F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: The Bristol, Balena (Chicago)
Experience: Courtright’s (Willow Springs, Illinois); Tru, Osteria Via Stato, Osteria di Tramonto, Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood (Chicago); Café Boulud (New York City)
Education: Johnson & Wales (Providence)
What recipe are you most famous for?
We can’t take our roast chicken off the menu at The Bristol. It’s a boneless half bird from an Amish farm in Indiana. We pan-roast it so the skin gets supercrispy, then serve it with a rich jus, some dill spaetzle and a crunchy salad with radishes, apples, horseradish and celery leaves.
What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
All of the Casa Moro books by Sam and Sam Clark. The recipes are based on the Moorish cuisine of Spain and the Mediterranean, but through the lens of an English garden in a pretty crappy part of town. All of their recipes are so simple and focused on using ingredients properly: They let fava beans taste like fava beans and make amazing broths from leftover ham bones. They can pull flavor out of nowhere.
What’s a technique everyone should know?
How to poach an egg. Not using an immersion circulator, but poaching it in a pot like a human being. I add a decent amount of distilled white vinegar to the poaching water and season it with salt. Once it comes to a good simmer, I swirl it to create a little vortex, which helps collect the white when I drop the egg in.
What is your current food obsession?
Middle Eastern food. I’m enjoying trying to indoctrinate myself, since the culture is so foreign to me. I’m figuring how to make foods come to life that I haven’t had the chance to taste or see with my own eyes. I’m doing all of my research online and in books, then one-offing dishes in my kitchen to see if they’re any good.
If you could invent a restaurant for an imaginary project, what would it be?
I would like to do a hole-in-the wall red-sauce Italian place. A tiny Mafioso spot where you could smoke cigarettes, drink wine out of tumblers instead of wine glasses and enjoy delicious, old-school recipes from grandma, like braciola and overcooked green beans, and elephant ears for dessert.
If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring?
If my family was coming with me, I have a baby and another on the way, so I would take powdered milk. Then some potatoes, eggs, a bunch of seeds so I could try to plant something, and maybe two baby pigs small enough so that they could fit in the backpack with their heads peeking out. I’d get one male and one female so they could procreate when they grew up.
Favorite store-bought ingredient?
I like sorghum syrup a lot these days, and we drizzle it on whole-wheat pancakes with oats and peppered pecans. Maple syrup can be cloyingly sweet. The sorghum is earthier, smokier and more surprising.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.