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StarChefs

Josh DeChellis
SUMILE
154 W. 13th St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 989-7699

Biography»

Interview:
Amy Tarr: I know you started cooking as teenager to earn money for a new snowboard. But what inspired you to become a chef?
Josh DeChellis: My mother was a terrible, awful cook. She’s a fantastic woman but a terrible cook. When I started working, I had no idea what good food was. I didn’t know it existed. When I started tasting and eating, I couldn’t even believe it. I couldn’t wait to go to work the next day so I could taste some more.

AT: You went to the CIA despite your parents’ objections. Two questions: Do you think culinary school is essential for aspiring chefs today? And do your parents still object to your chosen profession?
JD: They love it! It was a case of the standard parental questions - is this a good career? Back then in ’92 was really about the time that chefs started hitting the media. It’s a whole different thing now, how chefs are viewed.I tell everyone who’s thinking about going to culinary school not to go. To me it’s illogical. Why are you going to do that to yourself, spend $60 K to be exposed to cooking in a non-realistic atmosphere when you could go to some of the greatest chefs like Daniel Boulud’s kitchen and beg to work for free for a year? If you’re intelligent about the restaurant you choose, where the range of food is going to be pretty wide, your exposure is going to be pretty good. You’re not spending money and you’re getting a better experience,

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Josh DeChellis
SUMILE | New York City

Thirty-one-year-old Josh DeChellis is an unlikely advocate for Japanese cuisine. At Sumile, Josh’s respectful approach to his art results in original dishes that are both clean and purposeful. As a teenager eager to earn money for a new snowboard, Josh began working at a local New Jersey restaurant and learned first-hand what really great food tastes like. His broad range of culinary experience includes working alongside Wolfgang Puck at Postrio, as well as with notable chefs David Bouley, Charlie Trotter and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. But DeChellis cites Alain Passard of the famed L'Arpege in France as his biggest influence, and the one who turned him on to the elemental concepts favored in Japanese cooking.

 

Poached Hamachi with Pickled Melon and Nori Salt
Chef Josh DeChellis of Sumile – New York, NY
Adapted by StarChefs.com

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe cantaloupe
  • 2 ounces Muscat de Beaume de Venise
  • 1 ounce yuzu juice
  • 1/2 ounce elderflower syrup
  • 1 ounce rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon yuzu kosho
  • 8 1¼-ounce slices of hamachi
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 sheets nori
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher or maldon salt
  • Sansho pepper for dusting
  • 1 quart grapeseed oil for poaching
Method:
One day before serving this dish, peel and seed cantaloupe and reserve all the juices from the seed sacks. Carve the flesh into 1 ½- inch strips and then slice each strip crosswise to make ¼-inch thick slices. Make 20 slices and reserve.

Boil Muscat de Beaume de Venise and let cool 20 minutes.

Take remaining melon and place in a blender with the yuzu juice, elderflower syrup, rice vinegar, yuzu kosho, boiled Muscat, and any juice collected from the cantaloupe seed sacks. Puree in a blender and adjust seasoning to make a nice sweet and sour balance with a spicy aroma. Place in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer for 1 minute.

Once simmered for one minute, strain through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth over a bowl. Add a pinch of salt to the clarified juice, bring down to room temperature and pour over the sliced melon. Leave mixture in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator until the next day.

The next day, place grapeseed oil in a shallow sauce pan and bring to 110° F. Season hamachi fillets with a light dusting of sansho pepper and place in oil. Pull sauce pan off direct heat to avoid "cooking" the bottom side of the hamachi.

Peel avocado and cut in half; then cut into 1/3-inch slices and dress slices in melon liquid.

Lightly toast nori sheets over a flame without scalding them, and then grind in a spice grinder until broken down into little pieces the size of Maldon salt.

Remove 2 teaspoons of toasted nori and mix with Maldon salt. Grind the remaining nori pieces into a fine powder and reserve.

Once warmed through, remove hamachi fillets and blot with paper towel. Season with nori salt. Mix 2 Tablespoons of melon liquid with nori powder until the consistency is that of a light syrup and check seasoning.

To serve:
Arrange hamachi, avocado and melon slices on a plate and then drizzle sauce with melon-nori jus.

