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Interview with Michael Tusk

Quince Restaurant, San Francisco

What's your favorite new ingredient?
I recently got some cardoon honey from a company called Etruria, in Umbria. I rub it on pork roast, baste it with a little of the honey and then I finish some sauces with it. It's got a light honey-meets-thistle flavor.

What's the most versatile spice?
I use more herbs than spices. My favorite herb is rosemary. We flavor our gnocchi with rosemary-infused butter. We like to use sage a lot, too.

What's the most underused spice?
Summer savory. Savory and fava beans are a great combination.

What items should be in every pantry?
Definitely olive oil. I've got a nice Olivestri extra-virgin. It's an Umbrian extra-virgin olive oil. Sereni extra vecchio balsamic vinegar. And some nice, high-quality anchovies in salt, not packed in olive oil. They seem to be a little bit more easygoing on the palate.

What's your favorite knife?
Suisin Honyaki Yanagi. I use it for vegetables and other purposes. It's just supersharp, and it's got a nice handle. It's got a really thin blade, so it's for more little, delicate kinds of items.

What's your favorite pan?
I have a small copper rondeaux pan by Agnelli that I like to use for browning meats and braising.

What's your favorite place to buy equipment?
Dino Bartolini in Florence. I got some pasta equipment and different pasta cutters. I also buy a lot of stuff on eBay, older and vintage equipment. I got a whole battery of stainless steel pots and pans for my kitchen at a really good price.

What's your favorite mail-order source?
Gustiamo [gustiamo.com]. I like their dried anchovies, and the Senatore Cappelli line of Latini pasta. I also like their line of Latini farro pasta, They've also got high-quality tomato products, like tomato conservas for the wintertime, olive oils, vinegars and honey. The products are from all over, from different regions in Italy.

What's the kitchen appliance you wish for most?
A small Italian fireplace and rotisserie would be the thing that if I could have put in the kitchen, I would love to have that.

If you could design one piece of serving equipment, what would it be?
I'd like to design a bollito misto cart [for serving the classic Italian boiled meat dish]. It would have really fine woodwork. Maybe made out of a nice walnut. Something not sleek at all, with an older feeling to it, so we could do a one-night bollito misto and push the cart around the restaurant.

What's the best restaurant dish you ate in 2005?
At the beginning of the year, we closed the restaurant and we went to Australia for eight days. We went to Tetsuya's in Sydney and I had the whole tasting menu. His ocean trout with konbu (dark kelp) crust was definitely one of the best things I've had in a long time.

What restaurant would you want to eat in once a week?
If I had time to eat out, I'd like to go either upstairs or downstairs at Chez Panisse [in Berkeley, California]. That's probably my favorite place to go.

If you were going to open a fast-food place, what kind of food would you serve?
A really super-high-quality West Coast equivalent of a Maine seafood shack—my wife's family is from Maine—with really great lobster rolls.

A lot of chefs are getting into making things completely from scratch, like cheese. What would you like to make from scratch?
We do most of the stuff here already from scratch. We do a lot of salumi products. Maybe making wine for the restaurant would be something I'd be interested in doing, since we're so close to Napa and Sonoma. Or, I'd like to do something like what they're doing at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York; it would be great to have a farm attached to the restaurant that's just growing products for us.

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 definitely go for the fabulous in-season food any day. This restaurant's all about seasonality. We go to four or five farmers' market a week and we have a wide network of small farmers working for us. I'm reading about a lot of the [high-tech] preparations and a lot of the machinery that's involved and I'd like to taste some of the food prepared that way. I don't have anything against it.

What's your favorite cookbook?
I've got a pretty huge collection of cookbooks. If I had to grab one of them, it would be Le Ricette Regionali Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda. It's been around for a long time [since 1867]. It's a hardback, from an Italian author, that goes from every region in Italy. It goes through antipasti, primi piatti, secondi, dolce, and then cheese. Any time I'm stuck and looking for inspiration I'll go to that book.

From whom would you most like to take a cooking class?
I'd like to hang out in the kitchen at Ristorante Le Calandre [outside of Padua, Italy] with chef Massimiliano Alajmo for a day. He's a very young Michelin three-star chef who was born into a restaurant family. He's doing some pretty interesting stuff and the place sounds amazing.

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