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Interview with Todd Gray

Equinox, Washington, DC

What's your favorite new ingredient?
Dehydrated fruit. I like to garnish fresh fruit with the dehydrated version. We'll do a compote of pear with foie gras and a salad of crispy pear chips.

What's the most versatile spice?
Green peppercorns. Peppercorns are becoming the new salt. I singled out green, because I like to use it in sauces against birds or with sorbet. We do a huckleberry sorbet with duck, with green peppercorn sauce and foie gras. They're great things to bring together: sweet, savory, with some spice in the middle.

What's the most underused spice?
Red chile flakes. I think that there are so many new chiles on the market, but red chile flakes are one of the great foundations of Italian sauces. We put them in vinaigrettes or in marinades for a little subtle heat. You don't see them in recipes anymore—it's more often a spice of the moment.

What items should be in every pantry?
Good sea salt, good olive oil and sherry vinegar. I say sherry vinegar because balsamic is sometimes too sweet.

What's your favorite knife?
Chroma Haiku knives, but the [Type 301s] are my favorite. It's an unusual handle and weight; it's a well-balanced knife.

What's your favorite pan?
A four-quart copper All-Clad. It's a good, multipurpose size. You can do sauces at the restaurant, and my wife uses it to make chili at home.

What's your favorite place to buy equipment?
JB Prince [jbprince.com].

What's your favorite mail-order source?
Rappahannock River Oysters [rroysters.com]. These are two young guys who rejuvenated the oyster business founded by their great-grandfather. Chefs all over the country use them.

What's the kitchen appliance you wish for most?
A Pacojet; it makes ice cream and mousse within 30 seconds.

If you could design one piece of serving equipment, what would it be?
Something to cook pasta tableside. I've seen so much done tableside, but I've never seen anybody with a box that cooks pasta. The presentation would be amazing.

What's the best restaurant dish you ate in 2005?
At Restaurante Arzak in San Sebastiàn [Spain], I had a sauced, cooked egg with chorizo, bread crumbs and squid ink. It was so good because of the dry bread against the salty chorizo, the really rich ink, and the creaminess of egg. It was amazing.

What's your favorite sushi place?
Spices Asian Restaurant & Sushi Bar here in Washington, DC. It's got a great long sushi bar. They do great satays, it's very user-friendly and it's great for children. Of course, the quality of the sushi itself is amazing.

What restaurant would you want to eat in once a week?
In Washington, it's El Paraiso, an authentic Salvadorean and Mexican restaurant. If I could go anywhere in the country, it would be Sushi Sam's in San Mateo, California. It's bar none the greatest sushi restaurant in the country. Any chef around the Bay Area will tell you it's top-notch. It's the best sushi I've had anywhere outside of Asia.

If you were going to open a fast-food place, what kind of food would you serve?
I would open a small soup and panini take-away. I see what the market is, and everyone is going back to warm sandwiches and soup. When I think of people eating sandwiches for lunch, I think of hot Reubens and a cup of soup. It's quick, it's easy to consume and it's satiating.

On a scale of one to ten, with one representing an emphasis on using in-season ingredients as simply as possible and ten championing high-tech, scientific cooking, where do you rank yourself?
I would fall closer to one than to 10. I go a little toward 10 in the restaurant, but my cooking is closer to one. You need to recognize developments in our industry. I recognize them, and I use them, but I lean more toward the classical approach and the traditional style of cooking.

What's your favorite cookbook?
My favorite right now is called Sous-Vide Cuisine by Joan Roca and Salavador Brugués. Probably the most important one to me is Le Guide Culinaire by Auguste Escoffier.

From whom would you most like to take a cooking class?
I'm a classical cooking kind of guy, so I would take a cooking class with Antonin Carème. He and Escoffier were the fathers of great classical cuisine. To learn from the ultimate master of simplicity and focus would be amazing. It's all about good technique, a good simple approach and good execution.

If you were given $1,000 to spend on food, equipment, travel or a restaurant meal, what would you buy? What about with $10?
I would catch a flight to Milan and drive to Alba, eat a bowl of white truffle risotto and drink a local Barbaresco, and fly home. With $10, I would probably go to my local farmers' market and buy as much fresh produce as I could and eat it as close to its raw state as possible.

Do you have any food-related superstitions?
Thirteen is a superstitious number for me. Never have 13 cooks in the kitchen, and, of course, never have a table 13.

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