Traci Des Jardins F&W Star ChefRestaurants: Jardinière, Mijita Cocina Mexicana (San Francisco)Recipe you’re most famous for? Scallops with truffle mashed potatoes. I think it’s something rather dated, but people love that dish.What was the first dish you ever cooked by yourself? I started baking when I was like three, with my mom. So the first thing I made was chocolate chip cookies. I grew up in a rural town in the Central Valley, and I got very bored in high school, so by that time I took up cooking as a hobby. We had subscriptions to all the food magazines and I would drive 45 minutes to Fresno to get ingredients, and that’s when I got really interested in cooking.Who is your food mentor? Joachim Splichal. I started working for him when I was 17. I think the lessons were really the basic tenets of executing great food—flavor balance, seasoning, taste, taste, taste.Favorite cookbook of all time? I think the cookbook that I’ve used my whole life that I still use is probably the Joy of Cooking. There’s a reference point for almost everything in there. And it’s encyclopedic. I still pull it out once in a while and check, how long do you cook an 18-pound turkey?Is there a culinary skill you wish you were better at? If I had to do it all over again, restart my career, I probably would have studied Japanese food rather than French.What is the best-bang-for-the-buck ingredient? Good olive oil, you get a lot of mileage out of that.What is your current food obsession? Tacos. I’ve been kind of a traditionalist when it comes to Mexican food, but now I’m thinking maybe I should expand my horizons. You have to start with a good tortilla and balance crunch, acid, salt. The best one I’ve had recently I made at home: duck and black mole with duck cracklings. That was pretty amazing.Favorite souvenir? When I was in Paris years ago I got this crazy thing that was probably a spice holder. It’s a wooden structure with six little drawers at the top and six larger drawers below it. The drawers are made out of glass with a handle on it, and a pour at the end. It’s just totally amazing. I use it for salts and I’m always terrified I’m going to break one of the glass inserts because I would never be able to replace it.If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring? Coffee beans and a coffeemaker. It’s pretty important for me to have a great cup of coffee to start every day; I would be greatly hindered by not having that.How do you make coffee at home? I have a collection of espresso machines. La Pavoni is my first love, and I have a machine that I’ve actually had since I was 16. I keep it in shape, it’s my baby. It’s sort of my backup one if another one has to be repaired. I also have a subscription to Craft Coffee, and they send me three different coffees every month. I love the variety, and you get to check out new roasters from across the country.Favorite snack? Salsa and chips are my downfall to fitness. Really good chips—there’s nothing better. I have to keep them away from me.Hidden talent? Skiing. I probably ski about 20-30 days a year, which is a lot if you don’t live in the mountains.1995 Best New Chef BioWon Best New Chef at: Rubicon, San Francisco About Food & Wine Food & Wine, a Dotdash Meredith Brand, is an award-winning online resource for anyone passionate about the culinary world. With rigorously tested recipes and the most trusted restaurant, drinks, culinary travel and home coverage, we inspire and empower people everywhere to discover, create, and devour the best in food and wine. Learn more about us and our editorial process.