 

Interview Cont'd
AT: You’ve worked alongside some amazing chefs – Wolfgang Puck, David Bouley, Charlie Trotter, Jean-Georges. Who would you say is your primary mentor? Why?
JD: The person who has left the heaviest mark is Alain Passard at Arpege (in 1997). American chefs at that point, and still a majority of them in my opinion, created dishes with an ego in mind. How many things they can do to a dish? For Passard it was all about simplicity - bad-ass French products and how they are cooked. A good piece of salmon, to him, was perfectly cooked like a good piece of meat. He’d work a little bit of fleur de sel mixed with a subtle spice, plate it next to cabbage gently cooked in butter. The food was so much superior to anything I’d ever seen, and that changed me forever. He cooks in a very Japanese style, very elemental, using raw products. People always ask me how I got into Japanese food, and it’s because of Passard.

AT: Based on your experience working abroad in France at Arpege and Lucas Carton, as well as in Japan, do you think it’s important for young chefs to get experience cooking overseas? Why?
JD: I definitely have issues with cooks traveling. Even at the time I was working at Arpege, I would see famous or soon-to-be-famous American chefs eat there and talk to Passard, and 6 months later, I’d open up Gourmet or The New York Times, and I’d see exact replicas of what I saw in his kitchen. Passard doesn’t accept American stages for that reason.

AT: What’s your philosophy?
JD: My philosophy started with Alain Passard, but Japan without question is my biggest inspiration. A lot of people don’t understand enough about Japan to understand what that means. People think it’s just wasabi, soy, sushi and sashimi. A truffle can be treated in a Japanese style. What resonates in their culture – in their language, their architecture, is respect. When it comes to cooking, that respect is paid to Mother Nature. That’s first and foremost, anything else that’s added or anything that’s altered with a natural ingredient is done so slightly and with such reason. I find that cooking to be very elemental, and I really strive to prepare food that way.

AT: Who do you consider your peers in the industry? What chefs do you most respect?
JD: I tend to gravitate toward other chefs that not only take pride in their cooking but the chefs that, at some point during the night, are smiling when they are working. That’s what cooking is to me – you have to concentrate, but it’s fun. And the thing about being a chef is the need to share and be hospitable. Zak Pelaccio at 5 Ninth, for sure. He just loves it. It’s written all over his dishes. Galen Zamara down at Mas. Shea Gallante – when I eat his food, I feel differently than when I eat Zak’s food – you feel the seriousness of the food and him. Wylie Dufresne – I have so much respect for his drive, his energy, and his commitment to his profession. And the direction that it’s taken him in. He’s doing off the hook, crazy things. He’s made this huge bridge between commercial cooking and fine cuisine - the chemicals, enzymes, and emulsifiers - he’s applying them not to a candy bar so it can sit on a truck or a shelf longer, he’s applying them to fine cuisine. Talk about original.

AT: I know you use a lot of exclusive ingredients, mostly Japanese. What is your favorite “secret” ingredient? Why?
JD: Really good tomari style soy sauce – it’s brewed for a really long time. As far as my favorite ingredient, it’s got to be nori. There are all different kinds of nori and there’ s just something about it. It’s just seaweed dried and pressed into sheets. Good nori is dried out on wood so that with the sun and the wood, it picks up this smoky, toasty flavor but tastes fresh at the same time. I love all the different forms you can make it into – pureed, powder, fried, you can wrap things in it. I love it.

AT: How do you keep food cost in line with all your imported specialty ingredients?
JD: I welcome anyone to ask me that – last month it was 26.3%! But the reason why it is so low is you have to work for it. You can’t let the purveyors tell you what the price is. I went down to the market last week, and all of I sudden I realized, I shouldn’t be paying that extra 25 cents a pound for halibut. With fish, for example, it’s important for chefs to go to the market. Most of them are out drinking until that time anyway. Going to the fish market, you just find things, like bycatch - look at that 25-pound corvine that popped into our net. Since it’s a bycatch, it’s not that expensive and it’s a beautiful fish. That’s a night’s worth of fish at some restaurants.

AT: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
JD: Sharp knives are really important for so many reasons. You can find the perfect piece of fish, but if you don’t have a super sharp knife you’re going to ruin it. You’re trying to disturb as few cells as possible while separating them. Knives that are dull, even German knives, the blades are too thick. They start out thin, but then at the top they are too wide to go through many things.I’m on my third Misono UX 10 – it’s the longest slicer that they make. It’s made of stainless steel and carbon. A lot of Japanese knives are just carbon - a softer metal compound that you can get really sharp. But since I use it for a lot more than just fish, I found the UX10, because it has a bit of stainless in it, it keeps its edge longer. But because of the carbon, it is relatively easy to get like a razor. I use a variety of different grades of waterstone to sharpen my knives.

