I N T E R V I E W Pt. I
Interview. Photographs. by Stasia Droze
Tell me about this dish.
ARNOLD:It's a green papaya spring roll wrapped in rice paper. Rolled together with mango, baby spinach and cilantro. Its not nearly as bold as most of my dishes, but it's very popular with vegetarians. The sauces that come with it, are what make it exciting. Peanut miso and the other is a plum kumquat chutney.
Tell me about the creation of EOS and the evolution of your food.
ARNOLD: It began when Debbie Zachereas came to the Ashbury Market (Wong's upscale family market) about three years and began working in the wine department. We were doing simple catering at Ashbury, but with my own style out of a very small modest tiny deli. Prior to that time, I had been working at other restaurants, but this was my families business that I always felt obligated to, so I did that along with other pursuits. In any case, one day Debbie (who now headed the wine buying program) said let's have a little wine tasting for some of our wine clients who buy our higher end burgundies (these are customers who usually buy the more allocated wines or futures). So we thought, what a better way to do it. We had a Victorian flat at our disposal. We recently renovated it at the time. So we served a complete coursed dinner. It started out very modest -- 12-15 people, 4 courses. And I would say that the very last one that we did had 32 people and tables were jetting out of every single doorway, 6 courses with Debbie pairing wines with each. That was approximately a year and a half and we put them together almost every month. That time obviously helped me to evolve my food a lot. A loyal following from these private wine dinners was definitely the encouragement to starting EOS.
How has being involved with a family business effected your work?
ARNOLD: It has taught me good work ethics more than anything. Being involved in food retail nowadays is......I don't know how it is in other parts of the country, but for San Francisco it's very difficult now. But having good work ethics and skills to manage people are some of the key elements in making it work. Being in the environment of food,.........just being exposed to food products. With purveyors bringing in balsamic vinegar's ranging from 5 to 25 years old, olive oils of all origins. Getting involved with samplings from an early age. must have sparked an interest. Of course the wine department is what really kept the market growing.
It started in the mid 70's by my brother who is no longer with the company. He started it with a 15 ft. shelf of various California wines. Since then it has just exploded to over 120 ft.. So here too I had the access to amazing wines to taste.
So which came first, the restaurant or the wine bar?
ARNOLD: They actually almost came together simultaneously. The restaurant was first conceived of and we broke ground in......I believe it was June or July of 95. We had four months to do the construction. Two months into construction I found out that the little coffee shop next door wasn't doing so well. Then during construction we noticed that their hours became irregular and some days they weren't even open. So I figured that it was a matter of time. I told the landlord immediately that if that were to come up, we would be very interested in it. So it happened about 2 or 3 months after construction. Construction actually lasted more like five and a half months. So we went way over our projected schedule. But that's not bad considering.
How does the wine effect your choices for the menu?
ARNOLD: The food comes first. Debbie has styled the wine list, especially the wines by the glass, to making most of them go very well with the food. But the food definitely comes first. Along the way there was a compromise. If you looked at the beginning menus, it lacked dishes that would pair with red wines, therefore these dishes had to be created.
How do you describe your cuisine?
ARNOLD: It's been dubbed as "fusion" for the most part. And I guess that would probably be a pretty good assumption. But it usually begins with European roots, then its influenced with Asian ingredients. I would like it to keep it always evolving.
And what do you "fuse"?
ARNOLD: Asian ingredients. Someone called me yesterday from an English magazine. And he wanted to specifically target countries. He wants to find chefs in the Bay Area in particular, that have used certain countries and there are some chefs that are noted for styling there food specifically with one country in mind, like Vietnam or Japan for example. But I tend to pull ingredients from all different countries, emphasizing on Asian countries though. I think "fusion" for a lack of a better term is accurate.
Is there any food in particular, that inspires you?
ARNOLD: It's really seasonal foods that inspire me. But for San Francisco, the Bay area anyway, that's questionable. I definitely try to find peaks. I go to the markets occasionally, but not to buy, I go to see what the markets have to offer at the time. Hopefully I come across items that might inspire me to create a new dish.
Do you always shop locally?
ARNOLD: Generally, for the most part. Some of our meats may come from Canada. From experience, I feel that sometimes Canadian meats are of superior quality. So we'll use it.
Usually if there is a particular food product that I want to experiment with or even use on the menu, I'll tend to find the best quality source for it. Most of the time that means that it'll end up costing more, but the end product will be better.
Some of my cooks have asked me why do we have to use the best. My answer is, that I've always been used to doing it that way. Most of our vegetables are organic, not all of them. But I would say at least 60-70% are organic.
Tell me about your training. Did you study in Asia?
ARNOLD: Foodwise? No. I got my first professional start at the Mandarin Hotel. I've been very fortunate. A lot of cooks/chefs have had a long road to get ahead. I've had kitchen positions handed to me that I felt required a great deal of responsibility. It has definitely given me a jump on experience in a relatively short time. So I started at the Mandarin Hotel through an acquaintance at my family's store. I was asked to interview with the chef and next thing I know I was a pastry assistant.
Where is your family's deli?
ARNOLD: The Market is up the hill and the deli is within it. It's quite small. The entire deli itself is only 300 square feet. It's changed quite a bit since I can't be there all the time.
So then what happened?
ARNOLD: After starting at the Mandarin we trained for about three months before opening day. The original pastry department , I believe, was made up of about six or seven pastry cooks. By opening day, it was scaled down to two people and for some reason, I was one of them. That's where I got start. The next year I decided to go to the Culinary Academy. I don't like to say one way or the other to many things about my experience there, but it wasn't quite what I expected it to be like. I would have to say for someone with no experience of the industry, it would be a good start. After going through the program, I felt like I was more or less self taught throughout the years. I later apprenticed at the prestigious Masa's Restaurant in San Francisco under Chef Julian Serrano. It was an amazing experience. The next year brought me as sous chef to Cafe Kati, a small chef owned restaurant.
This bread is wonderful. Tell me about it.
ARNOLD: It's our focaccia. Typical focaccia is made with green onions and olive oil, but we use green onions, garlic chives and sesame seeds.
Are there a lot of Asian ingredients that you find variations of and do different things with?
A: Yes. I'll take something simple like lemongrass, which is predominantly found in Thai cuisine. And I'll steam clams and mussels with it, along with sake which is obviously Japanese. Then I'll also use it in a number of my marinades. Sake which I steam shellfish with, I also use to braise guinea hen legs. The uses are numerous.
Any cookbooks influence you in particular?
ARNOLD: I don't believe there are any in particular. I guess I was always fascinated by cooking, but never really found the time...you tend to get attracted to them for whatever reason and you might flip through them, but you don't necessarily follow them. Whether or not that's the cause for inspiration, I'm not quite sure.
Interview Pt II: Favorite restaurants, inspirations for new recipes, and more.