Del Mar, CA
Q: How did you get involved in cooking to begin with? Was it something you learned to love early on or did you come to it later?
A: As a kid, I hunted quail and duck and also fished in the ocean for yellowtail, halibut, and White Sea Bass. I always liked the idea of knowing where the food that I was eating came from. I played college football and earned a degree in business from the University of Redlands, but the summer after graduation, I got a job cooking and never turned back. From there, I went to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and graduated in ’96. I went on to work in the Bay Area at Aqua (with Chef Michael Mina) and Lark Creek Inn (with Chef Bradley Ogden). Finally I moved back to my hometown, San Diego, where I opened and served as Executive Chef at Arterra (another Bradley Ogden restaurant), and three years ago, my own restaurant Market.
Q: Why is eating grassfed meat different? How does it affect your cooking? Is it just about health? Or is there more to it than that?
A: Once you learn of the inhumane practices that plague the lives of much of North America’s livestock, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth (pun, I know). So when I learned about the sustainable practices enforced by true grassfed farmers, as well as the peaceful way that the animals spend their lives, I had to try the meats. As a chef, I ultimately had to go with the best-tasting meats, so I just hoped that grassfed was as tasty as it was conscious. Fortunately, it was even more so.
Q: How did you learn about grassfed meat?
A: Well, I was fortunate to have the culinary education that I did, in that I was not only exposed to classic techniques, but also to as many culinary nuances, trends and cultural practices that the school could fit into my two-year program. I was enlightened to learn that the majority of South American livestock was grassfed and that Argentineans and Brazilians (who are obviously known for their beef), scoffed at the North American practice of feeding livestock with grain. The first time I ever seriously cooked with grassfed meats, however, is when I U.S. Wellness Meats offered me a final crash course on why I must be using grassfed meats. “Okay, okay,” I said. “All signs were pointing to yes,” and I finally paid attention.
Q: Why is it so important to have the right ingredients?
A: If you’re using great ingredients to begin with, then you don’t have to do much to them in order to make them taste good. As a chef, that certainly makes my life easier. I always find it interesting to witness that “a-ha” moment that people have when, after guessing the many different ingredients that must compose a certain dish, they realize that the recipe is a lot more simple than they had guessed. That alone is one of the effects of using great ingredients: simple complexity. Of course, this isn’t to say my dishes are always simple; you just aren’t going to make something delicious out of bad ingredients.
Q: What are the most important keys to success for the home chef?
A: The best tip I can offer any chef — whether a home chef, a trained chef or a self-taught chef — is try to learn what’s in season, and cook within the seasons. If it grows together, it goes together. Also, keep it simple. Again, people enjoy the simple and clean flavors they grew up on and can relate to.
Q: What is the most helpful tip that you, as a professional, have learned that you can pass on to the at-home cook?
A: If you find yourself buying produce and then watching it go bad because you don’t want to have to prepare it before you eat it, take the time to clean and prep your veggies and keep them in containers in the fridge that make it easy for you to grab and just throw a meal together. If you are having a large party, don’t try to do something complicated that you haven’t done before. I can’t say it enough: people appreciate simplicity.
Q: What is your favorite recipe (using grassfed meat)? What would you prepare with it for the perfect meal?
A: Cabernet-braised short ribs, Market’s signature dish.
Q: What advice do you have for families in the kitchen, and for encouraging everyone in the family to eat the same meal?
A: Carve out the time in your day to cook dinner and stick with it. Involve children in the process of making meals. It’ll give them a sense of pride and ownership. Also, expose children to a wide variety of foods from a young age, and really encourage them to eat wha’s on their plate.