Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC
What's your favorite new ingredient?
Chapel Hill Creamery makes a cheese just for us that's similar to Indian paneer, using milk from pasture-raised Jersey cows. We gave some farmers shishito seeds last year, so this year we're going to start cooking shishito peppers; we fry them whole and sprinkle them with sea salt. We also get huge pastured eggs from heritage chicken from Fickle Creek Farm, which is about 15 miles from Lantern. They do multispecies grazing, so there are fields with goats, chicken and other animals. We get log-grown shiitake mushrooms from Shady Grove Farm [theshadygrovefarm.com]. It's a 227-year-old family-owned and -run farm. Normally, shiitakes are grown on sawdust. The mushrooms from Shady Grove grow on old oak logs that are stacked like tepees. They have shiitakes, oysters and chicken of the woods. We're also trying to locally source a lot of Asian ingredients here and are encouraging farmers to grow edamame and Asian tomatoes.
What's the most versatile spice?
What's the most underused spice?
What items should be in every pantry?
Harissa. It's a good, quick flavor builder and great for marinating chicken thighs. Sea salt. And salted anchovies or sardines. Garlicky pasta is great with anchovies.
What's your favorite pan?
Le Creuset. We got Le Creuset pans as wedding gifts and I use them at the restaurant. Unfortunately, Le Creuset doesn't guarantee them for life in commercial kitchens, but I love them.
What's your favorite place to buy equipment?
We just opened 77 packages that were shipped to us from Sang Kung on the Bowery [in Manhattan]. We deal with a guy named Kwok who is hysterical. We got a wok burner, cool stacking aluminum baskets for steaming and smoking, bento boxes and lots of china. It's the type used in lots of high-end Chinese restaurants: casseroles with different lids, big soup bowls, oval platters for fried fish.
What's your favorite mail-order source?
I love Jamison Farm [jamisonfarm.com] in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Their lamb is great. I also like Fresh & Wild (800-222-5578). We get great trout roe from Sunburst Trout Company [sunbursttrout.com] in Canton, North Carolina.
What's the kitchen appliance you wish for most?
I'd want a real ice cream maker. Our freezer is from Sears, so our ice cream doesn't soften up. We churn it fresh every day, but then we stick it in the freezer and it gets hard. My pastry chef would really thank me.
If you could design one piece of serving equipment, what would it be?
Something to steam a whole fish on and serve with it would be good.
What's the best restaurant you ate at in 2005?
Cal Pep in Barcelona. It's a little tapas bar with one little line of seats. It's eight or 10 feet wide and people just stand in a line with their backs to the walls and watch the cooks. I love the warm tortilla with garlic aioli and the button-size clams. They also serve really great ham.
What's your favorite sushi place?
I don't live in the land of the sushi, but I love Jewel Bako in Manhattan. I went to Asanebo in Studio City, California, and that was great. They had great raw prawns and a little broth with the fried head in it a couple of courses later.
If you were going to open a fast-food place, what kind of food would you serve?
A noodle shop.
Are there any dining trends you see on the rise?
At a conference I went to, Nach Waxman [owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore in Manhattan] was talking about people making their own sausages, churning their own butter. He said people would mine their own salt if they could. I made sauerkraut at my house and started giving it to people and they were so excited. We're also selling a lot of kimchi with dried fish in it and people really like it.
A lot of chefs are getting into making things completely from scratch, like cheese. What would you like to make from scratch?
We make our own XO sauce, a special sauce developed in Hong Kong in the 1980s. It's made with ham, shallots, garlic, dried scallops and dried shrimp. We fry it all up and sweeten it with sweet chile sauce. It's really rich and funky and we mix it with chicken stock and put it on different kinds of greens, like asparagus and fava beans.
On a scale of one to 10, with one representing an emphasis on using in-season ingredients as simply as possible and 10 championing high-tech, scientific cooking, where do you rank yourself?
Two. I was so aggressively not into all that stuff a few years ago, but now they're kind of selling me. I went to San Sebastián and there's something I had at Akelarre that was great. You got a little glass with fig preserves at the bottom and the waiter pours creamy milk on top and you don't touch it. And then half a minute later it's like a panna cotta.
What's your favorite cookbook?
I love Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. I also love The Art of Chinese Cuisine. It's by Hsiang Ju Lin. It's like Dada poetry. It's divided up into textures more than ingredients or flavors. It first came out in 1969 as Chinese Gastronomy, but I have a new edition that came out a few years ago.
From whom would you most like to take a cooking class?
I love Paul Bertolli [former chef at Oliveto in Oakland, California]. He's really fearless in his vision.
If you were given $1,000 to spend on food, equipment, travel or a restaurant meal, what would you buy? What about with $10?
Really amazing handmade ceramic plates. There's a place in Japan where the chef takes time off every three months to fire his own plates. We have a potter do slabs for sashimi, but it's hard to keep them pristine, so we don't use them all the time.