Amelia and Nico Monday
F&W Star Chef
Chefs: Amelia Monday and Nico Monday
Restaurants: The Market Restaurant at Lobster Cove, Short & Main (Gloucester, MA)
Education: Amelia: California Culinary Academy (San Francisco)
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from that person?
NM: A lot of people taught me how to cook. I grew up a few blocks away from Chez Panisse; Alice Waters is my godmother and I grew up running around my mom’s kitchen, Alice’s kitchen and the kitchens of Chez Panisse. My mom, Alice and all of the people at Chez Panisse taught me to cook.
The most important thing I learned was the importance of sourcing and finding the most beautiful produce and products and letting the ingredients speak for themselves. A lighter hand is what I took away from Chez Panisse.
What's a dish that defines your cooking style?
AM: A really beautiful fish stew or bouillabaisse, because there’s such beautiful seafood in these parts. I’d use local clams, mussels, haddock and all those great things.
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself? And what is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
AM: The first thing I remember cooking is pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving with my mom when I was 5 or 6.
NM: When I was a little kid, Alice’s daughter and I would hang out at Chez Panisse. There was an old guy, Michele, who made pizzas there and from the time we could stand, he would bring us back and let us make pizzas on the wood oven.
For a neophyte, the most important thing is to know how to make a garden salad, and to do that you have to be able to make a really good vinaigrette. People often overdo it. Here’s how to do it: take a mortar and pestle, pound a fresh clove of garlic, put a little salt in there and a good quality vinegar, whisk in olive oil, salt, fresh cracked pepper, dice a shallot, and you’re done.
Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
NM: I’ve had so many. Alice Waters is certainly one of them. Jean Pierre Moullé was my direct chef that I worked under and he’s been a definite mentor. He taught me how to be respectful, thoughtful and focused on the task at hand.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
AM: I love Lulu’s Provencal Table, about the woman whose family owns Domaine Tempier in Provence. It’s a book with delicious recipes but also great photographs of their lifestyle in the vineyard.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
AM: Having a good palate and knowing how to adjust seasonings.
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
AM: Baking and pastry.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how do you use it?
AM: Anchovies. I use them in pasta, on toast, to garnish soft-boiled eggs.
What is your current food obsession?
AM: Vietnamese soup like pho, especially in the winter.
Name three restaurants you are dying to go to in the next year and why?
AM: State Bird Provisions in San Francisco because I have a lot of friends who have raved about it.
NM: There’s a bunch of restaurants that have opened on the West Coast since we moved East. Among them: Penrose in Oakland, that our friend Charlie Hallowell just opened, Manresa in Los Gatos and Rich Table in San Francisco.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip—where would you go and why?
AM: Vietnam or Cambodia. We went to both countries two years ago and spent a few months there. The food is so fresh and beautifully prepared no matter where you go.
What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
AM: We brought back really cool fish-shaped dishes from Turkey. You can roast whole fish in them and we do in our restaurant’s wood oven.
What do you consider your other talent(s) besides cooking?
AM: Skiing is something I love to do. I’d love to do more writing and hopefully write a cookbook someday.
If you could invent a restaurant for your next (imaginary) project, what would it be?
AM: I loved the food in Turkey—super simple, beautiful grains and vegetables and meats on a wood-fired grill. There are a lot of cultures that cook that way. I’d love to do very simple dishes over a wood grill. I’m not sure where I’d put it.
If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring, and what would you make?
AM: Good olive oil, good salt. That’s a tough one. Can Nico answer?
NM: You bring a paella kit, a couple of chickens, a bag of rice, good olive oil, saffron, paprika, hopefully a nice jar of house-canned tomatoes that you put up in August for just such an occasion, and a good bottle of Bandol Domanie Tempier or Scribe rosé. I’d build a fire and make a big, beautiful paella. I love the theatrical nature of making it; it’s super fun and you can feed tons of people with one pot. We once made a paella for 200 people at Chez Panisse.
What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
AM: Food trends are so funny. I never pay attention to them.
NM: Ingredients come in and out of vogue, but I think one of the biggest food groups that we’ll all be dealing with for the rest of our lives is sustainable fish and how we’re managing the resources coming out of oceans. It’s something we’re increasingly interested in talking about. We’re in Gloucester, one of America’s oldest fishing ports. We use lots of oysters from Cape Cod, Maine and New Brunswick.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up? What is your favorite snack?
AM: My favorite snack is really good pita bread and hummus that we make ourselves, feta cheese from Valley View Farm in Topsfield, Massachusetts, and niçoise olives that we marinate.
Best new store-bought ingredient/product, and why?
AM: I just found these lightweight Japanese cast-iron pans from a brand called Komin. They really save your wrist when you have to go in and out of the oven all the time.
Do you have any food superstitions or pre- or post- shift rituals?
AM: No superstitions.
NM: We’re too busy and working too hard to worry about superstitions. Post-shift we always have a beautiful family meal and open a bottle of wine with everyone who’s worked the shift. It’s a lovely thing to do, and necessary.