Chef Chris Cosentino: From Head To Tail
Chris Cosentino is offal good, from his rustic Italian cooking style to his signature blonde faux hawk.
Cosentino was born in Rhode Island and raised on New England seafood and Italian cooking. He graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., in 1994 with a B.S. in food service management. Nowadays you can find him at San Francisco’s Incanto as the executive chef.
Offal is the term that describes the parts of animals most people tend to overlook, but not Cosentino. The word literally means “off fall,” so organ meats, variety meats and giblets all fall into that category.
On May 8, Cosentino’s first cookbook will launch. “Beginnings: My Way To Start a Meal” has more than 60 recipes for Italian-style first courses.
Cosentino has made a reputation in the food industry by respecting everything an animal has to offer, and the great food he makes.
As his Twitter states, “I like to cook and eat pig.”
What inspired you to start cooking?
I grew up around amazing food. I worked on commercial fishing boats and small farms as a kid growing up in New England. I spent a lot of time with my great grandmother from Naples and my English grandmother cooking traditional New England dishes. It was the natural progression, I guess, to what I do today.
Why is food important to you?
Food is a very powerful medium. It can break all boundaries, religion, politics, family dynamics. Once people eat a meal together, things are different. It’s an amazing way to reach people, and leave a lasting memory. I get to go to work and focus all day on making people happy with food. It’s a great job. I am always inspired by new food and trips to markets.
Who are your culinary role models?
There are so many chefs who are amazing role models and influences in my career. Mark Miller, Jose Andres, Tom Colicchio, Fergus Henderson, Marco Pierre White, Jean-Louis Palladin, to name a few, but there are so many people who I never worked for that are inspiring role models who have helped carve the way for chefs. I try to never forget the chefs who came before me. They paved the way with technique and education.
I read on your website that Jean-Louis Palladin affected your outlook on cooking, what is an example of his influence?
After cooking with him at an event, he gave the most important piece of advice I try to live by. He said, “Never cook for a reviewer, cook for yourself from your heart.” I try to follow that every day. He is a true chefs’ chef. All I ever wanted to do is have a restaurant that chefs wanted to come and eat at when they came to town. That was my goal. I miss him.
How did your interest in offal begin?
When I grew up, I was surrounded by my Italian family that loved to eat. They cooked peasant Italian dishes. This consisted of a lot of offal dishes, which I ran from in fear after I heard what they were. I was a typical kid. When I started cooking in restaurants the one constant thing that I found was the use of primal cuts; there were no whole animals in restaurants until I arrived in California. When I started at Incanto, I was on a mission to revive the peasant dishes of Italy that I was afraid of as a child. I had a revelation when I helped to harvest some goats and saw how much of the animal was going to be tossed into the trash. I swore from that day on to change the way I would cook forever. It became a great challenge to try to cook offal in as many ways as possible and change people’s perception about these cuts of meat.
What’s your all-time favorite recipe to make?
I can’t choose just one dish to make. There are so many great techniques and types of dishes and food that I enjoy making that I can’t pick.
What’s the most valuable thing you have learned in the industry?
To never give up your beliefs. Staying true to what I believe has been a hard thing to do, but it has been so worth it. I can look myself in the mirror and be proud of that.
If you were a food, what would you be?
What’s your greatest culinary accomplishment?
Learning to appreciate the whole animal.
If you had to eat the same dish every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I wouldn’t do that. It would lose its luster to me after time. The flavor would slowly become a muted flavor, and the joy of that dish would be taken away.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs and foodies?
There is so much to tell, but I think the most important thing is to be humble, be early every day and, most of all, listen first then ask a question. Read a lot of cookbooks. History is a very powerful part of understanding food.
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