You recently moved to San Francisco from New York, have you been working on Tartine Manufactory the whole time?
No, I’ve barely been working at Tartine. Really, I’ve been retired (laughing), and it’s kinda good. I dabbled in a few things initially and Chad (Robertson, owner of Tartine) was nice enough to send me to Copenhagen to trail a few people, and it was on and off with the Manufactory while it was starting up. Now it’s full swing and I’m working some very long hours. Out of retirement!
So you guys have been slammed- I mean there is a line around the building. Was that amount of enthusiasm expected?
I think we all thought it would be busy, but on a smaller scale. We were planning on 100-200 people.
Instead, just our friends and family night was 700 people, then the first day we opened we served 1,100 people… I think that in the 10 days since opening, I have fed over 10,000 people.
That is insane. How are you standing here with me now? You must be exhausted.
Yeah, but it’s all good. It’s been a challenge starting at a brand new kitchen with a brand new staff. It’s tough because everything is so immediate. There are 100 people in line and the line in snaking down the block. We can’t just be like, “Oh you’re tired, it’s okay.” It’s like, “Come on hurry up…and that’s wrong, fix that!” Then I have to calm down and be nice. (laughing)
Is this your first time running an entire kitchen?
Yeah! I was a sous chef before. I’ve worked for some really nice people and in some really intense environments, but this is the first time actually being the chef.
“I think that in the 10 days since opening, I have fed over 10,000 people.”
So you were at Il Buco Alimentari and now you are at Tartine Manufactory. Tell me about your time in NYC before coming here to SF.
I helped open Alimentari with Justin Smillie and a handful of other people. It is incredible. Donna Leonard, the owner, is completely wacky lady, but she just has this eye for beautiful things and can really set the mood just right. She went to Italy a bunch and dug through treasures and antiques and found these neat things and put them on the wall, but it’s not done in a kitschy way, it’s just… it’s not in your face. It’s just really beautiful.
So now that you are in SF, what kind of routines do you have around grocery shopping here?
It’s funny because I never really knew how much people spent on food because I have always just eaten at the restaurant, and on my days off I went out to eat. So when I moved here and had to make myself 3 meals a day 7 times a week and it was a big change.
So your routine did a total 360. Tell me about the change?
It changed how I perceived food and how I perceived feeding people. I realized that most people just want something fresh and tasty to eat. My wife and I grocery shop from time to time together, but I don’t think she likes the way I shop. I’ll just be walking down the aisles like, “69 cents each? Great let’s get a ton of those!”
You’re an impulse shopper!
Yes I guess! My whole thing nowadays at home is to eat everything in the fridge regardless of whether I actually want it or not. Old or dried up… I just think we’re so goddamn wasteful with food.
I love this place- I don’t know what to think of it- I think, “Where does it come, and why is it so cheap? But it actually looks really good.” It weirds me out a bit. The meat looks okay here. I don’t even know what to do with half of this stuff, I just like coming here and looking at it.
Justin Smillie, the chef at Il Buco- a really fabulous chef- his wife is Japanese and I think she sort of informed a lot of his cooking. He uses a lot of these ingredients in his cooking, but he does it in a way where he doesn’t tell anyone. You just have all of these amazing umami flavors and none of them are overtly “Asian”.
“Go get an Indian cookbook… get a Mexican cookbook… get a Chinese cookbook, and look to the people who didn’t have a lot of money and had to make do with what they had for a long time.”
On any given week what ingredients would I find in your house?
White rice, rice noodles, and lots of greens. I’m cheap- really cheap. (laughing) I’m trying to retire early. Have we talked about this (sarcastically)? Personal investment, index funds…managing your money?
I will be sure to make a note about your financials in the interview.
So when we moved to SF we were just dirt broke, credit cards were maxed.
Broke from the move?
Living in New York, the move, everything. We just couldn’t get caught up. We made a huge commitment the last year and half. We payed off all of our debt, paid off all of our student loans, and we were able to save a lot of money by not going out to eat much and not drinking $4 cups of coffee.
So you guys were saving a ton of money by just cooking at home a bunch.
Yeah, exactly. I got on a big greens kick. I would go to the farmers market- usually to the Asian farms- and I could get like 2 huge bunches of mustard greens for $4 dollars. A lot of people say to me, “I don’t know how to cook for myself and make it affordable.” But it’s like, “go get an Indian cookbook… get a Mexican cookbook… get a Chinese cookbook, and look to the people who didn’t have a lot of money and had to make do with what they had for a long time.” Don’t go and get Jean Georges cookbook or the French cooking books. Go get some Dal, a packet of curry powder and some rice and some chicken. It’s delicious.
I just picked up Andy Ricker’s book Pok Pok- it’s really great- it gives you all of these wonderful recipes for Thai food.
How would you cook the mustard greens?
Just chop them up, add some oil and garlic, and eat them with rice. One of my favorite condiments lately is the Indian pickled mango. Add that to anything and it tastes amazing.
These are my favorite these little knives! My wife, Meghan, her father was a chef- he just retired. At the height of his career he had 6 restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina. He used these knives exclusively. They’re three bucks a piece, and ripping sharp, but they’re basically crap and will fall apart quickly, but then you just buy more. Her father would break down whole pigs with them, and then just replace them again.
Any ingredient that you are using a lot lately that has been finding it’s way into a lot of your dishes.
Yeah…bread (laughing). Quicos corn nuts, too. We do a corn salad with green beans, cooked fresh corn, and fresh Quicos in it, with lime juice and Parmesan.
“I’m not that old, and not long ago, some kid from Boise Idaho was talking to me about making Dashi, and I was just like, ‘Where do you hear about this stuff? When I was your age… just boiled potatoes were a revelation.’ I guess it’s the internet.”
That sounds delicious. Does your wife like your cooking?
Yeah she is good about it, she tells me everything I make is yummy, and I know she’s lying. She’s sweet.
Was there a moment with food where you had that light bulb go off where you thought, “This is something I want to do for the rest of my life?”
I went to Meg’s father’s restaurant in Charleston, a week before I started in the kitchen there. There was a dish, that was so passe, and I would never do it- but it was a grilled pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and sauteed greens and a pork stock reduction sauce. It was so fucking good, it blew my mind. It was something else.
I had been working at places with 10 microwaves and steam tables and just slopping food onto plates. Coming to this new place everything was cooked very nicely, it was the first time I had had pork that was cooked… medium. I’m not that old, and not long ago, some kid from Boise Idaho was talking to me about making Dashi, and I was just like, “Where do you hear about this stuff? When I was your age… just boiled potatoes were a revelation.” I guess it’s the internet.
Yeah, and I believe food and food hype has taken a real turn in the last decade.
It has. It’s really unbelievable. It’s infuriating in some ways but invigorating in others.
Daal with Rice and Pickled Mango by Sam Goinsalvos
- 1 Onion, diced
- 4 Cloves of garlic, diced
- 2 Cups of split orange lentils
- 6 Cups of chicken stock
- 1 Thai chili
- Mustard oil
- Madras curry
- Pickled mango
- Cook the onions and garlic hard in olive oil so they char a bit.
- Add curry powder until it blooms.
- Add lentils, a couple drops of mustard oil, a few thin slices of Thai chilis, and chicken stock and cook until soft and mushy.
- Salt to taste. Top with more charred onions and serve with rice and pickled mango, a little yogurt, and cilantro on the side.