F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: LeFarm, The Whelk (Westport, CT)
Education: Baltimore International Culinary College
What are you famous for?
My food is known as being aggressive, punch-you-in-the-face, almost overseasoned. I combine salty, sweet, sour, bitter flavors with really simple ingredients. We had one dish that created craziness around here called The Wicked. It’s a foie gras cake that we just made like a regular white cake, but with foie gras fat instead of butter. We served it toasted for dessert in the late summer with warm foie gras caramel and a velvety local peach gelato melting over the top.
What ingredients, techniques or trends are your current food obsessions?
Ancient grains. I love wheat berries, farro, farro verde, freekeh—cooked properly, toasted with beautiful roasted vegetables. At LeFarm, we’re doing a hot and cold preparation for salads, like fried brussels sprouts topped with freekeh and a bitter dressing.
Best new store-bought ingredient?
Barrel-aged fish sauce, Blis. It’s like beef jerky juice. I can’t get enough of it.
Who is your food mentor?
Annie Farrell at Millstone Farm. As time went on, what really changed me as a chef was when I started connecting with the local farmers here in Connecticut, and getting to understand why I do this. Why am I passionate when I smell lily bulbs or ramps in the springtime? Why is that so amazing? She was one of the first farmers I started using.
Favorite cookbook of all time.
Stéphane Reynaud’s Phaidon books, French Feasts and Pork and Sons, constantly inspire me because the photography is so strong. I have, no joke, probably close to 400 or 500 cookbooks. I just kind of flip and look at photos. They’ll remind me either of something I’ve done, seen or want to do, much more than reading a recipe.
Do you any pre- or post-shift rituals?
Pre-shift is big-time iced coffee. We have a busboy named Marlon at The Whelk who makes them. If I really want to make it in this business, I’m going to find a way to process and bottle these Marlonccinos. He makes them to order and has this great way of chilling the espresso, but getting the perfect combination of sugar in before the espresso’s chilled and then adding the ice. He generally uses beautiful organic, local milk, but for mine, he adds half-and-half. It’s silky and creamy.
What is your hidden talent, besides cooking?
I’m a baseball coach. I have two boys—an 11 year old and an eight year old. I’ve been doing it since they both could swing a bat.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.