F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: Camino (Oakland, CA)
Experience: Chez Panisse (Berkeley)
What dish are you most famous for?
Lamb à la ficelle (a leg of lamb roasted while hanging by a string), only because everyone seems to take a picture of it. I’m known for cooking on a fireplace.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth, by Roy Andries de Groot, it paints the most enchanting picture of these two spinster women cooking in their hotel. When I was at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters gave it to me twice. It’s overly romanticized and dated; they put Chartreuse and Gruyère and country ham in everything. But it showed me that standing by a stove was the job for me.
What’s one technique everyone should know?
How to make a real ragù—ideally, with the leftover parts of a whole animal. One of the hardest challenges of buying whole animals is how to use them up without wasting anything. But for home cooks, too, a good ragù requires so many skills: cooking all the components properly, including the soffrito; adding the right amount of liquid; cutting, sautéing, simmering; and intuition, too—it’s not like making a stock.
If you were going to take Thomas Keller, Tony Bourdain and/or Mario Batali out to eat, where would it be?
El Paisa, a new favorite taco place in East Oakland. They have unusual cuts of meat like suadero, a beef cut I’d never seen before. It’s like the taquerias in Mexico where you pay for the number of tacos you want first, then pick which kinds you’d like. And their salsas are delicious, though some of them are stupidly hot.
If you were facing an emergency, and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring?
A knife, good minerally sea salt, seaweed, chiles, sesame seeds and a dried grain like farro for nutrients and flavor. I imagine I’d also need a small bottle of high-proof alcohol, like rum or whiskey—more to take the edge off and clean wounds than for cooking.
Mushroom trimmings. We’ve started using them in a bunch of things, like fish stock. They have a nice way of boosting flavor with restraint.
What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
Herbs. In the efforts to make everything as punchy and acidic and umami-rich as possible, herbs have gotten lost. They can be combined in refreshing ways that don’t taste salty or mushroomy or fishy. And something unusual like lovage or anise hyssop can brighten something super-plain.
Favorite online shops?
Essential Depot, where we get lye for making pretzels, and saltpeter for curing. And Diary Connection where we buy cultures for crème fraîche. Crème fraîche isn’t as good without the real culture.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.