F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: The Bachelor Farmer (Minneapolis)
Experience: Oliveto (Oakland, CA)
Education: University of Michigan
Who taught you to cook?
Paul Canales, the chef at Oliveto when I cooked there. Probably his most important lesson was “flavor first.” Your food can be about anything under the sun: about a particular nationality or ethnic origin, about sustainability or about surprise and entertainment. But at the end of the day, it’s gotta taste good.
What is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
A simple roast chicken, with the nicest bird you can find. A good-quality bird will taste better overcooked than a bad-quality bird cooked perfectly. And then let it rest for a long time–up to 30 minutes is great—to keep all the juices in.
What is your current food obsession?
We have a four-month-old broth going in our kitchen right now. We’re calling it Old Water after the Chinese master stock technique. I first got the idea while reading Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo. Ours is not Chinese at all—it’s flavored with juniper and allspice and clove and other Nordic-inspired ingredients. We’re constantly refreshing it by poaching chickens in it, pork, duck, you name it. We don’t simmer it 24 hours a day—we refrigerate it and get it out a few times a week. It tastes a little bit like a bouillon cube, a little bit like soy sauce—it’s pretty delicious.
What is the best-bang-for-the-buck ingredient?
Salt-packed anchovies. Not oil-packed. Salt-packed come on the bone, so it’s important to peel off the fillets and give them a quick rinse. You need to get only about 80 percent of the bones off. You can add a whole fillet straight to a tomato sauce, or you can chop it up really fine and add it to almost any kind of vinaigrette.
What is the best ingredient you’ve brought back from a trip?
I brought back some absolutely delicious black peppercorns from my honeymoon on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam. It was pretty spectacular to compare them with the peppercorns that I had in my house. They had a pronounced lemon quality and a spiciness and freshness. They opened my eyes to what pepper can be.
Is there a culinary skill or a type of dish that you wish you were better at?
Korean food. It’s so brash and spicy, all about chile and garlic, soy sauce and fermented vegetables and fermented fish—all sorts of wonderfully deep flavors. Take bibimbap: The main component is this blank slate of hot, sizzling, toasted rice. Everything on top requires this harmonious composition, a balancing of sweet and spicy and tart and salty. I’d like to get better at that.
What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
Roger Vergé’s Vegetables in the French Style. He thinks about vegetables as if they were the most important thing in the world. And if you treat your vegetables right, you’re probably treating everything else right.