Thomas McNaughton

F&W Star Chef

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Restaurants: Flour + Water and Central Kitchen, San Francisco

Experience: La Folie, Gary Danko and Quince, San Francisco

Education: Culinary Institute of America

What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
The Culinaria series from Europe. It’s a great overview of European countries broken down into regions, and they aren’t just about food but also wine and culture.

What is one technique everyone should know?
Perseverance. Cooking is all about failing and learning from it. Not giving up, and trying to perfect something takes a lot of failure and a lot of work.

What is your secret-weapon ingredient?
Vinegar. Even in a dish where you’re not looking for an acidic outcome, like a stew or a soup, a good vinegar helps heighten a lot of natural flavors just like salt.

What is your dream restaurant to run?
If the sky’s the limit, it would be a ridiculously small restaurant with just a couple of seats, a set menu and I’d get to do all of the cooking with a small crew. The food wouldn’t be tied down to any particular style, but it would take full advantage of the bounty of the Bay Area.

What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
I don’t know, but I just hope it won’t be pork belly.

What is your current food obsession? 
Natural fermentation. We’ve been experimenting with it at Central Kitchen, making all sorts of naturally fermented products and playing around with them in sauces and condiments. I love the umami factor they bring. Right now we’re making a canapé of cauliflower pâte à chou served with an aioli made with naturally fermented rabe leaves that we let ferment for about two weeks. The aioli’s got a little spice to it, and this acidic funkiness going on that matches the funkiness of the cauliflower.

What is your favorite new store-bought ingredient?
These might be more available at farmers’ markets than supermarkets, but I’m really excited about the new citrus hybrids that people are coming out with, like limequats—the rind on those is ridiculously aromatic—Buddha’s hand, and citron. These citrus varieties have so many more nuances to them than ordinary lemons or limes.