The San Francisco chef talks about the city’s culinary history, nose-to-tail dining and creating an inflight menu for Hong Kong Airlines
Words: Sarah Feldberg
Images: Marc Olivier Le Blanc
Tell us more about Cockscomb, the restaurant you opened in San Francisco in 2014.
Each restaurant is about its time and place. Cockscomb is based on the historical aspects of San Francisco. San Francisco has a really unique culinary history – when people came here, it didn’t matter what race, colour or creed they were. It was really about bringing your culture with you, setting up shop and moving forward. The burrito was created here, and so was chop suey, green goddess dressing, Hangtown fry, shrimp Louie and more. At Cockscomb, we do our own version of shrimp Louie, but we end up charring an avocado on the grill and then take out the pit and fill it with shrimp Louie.
You’re famous for cooking with organ meats. Tell us about that.
There are only three dishes on my whole menu that have organ meats. If I tell you to eat a carrot, you’re going to eat a carrot, but to eat an organ meat, it takes a lot more coercing. I wrote a book on the subject, because I really wanted people to learn how to respect the whole animal.
You created an inflight menu for Hong Kong Airlines. How did you go about designing it?
It changes every quarter. I’ve created dishes such as a kohlrabi Caesar with poached Oregon bay shrimp, a pâté de campagne with butter and mustard and sardines in saor, a traditional Venetian dish. You have to design a cohesive menu, which includes three courses that make sense. That’s the first step. The second step is having to take a number of factors into account, including altitude. When someone’s flying, they don’t want a lot of salt in their food. Above 10,000 feet, your palate changes. My focus was on using acid and herbs before salt, and that’s how I work in the restaurant, too. That approach allows me to make sure there’s balance in the food.