F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: Addison (San Diego)
Who taught you to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from them?
James Boyce, the chef at my first real professional job at Azzura Point. I’d worked at some small independent restaurants, but he introduced me to a French-style brigade system. I followed him to the Phoenician. He taught me that there’s more to being a chef than just cooking. It’s about making sure everything’s perfect, making sure the whole restaurant is sound. To deliver an experience, all aspects of the restaurant need to be working well together. You need to care as much about the cuisine as the service.
What’s the best dish for a neophyte home cook to try?
Fish. People are intimidated by it, because it’s difficult to work with if you don’t understand it. So I think people should work more with fish, and different techniques, like confiting it in oil, baking it, roasting it whole. They’ll be less intimidated and they’ll understand that it’s simple to make something special.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
The Great Chefs of France by Anthony Blake. It’s not quite a cookbook; it’s more a story about the three-star Michelin chefs of the ’70s, like Michel Guérard, Paul Bocuse and Jacques Pic. I have two copies. I think I bought my first at Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York in about 2002. It was a huge inspiration, and still is to this day. I look at it at least once a month. I prefer that style of cooking and level of ambition. I love how connected they were to all elements of the restaurant. Especially Alain Chapel, he’s one of my favorites. His ability to make the simplest ingredients taste so delicious, that’s the true testament to an amazing chef, someone who can take a humble ingredient and make it taste like something someone’s never had before. And you see how many people he’s influenced, like David Kinch. I love the lineage of that.
What's a dish that defines your cooking style?
We have a Dover sole amandine, that we serve with choux farci. We bake the sole topped with a panade, a paste of ground almonds, brioche crumbs and clarified butter that turns golden brown as it cooks. Then we serve the baked fish with crispy cabbage and a little stuffed cabbage filled with a shellfish mousse, made with shallots, garlic, shrimp, eggs, cream and cabbage as well. It shows how a classic dish can be so simple, yet still special, even today.
Name a dish that defines you.
English pea risotto with morels and Parmesan. I’ve always loved that dish. I love to make it in the springtime. It shows how beautiful English peas can be, and how special springtime is. You make a beautiful pea puree to stir into the risotto to thicken it. You fold in some cooked morels and little shucked peas. It’s just such a great combination.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
You need to develop your palate and taste all the time. Ingredients change with the seasons, even week-to-week based on the weather. You have to know how to adapt to that. Just like a great sommelier has an amazing palate, a great cuisinier has to be the same way, to be able to discern minute differences in flavors. Once you understand the elements of the taste you’re looking for, you’ll be able to make memorable foods for your guests and friends.
One technique everyone should know.
Wrapping things in crépinette, or caul fat, the web-like fat that surrounds an animal’s internal organs. It’s a great way to shape something as it cooks and to add a lot of flavor. It’s pretty simple; I think people could do it more than they know.
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
Baking. I think all chefs would love to be better bakers.
What is your current food obsession?
Umami: understanding what it is and how to apply it in dishes. Like if you’re going to use Parmesan, or miso, mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes, every savory dish should have an earthy element like that.
What are your talents besides cooking?
I’m a decent golfer for a chef. I work right by a golf course, so you would think I’d get out to play a lot, but I can’t because of my business. It almost makes it more difficult, because you get to see it every day and not play. But I enjoy the sport.
Name one secret-weapon ingredient.
Yuzu. We use the juice it to finish sauces, like our green curry emulsion, which we serve right now with langoustines. We also like to use yuzu in a granite. It has a special balance of floral and citrus flavors.
Best new store-bought ingredient/product, and why?
Yakami Orchards’ yuzu juice. It’s tart and has great flavor.
What's the best house wine or beer?
White burgundy. The minerality goes with lots of foods, even roasted meats or fish, which is amazing. That Dover sole choux farci is perfect with a white burgundy.
If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring and what would you make?
Peanut butter, jelly and whole wheat bread. A PB&J is easy to make and always satisfying.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Apples. They have to be cold!
If you could take your chef-idol to dinner, whom would you take and where would you take them?
He’s passed away, but I would take Alain Chapel to The French Laundry. What better restaurant is there in the U.S. to hold a candle to what the old three-star Michelin restaurants used to be? It was the first in the U.S. that was worthy of a journey. To take my idol to one of the pinnacle American restaurants of all time—we would show him that American chefs are capable of doing it, too!
Name three restaurants you are dying to go to in the next year and why?
1. The Chefs’ Table at Brooklyn Fare. It’s another extremely talented chef doing an amazing job with technique and product, and in an approachable way. His market setup is unique. It goes to show you, you can get great food anywhere in the world.
2. Benu. I have always admired Corey Lee. He worked for years for Thomas Keller, but he’s doing his own style of food now, which is great to see, with Asian influences, which really speaks to him. I like to see chefs creating their own styles, finding their own voice.
3. Flocons de Sel. It’s a three-star Michelin in France. Emmanuel Renaut is a Relaix and Chateaux grand chef. I met him in New York when we did a dinner together. His style looked intriguing and very different, unlike any other chef’s, which I admire. And his property sounds amazing.
What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
A signed menu from Alain Passard at L’Arpège. I have it on my desk in my office. He’s another master of simplicity. And again, he’s just different. I’ve always been drawn to him, because what he does, no one else does. Because it’s him. Like his cartoon book [http://www.amazon.com/In-Kitchen-Alain-Passard-Inside/dp/1452113467]. Nobody had done that! He kind of always changes the way we look at chefs.
If you could invent a restaurant for your next (imaginary) project, what would it be?
The restaurant of my dreams would be the one I'm at right now. It’s been amazing to develop this restaurant. It’s got all the elements, from a beautiful space, to a well-laid-out kitchen, to a great team and a great wine list.