F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: Chef Mavro (Honolulu)
Experience: Restaurant La Presqu'ile (Cassis, France)
What recipe are you most famous for?
Onaga (a kind of local snapper) baked in a Hawaiian salt crust. It’s served with seaweed, tomato and herbs like a French sauce vierge. I have a combination of herbs that is totally amazing.
Who is your food mentor?
Gérard Vié, who was the chef at Les Trois Marches and then Le Trianon in Versailles. He was one of the masters of nouvelle cuisine, and he influenced me completely. We threw away all of the old techniques, never work with butter or cream, and never do stock. It was a total revolution and an inspiration and I’m still cooking like that.
Do you have a favorite cookbook?
I figuratively burned my copy of Le Guide Culinaire, by Escoffier, and then 15 years later I realized I’d gone too far. I had a revelation. My food was beautiful, amazing, fresh, and smelled nice, but it was boring. I panicked that what we were doing was just visual, but what about the flavor? So I went to recover my Escoffier book from the ashes. So that’s it. I know every single page.
What was the first thing you ever cooked?
When I was 16 and on vacation in my grandfather’s farm in Provence, I made tripe for a family gathering of at least 20 people. I stewed it in cider for hours and this was my first success. After that I said to my father, who was a big engineer, that I wanted to become a chef and he almost killed me. But I was totally crazy about becoming a cook.
What’s the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
Baked whole snapper, with the scales on. The scales prevent the fish from drying, and keep all the moisture inside the fish. Remove the skin and serve the fish with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil.
What’s your favorite store-bought ingredient?
Rice. In France we don’t cook rice, really. We think we cook it, but we don’t. To do a perfect risotto, it has to be moist and firm and every grain of rice must be coated. This is an art. When I came to Hawaii, and I started visiting Japan and Bangkok and Malaysia, I started to understand rice.
What’s the world’s best bang-for-the-buck food destination?
Bangkok. Thai cooking is amazing for the combination of flavors and the way they handle the spices. I think lemongrass and kaffir lime are totally magic and beautiful—and it’s very cheap.
If you could take anyone out to eat, who would it be and where would you go?
It would be my son Michel, who is my hero. He lives in Cassis, France, but I’d take him to Ethel’s in Kalihi (Honolulu). It’s a local Japanese hole-in-the-wall, and we’d go for lunch, but only at 1:45 p.m., because otherwise there’s nowhere to park. It’s in an industrial part of town, not a ghetto but close to one, and the menu is all on the wall and Ethel cooks local stuff like a goddess. We’d have oxtail soup, and ahi. Everything is delicious.
Do you have any talents other than cooking?
Plumbing. I was frustrated waiting for plumbers to come fix leaky faucets so I decided to do it myself. I save a ton of money.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.