces, a ‘91 James Beard Cookbook of the Year winner, is insanely comprehensive. And Cooking, another James Beard award winner, is one of the most fundamentally influential books I have read to date. When people tell me they want to get into cooking, and ask for book suggestions, that’s where I point them. Everything—outside of practice—that you need for a solid basis in French technique is in that book. And it’s immensely accessible.

Photography Courtesy of Kyle Hildebrant and Jeff Newton.