Chef Nate Appleman
A16 | San Francisco
A native of Greenville, Ohio, Nate Appleman grew up cooking and always knew he wanted to be a chef. He enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park at seventeen and completed his internship at Cincinnati's Maisonette under Chef Jean Robert de Cavel; by 1999 he was living in Seattle, working at a French-Portuguese restaurant, Brasa, where dishes like roast suckling pig first inspired his love for the wood fire oven.
A growing affinity for butchery and an interest in curing inspired Appleman to join a friend living in Florence, Italy for six months. While sampling the rustic, local dishes and learning the art of salumi production, Appleman developed a deep appreciation for the region's cuisine and its focus on seasonal ingredients and simple, time-honored preparations. He returned from Italy in 2001 and took a position overseeing the meat station at Campton Place under Laurent Manrique. When renovations closed Campton Place, Appleman was loaned out to Sylvan Portay at The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton for a brief but memorable month before moving to Napa Valley with his wife so she could attend pastry school. Appleman took a position as Executive Sous Chef at St. Helena's Tra Vigne for a year, then in December of 2003 received a call from Christophe Hille, a colleague from his Campton Place days, requesting he join him as Executive Sous Chef at a new venture in San Francisco called A16.
Appleman quickly rose to Chef de Cuisine and part-owner of A16 in July 2005. He took on the Executive Chef position in April 2006 and earned certification by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, becoming one of the few certified pizzaiolos in the United States.
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
NA: I got my very first job at age 14 at a country club in Ohio, where I grew up, washing dishes and manning the salad bar. My first real restaurant experience was an internship at Cincinnati's Maisonette under Chef Jean Robert de Cavel. In 1999 I moved to Seattle to work at a French-Portuguese restaurant, Brasa,where I developed my skills with a wood fire oven. I lived in Italy for 6 months to study charcuterie, then I got a job in San Francisco overseeing the meat station at Campton Place under Laurent Manrique. I moved to Napa in 2003 and took a position as Executive Sous Chef at St. Helena’s Tra Vigne for a year. In December of 2003, Christophe Hille called and proposed partnership and the Executive Sous Chef position at his new restaurant, A16. I became Chef de Cuisine there in July 2005 and Executive Chef in April 2006.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
NA: Yes, I would recommend culinary school, but it’s not essential to a successful career as a chef. It really depends on the person.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
NA: Almost every chef I worked for at Maisonette in Cincinati was a mentor. When I worked at Campton Place, Chef Laurent Manrique taught me that food is food, and I should accept it for what it is. He told me not to take it too seriously.
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?
NA: I don’t have a set test for when I interview people. I try to tailor interviews to the individual. But most of the time I want to see them make a pizza. They have to rise to the occasion and do it all by hand, not using pins.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
NA: Don’t think about becoming a chef or sous chef until you have at least seven years of experience in the kitchen. Instead of partying, spend your money on food.
AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
NA: Senise Peppers. I import them from southern Italy and grind them into a powder that I add to sausages that I quick fry in oil.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
NA: I love pistachio and orange together.
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
NA: A calculator. We try to use the best ingredients, and to keep prices down everything has to be precise.
AB: Is there a technique that you have either created or borrowed and used in an unusual way?
NA: My butchering technique. I consider myself a butcher above all else. We buy whole animals and butcher them ourselves, so we have to work out how we’re going to use the different parts.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
NA: The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Whittingstall-Fearny for all the meat recipes.
AB: Where to you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
NA: I would like to go to Morocco. People say it’s the Switzerland of North Africa, and I’ve been putting it off for three years.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants off-the-beaten-path in your city?
NA: Spices restaurant for Schezwan, Mandarin, Islamic and Chinese cuisine. Their cumin lamb, pickled cucumbers and twice-cooked bacon are all great. I think Thai House Express is the best Thai food outside of Thailand. I get the pork leg stew and pickled turnip greens. Shinto Bui is good Korean for their fried chicken and pickled turnips.
AB: Which person from history would you most like to have dinner with?
NA: My wife, easily. We’re getting ready to have a baby boy, so I’d say my future son as well.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
NA: Simple food done well is all I need.
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
NA: A butcher, but I guess I already am one, so my second choice would be a glass blower.
AB: What are some of your favorite food-related charities?
NA: La Cocina is a non-profit organization which helps low-income entrepreneurs start or expand their food businesses by providing them with a shared-use commercial kitchen. I think they do really good work.
AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
NA: I’d like to open another Italian restaurant in San Francisco which focuses on a different region – maybe Lazio.
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