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Interview with Michael Cimarusti

Providence, Los Angeles

What's your favorite new ingredient?
Japanese freshwater eel, which I get from the Los Angeles Fish Company. The eel's out of the water less than 24 hours. It's absolutely pristine. We use it in a white risotto with shimeji mushrooms, tomato compote, lots of extra-virgin olive oil and micro fennel.

What's the most versatile spice?
Fennel and anise are my two favorites, but I'm starting to play with Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.

What's the most underused spice?
Cinnamon in savory foods. We do a sous vide halibut served on a reduction of red pepper and honey. We top it with crispy chorizo, warm cinnamon oil and Maldon sea salt.

What items should be in every pantry?
First, fine quality aged soy sauce that's been slow brewed without a lot of salt. I like to use it with morels. It gives them a richness and color, and you would never know it was soy. Also, Maldon sea salt, and toasted brown rice, which I mix with salt. We crush it up and coat fish with it. I love sprinkling it on sashimi. It lends a toasty, warm flavor that I love.

What's your favorite knife?
The 330-milliliter Nenox chef's knife with a snakewood handle. I got mine from the Japanese Knife Company [japaneseknives.com].

What's your favorite pan?
All the pans in the restaurant are Sitram. The ones we use are French-made, stainless steel, with copper in the layers. At home, I use Le Creuset.

What's your favorite place to buy equipment?
I get a lot of stuff from Chefs' Toys [chefstoys.net] in Santa Ana, California—two roving trucks that sell all manner of chefs' tools, from $150 Masahiro knives to vegetable peelers. You call them and they drive to you.

What's your favorite mail-order source?
We order spices from Penzeys Spices [penzeys.com]. Our new pastry chef, Adrian Vasquez, uses the ras el hanout from Terra Spice Company [terraspice.com].

What's the kitchen appliance you wish for most?
For the restaurant, we're working on getting a plancha [a griddle].

What's the best restaurant dish you ate in 2005?
The Oysters and Pearls at Per Se [in New York City].

What's your favorite sushi place?
Nishimura [in Los Angeles].

What restaurant would you want to eat in once a week?
Olivier Roelinger's Les Maisons de Bricourt, in Brittany. He's the best fish chef in France and just got his third Michelin star.

If you were going to open up a fast-food place, what would it be?
I'd open a little shack on a beach, and have just clam cakes and lobster rolls. I used to have that stuff on Narragansett [in Rhode Island], where I spent my summers as a kid.

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'd say five. I can't speak for other people, but I think it would be a shame if the reverence for ingredients is lost, and all the technique that goes with transforming natural food into dinners is lost to science and chemicals. It would be a real shame. It would be sad if cooks just needed gram scales and centrifuges.

What's your favorite cookbook?
Michel Bras's Essential Cuisine. I it when I was a kid. Michel Bras is always someone I look to for inspiration.

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. I think people draw inspiration from all different sources. There are as many who look to Ferran Adrià as look to Thomas Keller or Charlie Trotter or Tom Colicchio. I look to people I've worked with directly. There's only so much you can glean from a cookbook. You really learn from someone when you're standing next to them on a line for months and months.

If you were given $1,000 to spend on food, equipment, travel or a restaurant meal, what would you buy? What about with $10?
For $1,000, I'd get a big copper roasting pan to use for sauces. For $10, I'd go buy a couple of pints of strawberries from Harry's Berries at the Santa Monica farmers' market.

Do you have any favorite insider spots in airports?
No. I buy packaged foods at airports, like Planters peanuts. Starbucks coffee, too, but only under duress. At home, I like Craig Min's La Mill coffee.

Do you have any food-related superstitions?
I always correct myself and turn a pot clockwise. I always use a fork that I bought at a flea market about 10 years ago. And I have a fetish for Bakelite spatulas. I have about 30 or 40 that I bought on eBay.

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