What's your favorite new ingredient?
I've been using much more harissa over the last year or so. I use it in this marinated oyster preparation that people seem to be digging. It's just oysters marinated with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, shallots, chives and harissa, and something about that combo seems to kick up the oysters a bit.
What's the most versatile spice?
Black pepper, I suppose. I can't get away from using that. I like the robust flavor. I don't use a lot of white pepper because I don't think the flavor is really balanced. And it smells like a horse's backside.
What's the most underused spice?
I'd probably say black pepper again. You know, ground correctly, it makes a big difference and gives a lot of complexity. It can also produce a serious amount of heat—more so than people think. You don't necessarily have to put cayenne in something, and if you have things that are creamy, black pepper really helps to break up the richness.
What items should be in every pantry?
I certainly always have olive oil, some sort of wine vinegar and probably capers.
What country makes the best olive oil?
I'd have to defer to France. I was in Nyons in September 2005. I went to the co-op there and tasted all of the olive oils, and it was really quite extraordinary.
What's your favorite knife?
I like MAC knives. I have a fairly inexpensive MAC utility knife, and because of the shape and thinness of the blade, I use it for a lot of things. It stays really sharp.
What's your favorite pan?
I have a nonstick sauté pan by Bourgeat that seems to be perfect for everything. It's very durable. I can make an omelet in it or cook a steak.
What's your favorite mail-order source?
I like JB Prince [jbprince.com]. They carry a lot of kitchen equipment, the whole range: pots, pans, tools, pastry stuff.
What was the best restaurant dish you ate in 2005?
I was at Flora in Paris and had a trio of mushroom dishes that was extraordinary. In particular, there was this mushroom poulette that was just out of control. The flavors were right on—fantastic, robust and elegant all at the same time.
What's your favorite sushi place?
It's a place here in Seattle called Saito's Japanese Café & Bar. The chef, Yutaka Saito, is just an extraordinary guy, very hardworking, with crazy-fast hands. He'll just put something together from beef tongue to sea snails—whatever you can imagine.
What restaurant in your city would you want to eat in once a week?
Sea Garden is a Chinese restaurant in Seattle's International District. I get salt and pepper squid there all the time, sautéed spinach in garlic sauce and noodles with green onion and ginger. When Alaskan spot prawns are in season, the cooks take them live out of the tank and you can order them by the pound. You just pull them apart and suck the heads off. They're absolutely fantastic.
If you were going to open a fast-food place, what would it be?
I'd open up one with my mother's chicken wings. Her secret recipe is my retirement plan.
On a scale of one to 10, with one representing an emphasis on using in-season ingredients as simply as possible and 10 championing high-tech, scientific cooking, where do you rank yourself?
I think I just fall somewhere in the middle. Ideally, you do things seasonally, but the seasons never fall perfectly for what you want them to. There should be something natural about eating. I don't like the experience of going to a restaurant and feeling like I'm just walking through a lab tasting things. A meal is not just about weird and different textures and flavors in your mouth; it's the whole atmosphere and whom you're dining with. It's also about satisfying your hunger. Part of any good meal is actually being hungry and gaining sustenance as opposed to tasting things for their own sake. At some point I want to eat something with some texture and flavor that's remotely familiar to me—something that gives me satisfaction.
What's your favorite cookbook?
One of my favorite cookbooks for a very long time has been Simply French by Patricia Wells with Joël Robuchon.
What chefs inspire you?
Alain Passard at L'Arpège [in Paris] and Joël Robuchon at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon [in Paris].
Spanish chef Ferran Adrià has been a big influence on chefs recently; what or who do you think will take his place?
I don't know if anybody's going to take his place because I think as much as he's a source of inspiration, that's still a narrow, small part of the restaurant business for chefs who actually cook that way and serve that kind of food. I think certainly he may have subtle influences on people who serve more mainstream food in the way that they extract flavor and develop texture, but I don't necessarily think that he is the guy in front of every cook around the world.
If you had $10 to spend at a restaurant, what would you order?
I'd go down to my friend Eric Banh's restaurant Baguette Box and get his Crispy Drunken Chicken Baguette. It's out of control.
Do you have any favorite insider spots in airports?
There's a caviar place at Heathrow [in London] that's amazing. If I'm waiting to come back to the States, I spend whatever money I have left at that restaurant. It's called the Caviar House Seafood Bar.