What was your first memory of cooking and what did you cook?
When I was a little boy I used to get on the chair with my great grandmother Rosalie and make pasta with her, cranking the pasta machine or help her make tomato pie. Then I would also go and dig for quahogs with my grandmother Helen and help her make clam chowder. I was very lucky cause when I was a child, my grandmothers on both sides of my family were such amazing cooks and very hospitable, it really made me into who I am today.
What is a knife you cannot live without?
I just got this amazing custom knife made by Nora Knives., It’s customized to me, everything about it. Its so comfortable to use I want him to make me more.
What is one ingredient you cannot cook without?
It’s not one specific ingredient, it’s acid, in all forms. It’s a really important way in which I look at flavor. Acid is a key way for me to balance all the food and make things pop as well as keep ingredients fresh and bright no matter what it is.
What was one of the biggest mistakes you made your first year in the culinary industry?
I was working at Red Sage in DC for Mark Miller, in the middle of a huge pick up I put a log in the wood oven know as the bear and I seared my had to the inside of the oven. What was even worse was that earlier in the day, I had been making salsa with scotch bonnets. As soon as my skin touched the oven, it was twice as hot because of the bonnets so the burning was crazy horrible.
When did you know you wanted to become a chef or restaurant proprietor?
I knew I wanted to be a chef and cook since high school. It’s so funny in my senior year book it says, future: be an internationally know chef.
What inspired you to open the adored Cockscomb Restaurant in San Francisco? How would you describe the menu and inspiration behind it?
Cockscomb is my dream restaurant. It is my ode to the rich culinary history of San Francisco. The feel of the space is what some people say the inside of my brain must be like. It’s a comfortable vibe with a lot of fun to be had; convivial and cravable dining. The amazing history of the gold rush and all the amazing cultures that came here seeking riches brought with them so much culture rich in unique food history.
Can you share more about your newest Restaurant project, The Acacia House in St. Helena Napa. I have been and adored it, how would you describe it to those who have not yet experienced it?
When my partner Oliver Wharton and I were looking at how Acacia House would feel, we spent time talking to the community about what they were looking for in a new restaurant. We really wanted people to feel like they were having a special meal without all the pretense. We focus on the original wine grapes place of origin; Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany & France. These are the places the grapes came from. The food is based on traditional dishes from those regions which allows us to change dishes depending on the weather.
Who has been the most influential mentor/chef in your career?
Mentors are a very serious thing for me, I have many people who have really inspired and guided me in my career. Pierre Kaufmann taught me to debone pig trotters at La Tante Claire as a young stagierre. To this day he has kept me inspired by his constant excitement for cooking and his love of teaching the next generation. Mark Miller was my first boss who taught me to know your history before you try to create the future. Without his direction, I would not be the chef I am today.
What is your favorite after work drink?
I don’t just have one favorite, it really depends on the shift or where I am. I really love gin so it’s a negroni or a gin and tonic. I also really like a low ABV IPA with a ton of flavor. I like to call those lawn mower beers, refreshing but full flavored.
What is your favorite local spot?
In Napa, I love going to eat at Terra. The food is delicious I can walk there from the hotel. It’s always a pleasure to spend time with Hiro and Lissa.
Read more about Napa’s incredible, The Acacia House Restaurant here.