F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: Poppy, Seattle
Experience: The Herbfarm, Woodinville, WA; Alexis Hotel, Seattle; Stars, San Francisco
Education: California Culinary Academy
What is your signature dish?
The recipe I’m most famous for is slow-roast salmon with spring herb sauce. You roast it at a low temperature, between 225 and 250 degrees, which is a simple and a foolproof way to cook salmon, but you have to use wonderful, fresh wild salmon. My tip for the sauce, which is a very light butter sauce, is at the end you throw in tons of fresh herbs. Be exuberant with the herbs and chop them coarsely. My top choices are chervil, chives, lemon thyme and lovage, but there’s a huge variety and you can use basil, tarragon and parsley.
What is the first dish you ever cooked?
Julia Child’s potato leek soup. I was 11 or 12 years old; I was watching a lot of Julia Child on television, she was making this soup and it looked like fun. My mom was all for my making it, and the soup came out great, or at least they said it did. For a neophyte cook, soup is great, because it’s all about balancing flavor and you can learn about that and about chopping.
What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
I have many favorite cookbooks of all time, including Julia Child’s The French Chef; The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas; From a Breton Garden, by Josephine Araldo and Robert Reynolds; Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book; The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, by Grace Young; Classic Indian Cooking, by Julie Sahni; and Paula Wolfert’s books. It’s too hard to choose just one.
What is the most important skill you need as a chef?
The most important skill you need to be a great cook is timing. Everything is based on timing. How long to keep the fish in the pan, when to start the peas if you’re adding them to the pasta, and on and on. Timing’s something you really have to have a sense of to be a good cook.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient?
Dried beans. In the winter I’ll cook a big batch of heirloom beans with some aromatics and then I’ll eat them all week. I’ll prepare them with some nice sausage, as bean cakes, in a soup or with a pasta dish. They’re really versatile, and cost almost nothing.
What are you obsessed with cooking right now?
I’ve been obsessed lately with Chinese cooking, and I use tons of recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop’s new book Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. I’m going on a tour of China with her in October. Grace Young’s books are also hugely inspiring. I am really interested in Sichuan cooking. The thing that I’m really learning is the simplicity of Chinese cooking, and that you can always taste the ingredient, it’s not hidden.
What do you snack on from the refrigerator?
I always have kimchi in the refrigerator. My favorite snack is Kettle Brand Krinkle Cut Cheddar & Sour Cream potato chips.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.