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Chef Craig Hopson of Picholine @ StarChefs.com

Craig Hopson
Picholine
35 W. 64th St.
New York, NY 10023
(212) 724 8585

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Interview:
Antoinette Bruno: What year did you start your culinary career? What inspired you to pursue cooking?
Craig Hopson: I fell into it when I was 15 or 16. I was surfing in competitions all the time and an apprenticeship at a hotel near my home in Perth came up. I thought it would be cool to work at night and surf during the day, so I took it. I did that for a while until balancing both things got more difficult, so I decided I had to choose one, and I chose cooking.

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Chef Craig Hopson
Picholine| New York


Biography
Craig Hopson started cooking at age of 16 when he took a night-time job at a hotel near his home in Perth, Australia to supplement his competitive surfing career. He soon realized cooking was a passion he wanted to pursue as a career, and withdrew from Perth's competitive surfing circuit, moved to Queensland, and began four years of schooling and apprenticeships around Australia.

Hopson worked as demi chef de partie and commis chef at The Grange restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Sanctuary Cove and as senior chef de partie at Gekko in the Sheraton on the Park Hotel. Hopson began traveling to supplement his education, stopping first in Geneva, Switzerland to stage at Berties in the Hotel d’Angleterre, and then heading to France to stage at Restaurant Troigros, Restaurant Guy Savoy, and Lucas Carton. Working with Alain Senderens, Hopson learned about three-Michelin star cooking, about sourcing the best ingredients, and embracing the use of exotic ingredients.

Before coming to New York, Hopson worked as sous chef at Victor’s, the first fine dining venture in The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. He worked his way north, stopping in Philadelphia to be chef de cuisine of The Ritz-Carlton's Paris Bar and Grill. His first job in Manhattan soon followed at Terrance Brennan's Artisanal, and a few months after that he took the chef de cuisine position at Brennan's Picholine, where he’s spent nearly four years.

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Interview Cont'd

AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
CH: I’ve worked all around Australia. I started in Perth, where I grew up, I spent time in Sydney and the Gold Coast, then I moved to Switzerland stage at Berties in the Hotel d’Angleterre. In France, I staged at Troisgros and Guy Savoy from 1997 to 1998. Before coming to New York, I worked at Victor’s at the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton.

AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
CH: I think it’s good to go to culinary school, but I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. If you start out working at a great place, you’ll learn all you need to know in the kitchen.

AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
CH: I learned about three Michelin star cooking from Alain Ducasse. Everything had to be right and fresh, and his concepts were remarkable. He is not scared to use vanillas and garam marsalas – all exotic ingredients are fair game. From Terrence Brennan I learned a lot about taste and flavor – the two most important elements of cooking. If someone orders salmon with lemon on the menu, they want to taste that lemon.

AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
CH: I ask “What do you want to achieve?” If they say they want to learn new things, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
CH: Keep your eyes open and ask plenty of questions. There are no secrets in the kitchen; when you ask someone what’s going on, almost no one is going to refuse to answer you.

AB: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated or underutilized? Why?
CH: Ramps – we don’t have them in Australia!

AB: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
CH: I’m always looking for bright, creative and classic flavors reconfigured – I like to hold on to what’s classic but add some sort of surprise twist, like combining chicken with foie gras or truffles.

AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
CH: Measuring equipment because consistency is essential. I write recipes for everything and then stick to them because I know they work.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and used in an unusual way?
CH: I’ve been really in to using emulsifiers like agar and lecithin.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
CH: Bras by Michel Bras and Pierre Gagnaire: Reflections on Culinary Artistry by Pierre Gagnaire.

AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
CH: Paris – the food there is very exciting. You have to go to Pierre Gagnaire. I haven’t been there for a year, but I think there’s a lot happening there. Japan, too – I’ve never been, and have always been inspired by the flavors and philosophy of the cuisine.

AB: What languages do you speak?
CH: French.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants off-the-beaten-path in your city?
CH: Wonjo Korean Restaurant for Korean Barbecue on 32nd street in Koreatown.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
CH: I see a lot of more accessible restaurants that keep the general atmosphere casual while still serving food at the fine dining level.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
CH: Everything should be perfectly cooked and seasoned, and delicious. I love experimental cuisine and I want to push the limits and use contrasting flavor and textural elements that jolt the memory. The goal is to make delicious dishes that incorporate new techniques to enhance an already good idea. I want to make dishes that people want to eat again and again.

AB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? Who would you serve? Who would you most like to cook for you?
CH: I would love to make something for Pierre Gagnaire to see how he interprets flavors. I’d serve him some really fun stuff.

AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community on a national and global level?
CH: I have yet to hit my stride. I’m out of the limelight here on the Upper West Side. Hopefully in the next year I contribute a bit more. I am also really passionate about sustainability. My ex-wife and I have a sustainable clothing company called Moral Fervor. The clothes are made with 100% sustainable, organic fibers.

AB: What are some of your favorite food-related charities?
CH: I love the Jean-Louis Palladin Foundation. They do a great job with their scholarships.

AB: If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
CH: I’d be a painter. It’s something I dabble in. I always try to be creative. I’m really into design.

AB: What does success mean for you?
CH: Owning one of the top restaurants in New York. My favorite areas are TriBeCa and the East Village, so I’d like to open something down there.

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  •    Published: August 2007

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