© Thomas Cooper
F&W Star Chef
Chef: Jennifer Jasinski
Restaurants: Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall Bar + Kitchen, Stoic & Genuine (Denver, CO)
Experience: Postrio (San Francisco); Spago (Las Vegas); Panzano (Denver, CO)
Education: Culinary Institute of America
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from him or her?
No one person taught me how to cook, but I learned first from my grandmother. She taught me to follow recipes and to have fun in the kitchen. Stan, my mom’s boyfriend, taught me how to cook homey things when I was 7, things like pancakes, flank steak, and salt and pepper chicken.
What's a dish that defines your cooking style?
The paella gnocchi that was on the menu at Rioja. It’s rice-crusted saffron gnocchi, PEI mussels, Hawaiian blue prawns, calamari, orange-scented chicken sausage and artichoke hearts, in a smoked paprika-tomato broth. What I like is that it starts with a classic, but then I reinvent it. I try to take each technique and make it more special, by refining it or putting a twist and a new texture in.
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself? And what is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
The first dish I ever made myself was Dutch baby pancakes with apples that my mother’s boyfriend Stan taught me how to make.
I often teach neophytes how to make a good roast chicken. Everyone should know how. You have to start with a great quality chicken and then season it well on the inside of the cavity, put butter and herbs under the skin, add root vegetables with it in the pan, and season it well on the outside. Roast the whole thing in the oven and it’s a great one-pot meal.
Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
Wolfgang Puck had the most influence on my culinary career. He taught me so many things, from how to treat vegetables right to how to make perfect risotto.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
I have to pick two, a new one and an old favorite. The new one is Pascal Barbot’s Astrance. An old book I love is The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Resilience. You can’t let stuff beat you down.
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
I’m great at making handmade pastas, and I love to do it. I wish I were better at some of the new techniques that have to do with molecular gastronomy, though I don’t love that term. I’m not as up to date on those techniques.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how would you use it?
For bang for the buck, I’d say standard butter. I use it everywhere. And parsley. For a splurge, I’d recommend butter by French cheese-maker Rodolphe Le Meunier.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip—where would you go and why?
I’m going to Thailand. I’ve not been there yet, but I’m very hopeful that it’s going to be really cool and really delicious, and I may try some cooking schools and some lessons in making curries.
What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
A pounded-tin sacred heart from Mexico. I have it hanging over the doorway in my house. I’m not really religious, but the sacred heart doesn’t hurt. Also, when I was in Japan four years ago, I brought home a lot of fantastic knives.
If you were going to take Thomas Keller out to eat, where would it be?
I would take Thomas Keller to Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant in France. I’d just love to hear him talk about the food, the technique and the thought behind it.
If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring, and what would you make?
I wouldn’t go anywhere without my two Labs, and besides that I’d put a bunch of beef jerky and water, a machete, and a really good rain jacket.
What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
New oysters, mussels and fish, things in our great oceans that haven’t been discovered. Icelandic mussels are amazing.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up? What is your favorite snack?
I don’t keep a lot at home, but I do love to snack on my homemade hummus and papadums from Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad.
Best new store-bought ingredient/product, and why?
I love my lemon and lime hand squeezers; they’re metal and from Sur la Table. They’re ideal for adding citrus to bar drinks.
Do you have any food superstitions or pre- or post- shift rituals?
I have no superstitions. We have rituals at Rioja. Before every service, we verify our mise en place. I take five minutes with each of the cooks on each station, and we taste everything together, talk about service and make sure we’re set.