Food & Wine: Chef David Gilberg
Photo © Peter Tobia

David Gilberg

F&W Star Chef

Restaurant: Koo Zee Doo, Philadelphia

Experience: Novelty, Matyson, Loie, Coquette, Ugly American; Philadelphia.

What recipe are you most famous for?
These days it would be my braised chicken gizzards. In the beginning we had to talk people into trying them, but now they are one of our best-selling appetizers. The sauce is just the braising liquid with a little bit of butter and homemade piri piri hot sauce. The gizzards go really well with the bread that [my wife] Carla makes. A lot of our food works that way: a fork in one hand and a piece of bread in the other.

What two dishes really tell us your story as a chef?
When I created this menu, I basically started with the food that Carla’s mother would make for us. I would take those recipes and I try to modernize them, applying my own classic French training. We do an appetizer called octopus gravy that’s basically a fricassee. It’s a very French dish but it’s one that the Portuguese have kind of claimed as their own. It’s a lemony, rich gravy that you’d typically serve with chicken and some kind of potato. We make it with octopus—I think that’s a dish that reflects the influence of my mother-in-law but also my own background.

The other one would be my take on Portuguese pork and clams. We use Berkshire pork shoulder that we marinate in massa pimentão—a spicy fermented red pepper paste—plus garlic and white wine. We slow cook the pork and end up with a sauce that we use to steam some littleneck clams. It was one of the first Portuguese dishes that I really identified with and enjoyed.

What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
I like Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. The recipes are really nice, but it’s also just fun to read because he’s such a quirky character. There’s a recipe for stuffed quail with foie gras and cabbage in there that I like, and there’s a marinade for hanger steak with soy sauce, garlic and ginger that I use all the time.

What is one cooking technique that everyone should know?
I meet all these young kids these days who know how to sous vide, and they know how to make foams and compressions. But these kids can’t make mashed potatoes to save their lives. So I think a good potato puree is essential. It’s very simple, but when it’s done perfectly it makes a big difference. That’s what we tend to focus on at the restaurant—we don’t mess around too much with New Age stuff, it’s just basics and good strong technique.

What is your secret-weapon ingredient?
Pretty much every Portuguese recipe starts with refugado. It’s the equivalent of Spanish sofrito: onions, garlic, bay leaves and some sea salt that you cook, and cook, and cook for hours. We use that as a base in almost every dish.

Name one indispensable store-bought ingredient.
The range of olive oil you can get is so diverse that you really need to find one that’s appropriate to the type of cooking that you’re doing. It took us a while to find the right Portuguese olive oil. Since it goes into virtually every dish, we knew it would really set the flavor profile for the restaurant as a whole. We use Bom Dia, it’s a very flavorful olive oil—creamy and peppery.

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