Monday, December 14, 2009
Hail to the Chef: Scott Rose, Esquire Grill
I am pleased to announce a new series I am going to call "Hail to the Chef".
I will be interviewing chefs working in Sacramento and beyond as often as once a week and posting the Q & A here. This chef interview assignment started as a school project, but then I decided to make it a feature here on the blog.
I have always held chefs in high esteem (maybe because I have wanted to be one for quite a while). I think it will be interesting to learn more about the people behind some of my favorite restaurants, and promote the places in which they work. I will be asking basically the same set of questions each week, and hope to get some of my school instructors to join in as well.
My first interview is with Scott Rose, of Esquire Grill in downtown Sacramento.
1. What made you want to become a chef?
I actually fell into it. I applied for a job with a hotel and they offered me a job in the kitchen. On the first day, one of the cooks quit and they put me in his position. Two years later, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time in Italy. The lifestyle, culture and their love for food really sparked my interest. From that moment on I knew I wanted to be a chef.
2. Where did you receive your training?
All of my training came from the chefs I worked under and a strong desire to learn. I read as many books as I could get my hands on, started cooking at home and put in countless unpaid hours at the restaurants I worked in to gain as much knowledge as possible. I would come in early and stay late to learn how to butcher fish, meat, poultry etc., how to make pasta, sauces, stocks and soups. Eventually the chef allowed me to create specials. I have no formal training.
3. Who have you worked with that you have really admired?
As a Sacramento native, I have always admired Executive Chef Kurt Spataro and I am very fortunate to have worked with him for the last 10 years. [Also] Stefan Terje of Perbacco in San Francisco.
4. What is a typical day like for you at the restaurant?
Long. No days are exactly alike. It’s not as glamorous as one may think. It starts about 8:30am by reviewing yesterdays financials, checking labor cost, sales etc.., checking and answering emails, check the reservation book, place orders with my vendors, talk to my staff about the days events, check the quality of the food on line, prep for service, banquets and specials. Next, I work the line for lunch service. I usually work the sauté station and expedite as well. Immediately after service, it’s back to more prep. I usually don’t have time to eat lunch and if I do, I eat standing up. In the afternoon, I usually do some administrative work and then switch gears and focus on dinner service. I work the line during dinner service and if I’m lucky, I get to go home about 8pm.
5. What are/who are your primary cooking influences?
First and foremost, I cook with the seasons and what is available to me locally. Most of my background is in Californian/Italian/Mediterranean cuisines.
Salmon cakes with spicy avocado mousse
6. What are your favorite and least favorite foods to prepare/eat?
I don't care for organ meats. No tripe, hearts, liver etc... not even foie gras! I love lamb. Especially Martin Emigh's grass fed lamb from Rio Vista...best lamb I have ever had!
7. Please tell me about your most overwhelming moment in the kitchen... as in when you might have been in a crisis mode.
Just before lunch service at Paragary’s Bar and Oven (on 28th street), I accidentally knocked the fire extinguisher off the wall. In a nano-second, the kitchen was covered in a cloud of white powder. We couldn’t even see the extinguisher; it was spraying uncontrollably (like a garden hose) and took three of us to make it stop. When the dust settled, all of us were covered from head to toe in white powder and the kitchen was a disaster. We laughed hysterically, it was one of those “whataya gonna do” moments. We quickly sprung into action, cleaned ourselves up, threw away all of the food (hundreds of dollars) and had to re-stock the line for service, which started in 10 minutes.
8. Who are your favorite chefs or famous chefs?
Besides Kurt Spataro....
Alice Waters….without her, none of us exist.
Jamie Oliver for his simplicity and soulful approach to cooking
Mario Batali for his honesty and creativity
Grant Achatz undeniably the most 'cerebral' chef in the business
There are many others.....
9. White wine or red wine? Do you have a favorite wine varietal/label?
Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast or Russian River. Get that Oregon and Santa Barbara stuff away from me! :) Flowers and Kosta Brown are my favorites.
10. What is your "can't live without" kitchen tool and why?
I really love my new citrus squeezers. Yellow for lemon, green for limes. Great for juicing citrus directly into a cocktail.
11. Please tell me how you go about planning your menus.
It always starts with what is available locally. When you buy locally, it ensures that you are buying seasonally. I’m constantly reading cookbooks and reading menus from restaurants I admire or have a similar concept. I use that information as a starting point and go from there. I try to get as much feedback from our FOH (front of house) staff about what the guests want. Also, the menu should have a nice balance of items. For instance, right now on my menu at Esquire Grill, all the appetizers, except one, are seafood items. Not very balanced at all, I’m in the process of changing that. Cost obviously plays a major role in menu planning. The menu item should be cost effective and have a perceived value. I’m much more conscious of vegetarians these days. I like to have a few thoughtful choices on the menu for them. Execution of the menu is important and sometimes, no matter how good the dish is, if you can’t execute it, you either have to change it or take it off the menu.
12. If you had a different career choice, what would it be?
News Anchor for a major network. Like Brian Williams or Tom Brokaw. I would also have a political science degree. I love politics.
13. What are the most important things to remember (can be relative to anything) while working as a chef?
Taste your food! Always, without fail!
14. What is the most important thing you have learned in your culinary career?
Have fun. Be Patient. When creating a dish, it’s important to balance flavors, textures and colors. Don’t take things too seriously....it's just dinner.
You can follow Chef Scott on twitter here.
Many thanks to him for his contribution to my grade this quarter and to my blog. Additionally, you can follow Esquire Grill on twitter here.