F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: Tartine Bakery, Bar Tartine, San Francisco
Education: Culinary Institute of America
What dish are you most known for?
The country loaf at Tartine, which we’ve sold since the bakery opened in 2002. I’ve changed the flour some, so I’m using a little bit higher-extraction flour than I was before. But little else has changed. Higher extraction means a higher percentage of the grain. We originally used a blend of white and whole-grain flours, but I’m excited about this type 85 flour. At about 85 percent extraction, it’s the best of both worlds: more whole-grain flavor, without so much bran to weigh it down.
What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
The Time-Life Foods of the World series is all-time, for sure. I love Jacques Pépin’s [older] books, La Technique and La Methode; technique is such an important part of cooking for me, and when those books came out there was nothing else like them. French food was still so exotic.
New chefs’ books inspire me immensely, like [Ferran Adrià’s] A Day at El Bulli, [Magnus Nilsson’s] Fäviken, [René Redzepi’s] Noma, [Andoni Luis Aduriz’s] Mugaritz, [Samantha Clark and Samuel Clark’s] Moro: The Cookbook—all portraits of boundary-pushing restaurants, of a chef and a creative team. Chefs didn’t used to write books like that.
I love new regional cookbooks like Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, with its photographs of people’s pantries around the world; or Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem. I think new regions are coming into focus at the same time that certain chefs are pursuing an almost post-regional cooking. It’s an exciting time.
What’s your secret-weapon ingredient?
I have a few. The rare times I’m at home I eat the same thing: bread with something on it, like sardines, avocados, beans or eggs. And then, I top it with one of these three things:
- Smoked paprika salt: A friend brought it to me from Costa Rica, but you could make your own with Hungarian paprika or Spanish pimentón mixed with medium-coarse salt.
- Za’atar: It makes everything taste delicious. We get a custom blend made for Bar Tartine; I imagine it would be pretty easy to make your own from good-quality spices.
- Shichimi Togarashi: I was just in Japan last month, and that stuff is incredible, with dried chiles, powdered seaweed, all these umami flavors plus a little chile heat.
Where would you go for the best bang-for-the-buck food trip?
Hands down, no contest, Japan. We’re doing a project in Tokyo, a kind of hybrid Tartine and Bar Tartine. I went to Tokyo and down to Okinawa, and had one best meal of my life after another. If you don’t like seafood you might not feel the same way, but I could not believe how beautiful everything was, yet so simple, even at the cheapest places. I was so depressed when I got home, I thought, “I’ll never be treated that well again in my life.” I can’t wait to go back.
What’s your favorite food letter of the alphabet?
D for dashi. It’s the best thing you could ever put in your mouth. I could live on that stuff. It’s the foundation for so many of my favorite foods.
What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
Heirloom grains. People are already talking about them—I certainly am, because I love the stuff. They open up whole new worlds of flavor and texture. And so much more is going to be discovered about them in the years ahead.
I also think people will be talking about fermentation. At Bar Tartine they’re making miso out of soybeans; chefs all over—at Momofuku, at Fäviken, Noma—everyone’s trying to inoculate things with bacteria or cheese molds, finding out more and writing about it.
What is your current food obsession?
Fermented grains, I’m sprouting a lot of grains now and baking with them. And whey—Nick Balla and Courtney Burns are making cheese at Bar Tartine, so we have a ton of fresh whey around. I’m using it in bread, and Nick and Courtney are cooking with it, pickling, poaching things with it, reducing it down to caramelize with it. There are different kinds, but it’s typically mild, has hardly any fat, and moderately high protein, so it’s pretty much protein water, it’s cool stuff.
What are the dishes that define who you are?
- Breakfast with my grade-school best friend, an exchange student from Japan: toasted nori and brown rice with mackerel and hot green tea. His family had what were then considered next-wave rice cookers (this was in 1985), which prepared the rice perfectly overnight and held it ready for breakfast.
- A fried cheese sandwich I made for lunch when I was in culinary school, made with sesame bread made by Richard Bourdon, the first baker I apprenticed with. I still remember the tastes of good natural-leavened whole-grain bread and good cheese fried in cast iron with butter.
- A strong dashi broth with giant clams, crab and vegetable pickles eaten post-surf near Kamakura, Japan. Doesn’t get better than that.
What is your favorite new store-bought ingredient?
I love this sprouted tofu by Wildwood, I’m into sprouted everything. Sprouting makes things easier to digest, but this is also just plain good. I have a bottle of super-high-quality shoyu sauce and you can just dip a piece of the tofu in that to snack on.
Who do you follow on Twitter?
I like Lotta and Per-Anders Jorgensen (@pa_jorgensen and @lottajorgensen), the founders of the new food magazine Fool. Per’s the photographer and she’s the designer, and they cover inspiring people like Michel Bras, and this guy that I’d never heard of called Ángel León, who has a restaurant in Spain that’s crazy—he cooks with plankton and seawater and algae, I’d swear he’s half merman, everything is ocean, and all sustainable. But people you wouldn’t have heard of unless you picked up that magazine. I should admit they also put me in one issue, which was very flattering, but I swear that’s not why I like it.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.