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Chris Cosentino and staff

I heard him before I saw him. I was trying to find how to get into Incanto in San Francisco to interview Chef Chris Cosentino for my radio program Chef’s Story, which airs on Heritage Radio Network. The restaurant’s door was locked and there was not an obvious side door. I spied someone smoking and thought, that must be a restaurant worker…and lo and behold it was. And the door right near them had a staircase going into the basement. Halfway down the stairs I heard the booming voice. “that’s it…slice it slowly..that’s it.” I couldn’t believe at five in the evening, a star chef like Chris was actually in the kitchen prepping with his staff.

He gave me a big hello but asked if I could wait, he had to get his staff through family meal. I was happy to wait. And it was an education. Chris Cosentino’s passion just explodes in his kitchen. It is so raw and honest, all you can do is smile. I heard him talk about the night’s menu to the waitstaff. He had them tasting. He was as good a teacher as I have ever seen. And I was lusting for their food.

Incanto and Chris are known for offal, in fact Chris even has his own website Offal Good, where you can learn more about Chris and offal. At Incanto, you can get pulverized tuna heart, crudo cow stomach muscle, lamb’s liver. Chris refuses to throw away any part of an animal, it’s the whole animal philosophy….and he butchers them all himself.

Incanto is in a class of its own. Cosentino is a gift…and his philosophy is infectious. You got to love him. (That’s Chris in glasses leaning against the wall).

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Chef Joshua Skenes and a walk-in at Saison

Lucky me! I just spent the most amazing afternoon with Joshua Skenes (FCI culinary grad 2001) at the new home of Saison restaurant. It was amazing. The space itself looks like a Tribeca loft, beautifully clean, sparse and industrial but the soul is definitely Zen. Twenty six cooks and staff worked silently with incredible focus. The delicacy of the work was impressive. Each aspect of each garnish was getting VIP care.

When Saison took San Francisco by storm it had a lot to do with Josh’s mastery of a wood burning fire. The old Saison had one outdoor oven that rarely saw a pizza. Instead, a parade of smoke kissed vegetables, fowl and meats played center stage on the menu. It was Saison’s signature. I expected the hearth would still be the focal point of this restaurant. I could hardly find it. There is a major display of wood at the entrance but the fire itself is contained in the corner of the kitchen. Not to worry.

The Saison entrance

The fire in the Saison kitchen

Josh does things his way. He designs his space not from some text-perfect kitchen schematic but from his cooking voice. He draws inspiration from many places, but at the end of the day, follows his own iconoclastic instincts. Hence, in this elegant dining room he placed his five walk-in refrigerators! I salivated as they opened and closed with beautiful products inside. The dining tables weren’t herded in a separate “dining room” but actually flow into the kitchen, so the ballet of the kitchen staff is in your face. In a sense, as you dine, you’re part of the dance.

The Saison dining room and the walk-ins

Josh in the Saison kitchen

Josh may love fire but he is relentless with sourcing perfect product. He not only wants to find an extraordinary purveyor but is meticulous in using the product at the perfect point for delicious consumption. As he said to me, you could precut radishes to be ready for the on rush of service but it just doesn’t taste the same. They couldn’t do that.

Squab

Like a curator, Josh ages his own meats and fowls. He took me to see the squab closet. He hangs his squabs for weeks until their oils break and tenderize the breasts. He uses big old hens in their entirety just to make consommé. He wraps saddles of lamb in kidney fat, so the air does not spoil the meat. To have the chance to spend an afternoon and feel the passion of this man for his restaurant was a rare treat. If you can snag a reservation, it’s a special treat too.  Try, it’s definitely worth it!

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Brooks Headley in a private room at Del Posto

I had a great interview with the James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year 2013, Del Posto’s Brooks Headley. In addition to a fascinating chat in one of their private rooms, Brooks took me on an almost fantasy tour of the kitchens at Del Posto. In a few words, they are huge, incredibly well equipped and run like a machine.

Part of the Del Posto kitchens

Ravioli Machine

I tried to glimpse the genius. The pure pistachio cookies took my breath away and the unripe strawberries had me scratching my head! To find out the recipe of the unripe strawberries you will have to listen to my interview with Brooks on Chef’s Story on Heritage Radio Network. His episode premieres on July 17th at Noon Eastern. The other secret…you can eat at this incredible restaurant for only $39 at lunch. Best deal in town. Savor these photos….

Pistachio dough and pistachio cookies

Unripe strawberries

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Maxime Bilet

I had dinner at Atera in New York City with Chef Maxime Bilet, co-author of Modernest Cuisine. There aren’t any words to describe Chef Matthew Lightner’s magical creations so I will let the photos do the talking.

What an evening!

Maxime's favorite- Sepia in Chicken Bouillon

Peekytoe Crab Ravioli

Cured Wild Salmon

Kyoto Carrot, Cayenne

L: Razor Clam w/Garlic and Almond, R: Diver Scallop w/Fermented Cabbage

L: Razor Clam w/Garlic and Almond, R: Diver Scallop w/Fermented Cabbage

Kitchen action

Pig Fat

Bone Marrow in Hearts of Palm

Puffed Beef Tendon

Faux Egg made of egg!

Savory Cannoli

Beeswax Covered Turnip

L: Caviar Sandwiches, R: The scene at Atera

L: Chicken Liver Cookies, R: Flaxseed Cookies

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Chris Cosentino

Am I speaking Filipino? No, actually it’s Japanese, a la Chef Chris Cosentino. I had the privileged delight of eating at Incanto last week while I attended the IACP Conference in San Francisco. Chris is the wildly talented chef/owner of this restaurant and holds offal (innards), dear to his heart.

Mino Crudo

The menu is an adventure. The above mentioned and pictured mino is actually a lining between the two stomachs of a cow. It is a delicacy that Chris experienced in Japan, which he learned could be imported to the U.S. It’s a tripe that doesn’t touch food since it isn’t in the stomach per se. It is thinner and more delicate and thus able to be served crudo or raw. He seasoned it superbly with sesame oil, green onion and a touch of chile (I think!). Doesn’t sound it, but it was yummy! He also brought out another Japanese surprise, dried tuna heart. Yes, you heard right, tuna heart. He grated it over some scrumptious, delicate pasta. It was reminiscent of bottarga but more earthy.

Dried Tuna Heart

Our good friend, Harpreet, who shared this dining adventure with us, brought along a 100-point Pinot Noir, Kosta Browne. I will tell you, it was an evening I will never forget! If you are a foodie, Incanto has to be on your bucket list.

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Ben Shrewry and Dorothy

I think I met the ultimate foraging chef. Ben Shrewry of Attica restaurant in Melbourne, Australia grew up foraging. His family had a ranch in New Zealand hours and hours away from a quart of milk. They lived off the land which gave him an extraordinary DNA to seek out and appreciate the little known edibles of his countryside. His cooking techniques also mirror the “living off the land” orientation.

I moderated a demo he gave at the Charleston Wine+Food Festival in Charleston, SC. He lovingly explained a native way of cooking with buried stones…and geniusly baked a succulent potato dish, burying the potato in stones and dirt but in an oven..”pitch” inspired and flavored cooking. He also grilled a white sea fish in ‘paper bark’ (a flexible tree bark from Australia) which delicately perfumed the filet. I liked it so much I am starting to rip off tree skins to find the American equivalent! Last but not least his dessert of chocolate was truly trompe l’oeil. House made speckled eggs in nests echoing the bluffs of New Zealand.
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Precision, passion, originality and deliciousness were his trademarks. No wonder that Attica has been chosen as one of the top 50 restaurants of the world!

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