F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: Dai Due (Austin)
Who taught you how to cook?
Tim Kartiganer at Tocai in Austin. He was very good at cooking quickly and at improvising. He was able to make food taste good with just what he had on hand.
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself?
Some crappie fish that I caught. I was about 15. I fried some bacon, and then fried the fish and potatoes in the bacon fat, and then my friend and I ate it with some ketchup.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
Auberge of the Flowering Hearthby Roy Andries De Groot.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Organization. If you’re not efficient and organized, no matter how good you are, you’re not getting the food out there effectively to people.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient?
Onion. There are times of year when we don’t have onions and times of year when there are different varieties: green, spring, bulb, keeping onions. Each is different. You can cook them forever, serve them raw, fry, grill, smoke or bake them, and they’re relatively cheap. It doesn’t get any better than onions.
What is your current food obsession?
Preserving and drying fish. It’s something people in very poor countries have been doing for centuries. It’s very simple: I use salt, fish and some smoke or sun. We’re working on catfish, hake, white bass and the egg sacs, which we cure and smoke and use to season kimchi. Preserved fish adds great complexity to dishes, too.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip?
San Sebastián, Spain. It’s wall-to-wall food there, you can eat all day, and the quality is amazing. Something about the way they eat there really resonates with me. It’s a lot of seafood, meat and vegetables, and they all get equal respect. I love just to go to the old quarter, walk from bar to bar, eat a little bit at each one and drink cider.
What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
A terra cotta gratin dish from Girona, Spain. I lugged it around Europe for a couple weeks in a backpack. I’ve had it for eight years, and I can’t believe it’s not broken. I love that thing. It’s the perfect size, and it reminds me of Girona.
If you could invent a restaurant for your next (imaginary) project, what would it be?
A giant German-style beer hall with just sausages, somewhere in the Texas countryside, and I’d only be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. All day.
If you were going to take Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain or Mario Batali out to eat, where would it be?
I’d take Bourdain to a little restaurant called Le Relais de Preixan, in the tiny town of Preixan in southern France. I don’t know if it’s a stellar restaurant, but it’s very good, and the only business in the whole town. I’ve spent a lot of time there, and it would be a fun meal. I’d order the grilled rabbit with fried potatoes, the salade de gésiers de canard, and to drink, Minervois.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Cold Indian food.
If you were facing an emergency and could take only one backpack of supplies, what would you bring?
Salt, a small firearm, plenty of ammunition, grilled or roasted pig or deer, olive oil too, and a bottle of wine. If I’m not buying, some sort of Burgundy.