Amy Tarr: Why
did you start cooking?
Ken Oringer: I’ve always felt comfortable
in the kitchen. When I was 6 I began tooling around in the kitchen
with my family. My parents, my two older sisters, and my twin
brother all love food and love to cook! My parents allowed me
to play in the kitchen so I made dishes like roast chicken for
the whole family.
AT: Did you attend culinary
KO: I got a B.A. in business management from
Bryant College, and then I went to culinary school at the CIA.
I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.
I knew I wanted to be the boss, so I got degree in business first
and went from there. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t
change a thing!
AT: Do you only
hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
KO: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.
Mostly I look for people that are creative, passionate, driven,
and love food.
AT: Who are your mentors?
KO: My strongest mentor is definitely Jacques
Pepin. I read all his books as a kid and must have tried out every
recipe from La Technique and La Methode. Jean-Georges
Vongerichten and David Burke were mentors as well. Michel Bras
had a huge influence on my food, especially when I worked as pastry
chef at Al Forno in Providence, RI. Eating around Asia
had a very strong effect on me too. I’ve been traveling
all over Asia for about 13 years now, and it’s definitely
influenced my style.
AT: What is your
philosophy on food and dining?
KO: My philosophy is to cook food that’s
not too crazy, but that has exciting, unexpected flavors and is
very unique. I’ve trained with very good chefs, and though
I like to follow classic combinations, I’m not afraid to
take some risks.
AT: What do you mean by “not
too crazy”? After all, I know you have barnacles on your
KO: “Too crazy” would be serving
the barnacles with passion fruit gelee and coconut foam. My preparation
is more classic and influenced by my travels. If you go to Spain,
you are going to get barnacles. How many restaurants serve barnacles
in the US? Maybe 3, at the most. I’ll stop at nothing to
get them! I’m relentless about sourcing products. Anything
I can get that’s different and unique I will get!
AT: Are there
any other unusual ingredients that you especially like to source?
KO: I use eucalyptus a lot. I like Argon oil
from Morocco, and Espelette pepper from the Basque country. Also
Grains of Paradise, a sweet, flowery peppercorn from Africa. It’s
black outside and white inside and it’s a very complex,
different kind of pepper. I serve it with calamari, foie gras,
and a whole range of stuff.
AT: What is your most indispensable
KO: We use our vegetable juicer and blender a
thousand times a day! Also indispensable is our Thermomix Blender,
with which I make everything from crème Anglaise to hot
mayonnaise. I could cook beef stew in that that thing if I wanted
to do. It makes the smoothest purees possible, and any kind of
emulsion. We change our menu everyday but we use the Thermomix
Blender for at least 20 percent of our dishes.
AT: Is there
a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an
KO: I use a technique I learned from Hervé
This to reduce vegetable demi-glaces through evaporation (as opposed
to reduction). Instead of using a heat source to reduce the liquid,
we lay the juice in a pan and let it evaporate. The molecules
aren’t broken down and the flavor isn’t affected.
It’s intensified! So the result has the body of a reduction,
but much more flavor.
AT: What is your
favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new
KO: How much drive do you have? What separates
you from the hundreds of other people we have coming in? I’m
looking for someone that has the fire behind them and that certain
something makes them really special – some unique quality
and confidence. I don’t necessarily look for a cook that
has worked for the best restaurants in the world. It’s more
important that they have a good head on their shoulders, and that
AT: What tips
would you offer young chefs just getting started?
KO: Eat as much as possible, try as many different
things as you can and read religiously.
AT: What are
your favorite cookbooks?
KO: Anything by Jacques Pepin, especially The
Art of Cooking Vol. 1 and 2. Also Michel Bras’ books,
and Joel Robuchon’s Simply French. I also refer to
a whole bunch of Japanese books on sushi, but they’re all
in Japanese! In English there’s Japanese Cooking: A Simple
Art by Shizuo Tsuji. The culinary encyclopedias by Alain Ducasse
are unbelievable: Les Grands Livres de Cuisine.
AT: What cities do you like for
KO: Paris, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bangkok,
Singapore, Shanghai, and Tokyo.
AT: Tell me
about the restaurant you’re opening up in Asia – it’s
in Bankok right?
KO: The project in Bangkok is actually on hold
for now. I’m in the process of doing it but right now, I’m
focusing on Toro, my tapas restaurant in Boston. It’s
a very funky, contemporary, but still traditional. It’s
a Barcelona-style tapas bar located in the South End in Boston.
As for the Bankok project, the concept is a combination of Clio
and Uni. It will target the young, hip tourist crowd,
the sophisticated British and Italians living in Bangkok, and
the international business population.
AT: What are
your favorite restaurants off the beaten path in Boston?
KO: Sapporo Ramen in Cambridge; Tacos
El Charo in Jamaica Plain; Taiwan Café in
trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
KO: People are definitely looking more toward
science, which is wonderful. I only hope that no one loses focus
on great cooking. At its best, the science trend will lead to
a combination of innovation and great taste. Another trend is
the use of unique ingredients from all over the world. The exotic
is becoming more mainstream; the gastronomic world is getting
smaller and smaller…