F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: Bottega, Chez Fonfon, Highlands Bar and Grill (Birmingham, AL)
What are you most famous for?
Braises, long-simmered stews, whether it’s with lamb, rabbit, guinea hen or beef cheeks.
What’s your current food obsession?
Using the whole animal, incorporating everything from the cheeks to the tail. You can work directly with the farmer. It helps them out.
Best new store-bought ingredient?
There’s a wonderful lemon vinegar called Huilerie Beaujolaise. It has a sweetness and tartness. I’m really excited about that. I use that vinegar for everything from dressing crab to making reductions for seafood to making vinaigrettes for vegetables.
What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
Local honey and local eggs. We’re going to have more beekeepers and we’re going to be talking about different varieties of hens, whether it’s an Araucana or whether it’s a Rhode Island Red, and which one make the best eggs.
What will we always find in your fridge?
There are always farm eggs. There are always Dijon mustard and Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Champagne. Parmigiano-Reggiano, cured meats. Fra’ Mani—their salumetti piccolo is a current favorite.
What’s your favorite snack?
Some of our egg salad. Often I’ll put that on a Bays English muffin.
Who is your food mentor?
Richard Olney. I was so fascinated by his writing and his knowledge about food, wine and cooking, as well as the message about the importance of studying the history and the traditions of a dish. The more you study, the more you can incorporate a spirit of a dish.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
All of Elizabeth David’s books and Richard Olney’s books. Simple French Food is one that I go back to for the inspiration.
What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
Ingredients from Slow Food, the Salone del Gusto, some different olive oils, vinegars and also smuggled truffles.
What’s the best bang-for-your-buck ingredient, and how do you use it?
Calabrian chiles. The ones that I like are these very small, round, red chiles that are packed in olive oil. They often will have the stem on. When you chop or crush them and add them to, say goat cheese or mozzarella or a crostini or a vinaigrette, there is this wonderful flavor—not just the heat—but this flavor of pimento.