F&W Star Chef
Chefs: Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier
Restaurant: M.C. Perkins Cove (Ogunquit, ME); M.C. Spiedo (Boston)
Experience: Chef Gaier: Whistling Oyster (Ogunquit, ME); Stars (San Francisco); Chef Fraiser: Stars (San Francisco)
All answers by Clark Frasier.
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from that person?
My mother and father taught me to cook. My parents taught me that cooking should be a really joyful thing instead of just a daily duty. They loved to entertain and loved a house full of people. My dad especially loved projects like smoking fish, canning, making jams and learning to prepare a Peking duck. This kind of curiosity inspired my own.
What's a dish that defines your cooking style?
I think our Peking Duck in Three Preparations and the MC Trout (whole deep-fried trout with Chinese fermented black beans and Xiao Xing Wine sauce with cilantro) best sums up this question, owing to our passion for travel and incorporating Asian ingredients and technique.
Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
Jeremiah Tower is my food mentor. I began at Stars upon its opening and worked there for a little over two years. That might not sound like a long time, but the restaurant was unbelievably busy so it was a pretty high-pressure environment, and not many people made it past a year. Jeremiah was extremely demanding and had gathered a group of very talented chefs, and we learned so much from him. While many other fine-dining restaurants were looking toward foreign imports, Jeremiah was emphasizing absolute freshness and locally sourced ingredients. It was a pioneering concept at the time and something we carried over to Arrows as a core value.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
The Time Life series of international cooking from the 1960s inspired me to cook. The books were way ahead of their time. The photos were sensational and I still think some of the best food photos I've ever seen. The recipes were exciting and diverse, almost glamorous, which was inspiring for a young person. As the Chinese say, eat with your eyes first.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
To be a great cook (as opposed to a chef), you need many things, but perhaps most importantly, dedication.
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
I wish I were better at desserts and bread, which are really some of Mark’s fortes.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how do you use it?
Kosher salt will make everything taste better if used correctly. It’s fun to try different salts, but kosher salt is the backbone in cooking. It doesn't have to be fancy.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip—where would you go and why?
Nam and Soul Food in Bangkok and Cuisine Wat Denang, because they serve the best Thai and Cambodian food in the world. My favorite dish is Fish Amok from Cuisine Wat Denang.
What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
My knives that were handmade at Knives Citadel in Phnom Penh.
If you were going to take Mario Batali out to eat, where would you eat?
I’d like to take Mario Batali to Sostanza in Florence. I think we’d have a good time together there. I'd start with the artichoke omelette, then order the greens and the beef steak Florentine.
If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring, and what would you make?
I’d bring hot dogs. They taste great anywhere. Our favorites come from Flo’s Hot Dogs nearby in Cape Neddick, Maine.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up? What is your favorite snack?
I eat a ton of pickles. My favorites are the Dilly Beans we make out of green beans. Sea salt and vinegar potato chips are my downfall, so it’s best if I don’t keep potato chips at the house.
Best new store-bought ingredient/product, and why?
Rooster brand chili sambal. It’s just the best all around hot sauce.
Do you have any food superstitions or pre- or post- shift rituals?
Before an evening on the job, I like to have a double espresso and watch the ocean at M.C. Perkins Cove.