F&W Star Chef
Chef: Shawn Gawle
Restaurants: Saison (San Francisco)
Experience: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Veritas, Corton (NYC); L20 (Chicago)
Education: New England Culinary Institute
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from that person?
I got interested in the field from my dad, who owned a restaurant. He taught me about work ethic and the camaraderie of the kitchen.
What's a dish that defines your cooking style?
I’m doing soufflés right now, but my style is always evolving. A soufflé is something classic, you can do a small twist with different flavors, but you need to really pay attention to technique and how you do it, and you’re making it for someone individually. All the preparation is done ahead of time. I’m not really into scattered things, or things that you have to work to eat or find puzzling. I want to give something that’s a no-brainer with two or three components built into one, and I want it to be enjoyable.
Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
My food mentor is Laurent Gras. He really taught me how to be organized and how to think about recipes and percentages. He taught me about breaking things down, why we do certain things and how to keep track of what we do. The transition to pastry is easier if you’re doing that with savory. He gave me a pastry mentality in savory.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
I still go back to Jean-Louis’s Cooking with the Seasons and Marco Pierre White’s White Heat.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Organization and patience.
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
Pastry-wise, I’d love to learn to do sugar work, whether hard candies or tempering and pouring. I don’t have the long background in pastry.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how do you use it?
I like sesame a lot, and it’s mostly on the cheap. You can use it like a nut, caramelize it and make a praline. You can flavor cookies or financiers or macarons or even a sesame soufflé. It comes out like peanut butter. It’s much cheaper than pine nuts or pistachios.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip— where would you go and why?
I had a really good food trip in Portland, Maine. I spent a day bouncing around neighborhood restaurants. I went to almost a dozen places and it’s a supercute food town and your money can go pretty far. I like that it’s mainly small, quaint, individually owned 30-seat restaurants, and not corporate.
What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
Mainly, I bring pack photos. I bought a Canon DSLR T3 before going on trips to Madrid, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Thailand. Photography has become a fascinating personal hobby.
What do you consider your other talent(s) besides cooking?
I don’t know about talents, but as a hobby I like to ice skate. It’s a good release. I grew up in Massachusetts, near where Ocean Spray is, and it was all cranberry bogs, so we would skate on them when they were frozen. They’re not very deep so it was pretty safe.
If you were going to take Anthony Bourdain out to eat, where would you eat?
I’d want Tony Bourdain to take me out, because he’s been everywhere and it would be fun. I’d like to go to Barcelona, Hong Kong or New York with him.
What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
I think people will be more driven toward French cuisine and will move away from the Spanish-Nordic-Mexican crazes. The foundation of French cuisine will be more appreciated. French food doesn’t have to be superheavy.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up? What is your favorite snack?
Out of the fridge, my favorite snack is creamy peanut butter, any brand, or Biscoff Spread.
Best new store-bought ingredient/product, and why?
Biscoff Spread. It’s made from a German sugar cookie, but it’s pulverized into a peanut butter consistency.
Do you have any food superstitions or pre- or post- shift rituals?
Post-shift, I like to take a long walk. I take a 15- to 20-minute walk every night.