F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: Victory 44, Rustica Bakery, Dogwood Coffee, Parka (Minneapolis)
Experience: Hotel Sofitel (Bloomington, MN); Nicollet Island Inn, B.T. McElrath Chocolatier (Minneapolis)
Education: Le Cordon Bleu (Minneapolis)
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from him or her?
Mainly my Grandpa Bill. He had a great saying, “Eye appeal is half the meal.”
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself?
The first dish I made myself was venison steak with mustard cream sauce and apples. That taught me about refinement and how much attention good food takes.
What is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
For a neophyte, a salad might be a good place to start. It can help you learn a basic technique like vinaigrette. And it can stretch your knowledge of ingredients. Try making a rule that you can’t default to greens as the base. Try beets: Are they good raw? Or would you like them a little tenderer? Then blanch them. Do you like them simply dressed, or in a more elaborate vinaigrette with blueberries? Cheese or no cheese? That helps you learn what you like.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
If I had to pick one, it’s The French Laundry Cookbook, but I also love White Heat, by Marco Pierre White; The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter; Chez Panisse Fruit; Tapas, by José Andrés; David Chang’s Momofuku; and Grant Achatz’s Alinea.
What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
What is your current food obsession?
Carrots. I was cooking them sous vide for a carrot tartare, and realized you can get so many different textures and levels of sweetness out of them depending on how you cook them, and for how long. They’re so adaptable and pair with so many ingredients. For the tartare, I ran the cooked carrots through a meat grinder to simulate the texture of ground meat. I served it with pickled mustard seeds, apple, oil-cured olives and pickled ginger.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip: Where would you go and why?
Chicago. It’s super-close and has so many cool restaurants. I am a huge fan of anything Paul Kahan does. Publican Meats is delicious for a brunch, but my favorite right now is Trencherman.
If you were going to take Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain or Mario Batali out to eat, who would you take and where would you go?
Thomas Keller. I wouldn’t take him out anywhere. I would bring him to my grandpa’s or have my mom cook, so we could relax and I could pick his brain for hours.
If you were facing an emergency, and could take only one backpack of supplies, what would you bring, and what would you make?
Knives, fleur de sel, eggs, a baguette, butter and country ham. I would make soft scrambled eggs on buttered baguette with country ham.
What is your favorite snack?
A good, ripe soft cheese on olive bread. My favorite is St. André triple cream. But I also love Rogue River Blue.
Five people to follow on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook.
The only person you need to follow on any social media is Andrew Zimmern. He knows everyone. He’s funny and a great guy.
Do you have any food superstitions or pre- or post-shift rituals?
Espresso before the shift, throughout the shift and after the shift.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.