F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: Skillet Street Food (Seattle)
Education: Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY)
What’s your signature dish?
Burger on brioche. I use Painted Hills beef, our Skillet Street Food bacon jam, blue and Brie cheeses and arugula.
What’s the first thing you ever made?
Calzone. I made it from scratch in eighth grade. I was craving calzone and thought I’d give it a shot.
What’s the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
Pasta, because at its worst, Parmesan, butter, noodles and cracked pepper tastes pretty good.
Favorite cookbooks of all-time?
Tartine and Tartine Bread, even though I’m not a baker. If you follow the recipes closely, the breads and desserts come out great.
What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Being able to know what tastes good. Knowing quality is a first step, and after that it’s all about the proper seasoning.
Best bang-for-the-buck ingredient?
Parmigiano-Reggiano goes a long way for $18 a pound, because you don’t need a lot of it. It adds umami. I use the rind in a brodo or vegetarian stock, and just a couple strokes on a Microplane over a plate of pasta is plenty.
What’s your food obsession?
Buns. I want to create a White Castle-type bun with good ingredients. A lot of homemade buns don’t correctly attain the cheap dive-bar burger texture. When you squeeze a burger bun, it shouldn’t bounce back, it should adhere to the burger.
What’s your most cherished souvenir?
An old copy of Jacques Pépin’s La Technique: An Illustrated Guide to the Fundamental Techniques of Cooking. I found it in a bookstore on a trip to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands in Washington.
What talents do you have besides cooking?
I sing. I majored in music in college.
Where would you take Tony Bourdain out to eat?
To my buddy Stuart Brioza’s place, State Bird Provisions, in San Francisco. We’d for sure have the fried quail, but the menu changes all the time, and I’d just ask Stuart to feed us.
If you were facing an emergency, and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring?
A skillet; my fantastic, go-to 8-inch Sabatier knife; a couple of onions; rice; and some good, thick-sliced bacon. If I’m stuck in the wilderness, I want something to fill me up, and with bacon and rice I could make some sort of hash.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Olli-brand salami, Beecher’s white cheddar and some crusty bread.
Favorite store-bought product?
Squeezable Mutti tomato paste from Italy, because it stays fresh. It’s even better when you char it in a dry pan. It adds a smoky tomato flavor.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.