James Syhabout

Best New Chef 2010: James Syhabout
Photo courtesy of James Syhabout.

Born: Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand; 1979. Raised: Oakland, California. "I was born in a refugee camp. When I was two, we settled in California."

Education: California Culinary Academy, San Francisco.

Experience: Betelenut, San Francisco; Manresa, Los Gatos, California.

Internships: The Fat Duck, Bray, England; Mugaritz, Errenteria, Spain; El Bulli, Roses, Spain; Alkimia, Barcelona.

Food shows he watched growing up: Two Fat Ladies; the PBS series Great Chefs. "The food was so much different than what I was used to seeing at our family restaurant. I'd thought of food as nourishment, but on TV, I saw its artistic value."

Favorite kitchen tool: A gram scale. "I measure everything. I think in ratios. We're making a ginger snow that we serve with halibut tartare and chrysanthemum leaves. It took me a while to get the ratios right, to figure out the fat content of the snow."

His dream restaurant: "I'd like to do something primitive. The opposite of what we do at Commis, with immersion circulators. I'd cook with live fire and have communal tables, and people would eat with their fingers."

Favorite cookbook: The Time Life multivolume cookbook series from the 1960s. "Some of the recipes were so avant-garde. You think, They were making this back then? David Kinch got me into the books, his mom volunteers at a thrift shop and helped find them. I have a complete set now; I found some of the books on eBay."

Blog obsession: Kanyeuniversecity.com. "Kanye West writes about everything—architecture, furniture. Every morning, I check to see what did Kanye did last night."