F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: FIG, The Ordinary (Charleston, SC)
What dish are you most famous for?
At FIG, it’s a chicken liver pâté. We use a really old-school process that isn’t used very often, where we emulsify the pork fatback and the chicken livers with bacon. It is as smooth as smooth can be. The pork fat balances out the chicken livers so perfectly. It almost tastes closer to foie gras than chicken livers. It’s really ethereal.
What ingredient are you currently obsessed with?
Seafood. We opened The Ordinary because I have such a passion for it. The culinary community has been so pork-centric for the past several years that seafood cookery has fallen by the wayside. With all the innovative techniques and approaches that chefs have taken though, I think that if you apply that culinary discipline to seafood, you can come up with some pretty amazing, fresh new things.
What will we always find in your fridge?
A disproportionate amount of eggs to other ingredients in the fridge, always. My egg farmer has the strictest standards, the eggs are so delicious. We have a one-year-old son and he loves them, too. So we’re always cooking eggs in the morning.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Every single time, it’ll be deli meat rolled with a piece of cheese and some kind of mayonnaise.
What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
A Return to Cooking, by Eric Ripert. I’m a big fan of French cooking. There’s something about the technique and the driven discipline. When I think about how to express myself, how to constantly strive to execute your vision, I look to that book. It inspires me to keep focusing on how people view my cooking. He’s translated his elegant brand into a casual cookbook, it’s genius. It’s important as a chef to have a brand. For me, personally, I want it to be based on good sensibility and strong technique.
What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
I don’t have a pastry chef at my restaurants because I’ve found that teaching cooks to run the pastry department teaches them the discipline of mise en place, time management and organization. You can’t really hide behind a baking accident as much as you can with savory cooking. To be successful, you have to have discipline, great mise en place, good timing, good organizational skills. If you can do those things successfully, then I think you have a much better chance of becoming a successful chef.
Do you have any pre-shift rituals?
I try to walk off a lot before a shift. I take a lap around the block. I clear my head and get one good thought before service, which might be “Let’s focus on one certain dish” or “Let’s focus on attitudes” or “Let’s stay positive.” When I come back into the kitchen, I try to keep that one thought in my head through service to help give us some focus.
What is your hidden talent?
I love to race dirt bikes. I’ve got a couple Ducatis and I’ve spent many Sundays and Mondays in the mountains of North Carolina with my friends, blowing off some steam. A little travel therapy, if you will.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.