F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: Frasca Food & Wine (Boulder, CO); Pizzeria Locale (Denver and Boulder)
Education: Ferrandi (Paris)
What dish are you most famous for?
Frico caldo. It’s a kind of hash browns with potatoes, onions and cheese, whose roots lie in northeastern Italy and Friuli. It celebrates Friuli’s king of cheeses, Montasio. Frico means “fried” or “crispy”; caldo means “hot.” We started serving it years ago, and now it’s become synonymous with Frasca.
What is your secret-weapon ingredient?
Horseradish. We serve it lots of ways: Raw on crudo, or with prosciutto on crostini, or mixed with grated apples and crème fraîche; pickled with grilled or roasted meats. Ours is quite strong, because we use nice horseradish from the farmers and grate it ourselves. People have never had anything quite like it. That’s part of its allure: You’re taking something that people are familiar with, then doing a rendition that’s abundantly more fresh and flavorful, not mass-produced. People tend to be enamored by that fresh, hot and spicy taste.
What will we always find in your fridge at home?
I’m into cold-pressed juices like Suja. You can’t get that incredible flavor in something pasteurized. I like green juices seasoned with pineapple juice or mint or celery or apple. You’ll also find lots of coconut water and Pellegrino Limonata.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
My daughter’s Mini Babybel cheeses.
What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
At Frasca we love Fred Plotkin’s cookbook La Terra Fortunata. It’s currently out of print, but it’s an important inspiration. We recently held a culinary competition with all of our chefs: Everyone had to choose a dish from that book, then make it in their own way with a touch of creativity or modernism. We created this elaborate scoring table, and judged all of the dishes on appearance and taste and plating and originality. The winners all got prizes.
Who is your food mentor, and what is the most important thing you learned?
When I was in Paris, I got to work with Benoît Guichard, the longtime chef de cuisine for Joël Robuchon. He taught me about practicing to get something right, as opposed to creativity for the sake of being creative. A lot of people talk about repetition. But rather than just saying that you have to embrace mincing an onion every day, what you have to understand is that customers pay for the food. So it has to be executed right. It doesn’t have to be complicated or different from the day before. It has to be well executed and delicious. The only way you get to that point is by practicing a dish over and over again. Some cooks are always trying to change things for the sake of innovation. One element may taste interesting on its own or look interesting on the plate, but altogether the dish may not work. The way a dish is practiced and built at its core is what works best.
My other mentor was Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. Thomas instilled the importance of organization and cleanliness. Being particular about how things should look, how they’re placed, how things are washed. It changed the way I think about a restaurant. It’s simply the most organized and efficient and clean kitchen organization that exists anywhere.
What is the most important skill you need to be a great chef?
We teach our chefs to forget about the romance of running a restaurant. We stress the economic model. We want people to know that there’s a consequence to a bad decision or disorganization. They’re going to have their own restaurants some day, so I want them to understand that the economic challenge and the people challenge are the two hardest parts. Once you have great training, the food part is the simplest part of running a restaurant.
What is your hidden talent?
I cycle a lot. I did the Mount Evans Hill Climb last year, along the highest paved road in the US, from Idaho Springs to the top of Mount Evans. It was 11 miles or so, climbing from 8,000 feet up to 14,000. It took me 2 hours and 33 minutes. The race starts early and you get up to the top, and then they kick everyone off as fast as they can. Everyone’s suffering, of course, and wanting to lie down in the parking lot at the top. But the race organizers try to get everybody off the mountain because the storms come in the early afternoon.
Why Because he applies his technical mastery to a casual kind of cooking, featuring the bold flavors of Italy's Friuli region. He even does amazing things with a simple breadstick.
Born Kingston, Ontario; 1975.
Education École Supérieure de Cuisine Française Ferrandi, Paris.
Experience Jamin in Paris; La Taupinière in Brittany, France; The French Laundry in Yountville, CA.
Why he went to cooking school in France "My parents are academicsthey are both professors of surgery. When I told them I wanted to be a chef, they said, 'Don't you need to go to school for that?' Then I read about Ferrandi, which gives foreign students the opportunity to work full-time in French kitchens if they pass the exam."
Ingredient obsession Citric acid from a local health food store. "We use it to make our own ricotta, our own yogurt. Lemon juice tastes too much like lemon juice; citric acid is neutral."
Most memorable meal Lunch at Les Maisons de Bricourt, a Michelin two-star restaurant on Mont-Saint-Michel Bay in Brittany. "It was the first time I ate a meal that so epitomized one place. The menu was all Brittanythe butter, the cheeses, the scallops. Out in the bay, tractors were harvesting the oysters when the tide was out."
Won Best New Chef at: Frasca Food and Wine; Boulder, CO
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.