817 Sutter St.
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Dennis Leary: When I was 16 years old I found that my advancement in the kitchen was more or less based on merit and work ethic, not looks or educational pedigree. Compared to high school, where I was sort of a misfit, the kitchen was a level playing field.
AB: What made you decide not to go to culinary school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
DL: After high school I went to a "normal" college where I was an English major. By age 20 I had learned the culinary basics – some butchery, sauces, food terms – so I didn't think it necessary. I would not recommend culinary school to anyone wanting to be a chef. I would recommend a year as a dishwasher. You'll probably learn more, save money and eat better. Plus you won't have a bunch of whiners to contend with.
AB: Who are your mentors?
DL: My chief mentors were Alain Rondelli, Drew Nieporent and Hubert Keller.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
DL: Purity, no affectation. Food is less important than the conversation that goes with it.
AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
DL: Other business owners such as Laurence Jossel of Chow and Park Chow; Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Pruitt of Tartine Bakery.
AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
DL: Plastic bowl scrapers because they are versatile. They are good for handling chocolate, garlic, etc.
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
DL: I tend to use older techniques - sealing pots with luting dough and cast iron cookery. I'm not particularly interested in new 'scientific' cookery.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
DL: How much pot do you smoke when you wake up? I usually end the interview if the answer is even remotely positive. I hate stoners.
AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
DL: Outwork your peers, practice being polite, and learn Spanish.
CANTEEN | San Francisco
Dennis Leary’s Canteen in the Commodore Hotel is the antithesis of the ever-increasing trend of mega-restaurants led by celebrity chefs who march from one outpost of their empire to the next, while their army of unknown soldiers execute the menu on a daily basis. Leary’s vision for Canteen is simple. He is the sole cook of this intimate, 20-seat restaurant, “stripped of all pretension.” The setup allows him to interact with a small group of diners each night and cater to their individual tastes. A first-time restaurant owner, Leary financed almost all of the construction and operating costs for Canteen personally. Prior to this venture he rose up the ranks of Rubicon, where he was the executive chef for the last 5 years. A native of Massachusetts, he apprenticed at the Parker House in Boston and then headed west to work in kitchens in Phoenix, Telluride, and Carmel, before making his mark on San Francisco.
Rolled of Lamb with Romesco and Bitter
Chef Dennis Leary of Canteen – San Francisco, CA
Adapted by StarChefs.com
Yield: 6 Servings
- 1 lamb leg, boned and fat trimmed
- 2 heads garlic, minced
- ½ cup parsley leaves, washed
- ½ cup stale bread, crusts removed
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 head garlic, peeled
- ¼ cup almonds, toasted
- 1 anchovy
- 1 bell pepper, roasted, peeled and deseeded
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon Spanish paprika
- 4 heads endive
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pinch of sugar
- 1 bunch chives, minced
Separate lamb leg into 7 parts, following natural seams between leg muscles. Slice each muscle lengthwise, season with salt, and pound lightly with a mallet. Coarsely chop garlic and parsley, sprinkle on top of lamb, and roll each piece up into a tight cylinder. Chill for 20 minutes. Seal lamb cylinders in plastic using a cryovac machine (or roll in plastic). Place lamb in cold water, and gradually raise temperature to 150° F (use thermometer to monitor temperature). Maintain temperature for 13 minutes. Remove lamb pieces and let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
Cut bread into small pieces and fry in olive oil until it browns slightly. Add garlic and continue cooking, but don’t let oil get too hot. Add almonds, anchovy, and bell pepper, and stir briefly. Remove and place in food processor. Blend to a smooth puree. Add vinegar, paprika, and salt, and adjusting consistency with more olive oil and a little warm water, if necessary.
To Assemble and Serve:
Finely chop the endive, and mix with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, a pinch of sugar, and chives. Place equal amounts of endive mixture on 6 plates. Slice the lamb (discarding the plastic) and arrange 3 pieces on top of endive. Drizzle romesco sauce around lamb and serve immediately.
Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Vinyard 7, Napa Valley, California, 2001
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
DL: Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery by Jane Grigson, The Futurist Cookbook by Filippo Marinetti (though it's not a cookbook per se) and The Foods of France by Waverly Root.
AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
DL: New York and Paris.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path – in San Francisco?
DL: Hons Wun Tun House (reminds me of Shanghai), La Bergerie, Francesci's Restaurant (It reminds me of old east coast beach places in Ipswich and the Jersey shore.)
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
DL: I don't follow them, but probably more fast food, stupid diet restaurants (low carb).