Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hail to the Chef: David Feldman, Piatti Ristorante & Bar, Roseville

This week's Hail to the Chef features David Feldman, Executive Chef at Piatti Ristorante & Bar, Roseville CA. Here's a short bio of him followed by my normal series of questions. Enjoy!

David Feldman still wonders if waking up early on Saturday mornings as a young child to play restaurant with his sister or his enduring reverence for Jack Tripper in Three’s Company had more to do with him becoming a chef.

Either way it’s been an exciting journey that’s taken him from his home town of Washington DC to the greater Bay Area, involved several motorcycles and many different culinary experiences. Eventually making his way to Piatti Restaurant & Bar, where Feldman feels equally at home greeting guests at their table as he does cooking for them in the kitchen.

Dave started working with food at the age of 16 because it was a paying job. Over the next 5 years, he worked his way up the kitchen ladder so quickly that he became disillusioned with the industry and at age 21, he decided to move to the Bay Area to try his luck waiting tables. The move took 7 weeks on a motorcycle with no starter (ask him about his current red Ducati and his face lights up) but the life changing experience proved to be the right course of action.

He spent 3 years as a server, learning what it takes to run a restaurant from the front of the house’s point of view before being called back to the kitchen by a woman named Greta. While waiting tables at Greta’s Café, David overheard the owner lamenting the fact that she didn’t have anyone to make a good fresh soup. He offered to make it for her and the rest was history.

“That was where I learned to taste things, and the importance of salt,” says Dave, who prefers to let the quality and freshness of ingredients shine.

Stints at Scott’s Seafood, Capitol Grille and opening Savoy 614 honed Dave’s skills and taught him how to run a busy full time kitchen. While working at the Paragary Restaurant Group under Kurt Spataro, David learned the value of preparing every component in a dish perfectly, which he feels is balanced by the philosophy at Piatti which is more along the lines of “just cook! Cook it and they will come!”

What made you want to become a chef?
When I was young, about 6 or 7 my sister and I used to block off our kitchen while our parents slept and would play restaurant. We would cook breakfast and set the kitchen up for service and only open the doors when all was perfect. That and "Jack Tripper" was my hero!

Where did you receive your training?
From my mom, dad, my grandmother and my experience.

Who have you worked with that you have really admired?
Kurt Spataro, Chris Fernandez, Tony Flyer, Andrew Tescher, Matt McGowen, Ian Macbride, Matt Woolston, Greta Garverick.

What is a typical day like for you at the restaurant?
Well, I worry a lot!

What are/who are your primary cooking influences?
See above. My grandmother taught me to taste food, she was a perfectionist and an awesome cook. She made the best sweetbreads. I can't duplicate her recipe. I love delivering fresh products to the table. I really appreciate the look on peoples faces when I bring them food! (Granted, they are probably just really hungry), but it still makes me feel like I am doing something important.

6. What are your favorite and least favorite foods to prepare?
I like to make risotto; it’s the only exercise I get. I like peeling vegetables, its like sculpture. (Although some squashes and pumpkins leave an impossible film on your hands). I love to use my knives; cutting fish and meat, super fine dice, there is something hypnotic about cutting a case of mushrooms. Making pasta is a forgotten art!

7. Please tell me about your most overwhelming moment in the kitchen:
I have blocked out most of the disasters, usually do to poor or no planning have these disasters happened. One New Years Eve I was making gnocchi for the first time in a while. I was so confident in my gnocchi making skills that I didn't test them out. If I had we would have realized that they didn't stay together. We found that out when we made the first order for them. Ouch, "subbing mash for gnocchi tonight!"

8. Who are your favorite chefs or famous chefs?
Alice Waters, Charles Palmer, Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain, Thomas Keller, Kevin from [the television show] "Top Chef" (he should've won).

9. White wine or red wine? Do you have a favorite wine varietal/label?
I love it all!

What is your "can't live without" kitchen tool and why?
Mandolin. Sooooo versatile!

Please tell me how you go about planning your menus.
What is fresh is what we use. So we go with the seasons.

12. If you had a different career choice, what would it be?
[A] Writer. I would like to try sitting for a change. Also, I wish I had the motivation to cook at home.

13. What are the most important things to remember (can be relative to anything) while working as a chef?
Don't get angry!

14. What is the most important thing you have learned in your culinary career?
See answer #13

What has been the most gratifying about working for Piatti?
The levels of support and the bank of knowledge shared among all piatti chefs! Plus they send us on retreats every year. It’s the first time in my chef career that I feel like I am being treated lavishly!

16. Please tell me about a time your learned something from your crew.
That's hard, cause I always learn from my crew. There have been too many times to list, plus my memory isn't what it used to be. I watch other people work and when I see something that I don't do or that I wouldn't have done, I use it. You can always learn from everyone.

How are the Piatti locations different?
They are all the same in that each chef has complete autonomy in menu items and execution. So they are as different as we want them to be! (Not including the spinach and ricotta ravioli with lemon bomb cream sauce, our best selling dish 2 to 1)

18. Best meal ever?
Oysters from Tomales Bay Oyster Co., Cowgirl Creamery cheese, Fra'mani salami, baguette, lots of wine, all on the beach at Point Reyes station! Yum, that's livin'!

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