AT: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way? Please describe.
JD: Back in ‘96 or ‘97 when I worked with Chef Lucas Carton, I saw a life-changing technique – it was sous vide. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. Wolfgang [Puck] paid for my stage out there, and I had to come back to Postrio and show them all the things I learned. So I came back and couldn’t wait to show them this technique. But we didn’t have a Cry-o-vac machine. And they weren’t going to spend money to get one. So I thought back to CIA in pastry class- we’d wrap plastic over sheet trays and pop in them in oven. And the oven would shrink the wrap. So I just wrapped the chicken in plastic wrap and threw it in a super hot oven to let the plastic shrink around it and form the hermetic seal I wanted. This way you don’t have to add fat, but it’s not steaming, so you’re not loosing flavor. I tried it and it was unbelievable. So I do that at Sumile now - I call it the Poor Man’s Sous Vide. And I think it’s a really great thing for even home cooks to know about.

AT: What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?
JD: The first restaurant you choose to work in should be one chosen not only on the range of cooking techniques and food prepared on a daily basis, but also a style that suits you at that point. I believe the first restaurant you work in, to be beneficial to you, you should work there for 2 years at least. Two years is a long time. So you better like the style.

AT: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
JD: Where have you eaten your favorite meal? Not just because of where it might be, but when they answer I can gauge how they connect with food. If someone tells me they went to Alain Ducasse in Paris and everything was really good, the bill was high, but the food was great, well ok.
But if someone said they went to this Chinese restaurant and the dumplings kicked ass because the dough was rolled really thin, you can see this person is really exited about food. That’s what I look for. Because that’s how I feel. I’m consumed by food. It’s important to have those kinds of people in a kitchen – to keep that energy around.

AT: What are your favorite cities for culinary travel? Why?
JD: I just got married in September – we went to Italy for our honeymoon – Rome , Florence, the Italian Riviera. It was really cool because I got to see real Italian food. I’m excited to go back to Japan. I’m going to Tokyo and Okinawa. Apparently Okinawa has food that is completely different form the rest of Japan. I can’t even articulate how exited I am. I’m so pumped.

AT: Where are your favorite restaurants to go in the city?
JD: My favorite restaurants are 5 Ninth – the food there is so damn good. Zak doesn’t try to knock your socks off with stuff, but you can tell he’s stoked to have you there. He serves you this rough, cut up half-cured sausage. Also Karuma Zushi for sushi (47th St.). The scungilli pasta at Arturo’s – it’s my guilty pleasure. And Bouley because it’s downtown, easy to get to and the food is always really good. It’s my own little escapism. I’ll shoot down there for lunch, turn off my cell phone and have a food and wine experience that’s top notch. I feel like I should be paying them extra for that therapy.

AT: Tell me about the biggest challenges you faced in opening up your own restaurant.
JD: This is the first restaurant I’ve opened and the whole thing was a challenge. The people who opened this restaurant were all in the entertainment business - none of them opened a restaurant before. They didn’t have any interest. They gave me a rolodex with attorneys’ names and said go ahead. I learned so much. The real estate, liquor licenses, everything you could possibly imagine. My biggest challenge within the challenge was persevering.

AT: So do you see yourself doing more of these?
JD: Without question. I can’t wait to do more. I learned from my mistakes. But I know if I really just want to open an oyster place in a 500 square foot place, I can do that. And I can do it more efficiently.

AT: What trends do you see emerging in the culinary industry?
JD: All the toys definitely – the combi-steam and sous vide.

AT: Do you think these gadgets are helping things along?
JD: Not necessarily. I went to Zak’s (5 Ninth) for dinner, and the last course he served me was a chicken. The way it pulled apart, the skin, it was amazing. So I asked him how he cooked it. He said, “Dude, I roasted it!” And that totally spun me around in a different direction. At Union Pacific we had the sous vide. The food is perfectly and evenly cooked through, but it has no soul, no backbone. I’m into natural, organic, hands-on cooking.



   Published: April 2005

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