In Eat This!
I talk to chefs about the influences that have shaped their cooking and how they bring their experience to bear on the ingredients they find where they live and work. In Tucson, Chef Janos Wilder
mixes Mexico, France, and the Caribbean with the food of Arizona at his restaurants Janos and J-Bar
. Parse these dishes: Jerked Pork with Cranberry HabaÃ±ero Chutney (with cilantro chili slaw, chorizo, black beans, smoked poblano crema, flour tortillas); Yucatan-Style Plantain Crusted Chicken with Green Coconut Milk Curry (with roasted corn vinaigrette, pineapple rice and cilantro chili slaw).
I had a conversation for the book with Erik Cosselmon, executive chef of Kokkari Estiatorio, the acclaimed Greek restaurant in San Francisco. Erik described for me how he prepares his Greek-Style testa (or head cheese). I'm breaking bread with Erik at his restaurant next week and looking forward to it immensely. Before I head out to San Francisco, I wanted to check in again with Erik.
Q: Describe your range of cooking experience.
A: I've cooked in a lot of places: In New York City for ten years in many restaurants; in the south of France; in San Francisco. I would say I'm classically French trained in technique. This training is an undertone that holds things together, in managing the kitchen and putting a menu together.
Q: And Greece?
A: I've spent time in Greece and I'm looking forward to spending some more.
Q: Can you find all the ingredients you need for your dishes locally?
A: Where possible, I will get ingredients from Greece. I've also encouraged local farmers to grow produce found in Greece ? like amaranth. If you order it from a produce company in this country it's often not the same as you find in Greece. Here, it's more ornamental, purple in color, and not so good to eat. I'm encouraging farmers to grow more of the Greek variety here. They are very receptive ? it gives the farmers something else to offer other chefs.
Q: What is amaranth?
A: In Greek it's Vleta. It's a leafy green that falls under the category of Horta ? which are boiled greens that are served with olive oil and lemon. Horta is typically foraged but Kokkari has it cultivated because of the volume we do.
Q: Any other Greek produce grown locally?
A: There are Greek varieties of oregano. In this country, you more often find the Mexican type that has big fat leaves. It's very mild. Greek oregano has very small leaves that bunch together and you let it flower before you pick. It has a more intense flavor.
Q: Tell me about the restaurant's rotisserie.
A: The centerpiece of the restaurant is the spit in the hearth at the front. It was already in place when I got here but we've made it the focus of the restaurant.
Q: What did you have on the spit over this past weekend?
A: Friday we had Muscovy hens; Saturday a Berkshire pig.
Q: A whole pig?
A: No, we get a 200-pound pig every week, cut it up, marinate it and cook it up on different nights.
Q: Tell me some of the cookbooks that you like?
A: I enjoy the Culinaria series of books ? all of them. I picked up a lot of cookbooks when I was last in London. Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros is one. And Sam Clark's Moro: The Cookbook and Fearnley Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Book. Also the Lonely Planet World Food series and Time-Life's Foods of the World.
Q: There must be so many potential influences in San Francisco. What sort of food do you enjoy?
A: There are influences from all over. Thai food, Vietnamese food, Italian food.
Q: Do you eat at any other Greek restaurants?
A: I try to stay away from parallel restaurants. In the Bay Area we all use the same ingredients. I do want to do things differently but not intentionally. But everywhere I go is a new culinary experience.
Q: Anywhere you've been recently?
A: I haven't been anywhere recently ? I've been too busy here.
Q: I'm coming to San Francisco next week and visiting your restaurant. What might you have on the spit that day?
A: We could have some Napa Valley goat on the rotisserie. I've been cooking goat the last ten years and had a lot of success with it.
Q: What else?
Maybe some Napa Valley lamb done in the traditional Greek style rubbed with oregano and garlic powder, stuffed with whole lemons and slow-roasted. In Greece every town has a market. I remember in Athens, there were row after row of stalls of family farms selling their lamb. Ten to one over beef.
Q: Greek-style lamb ? that sounds wonderful. I love lamb. I'm happy that lamb seems to be getting more popular in this country.
A: Well you haven't tasted lamb until you've had milk-fed Napa lamb cooked on the rotisserie.