Mohammad Islam became interested in the culinary world through a passion for cheese and wine. Islam is a late-in-life career changer, leaving computer engineering for fine-dining after a long soul-searching fishing trip in Montana.
Islam has developed his career in the kitchens of numerous restaurants, which includes positions in award-winning restaurants such as The Dining Room at The Ritz Carlton in Chicago, where he worked closely with Sarah Stegner, a James Beard Best Chef award winner.
Islam was also the executive sous chef at the famed Mercer Kitchen in New York City, working extensively as part of the senior team with world-renowned four-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Islam also held a brief stint at Jean-Georges’ flagship restaurant, Jean Georges.
Aside from his mastery of the kitchen, Islam enjoys hiking, mountain climbing and skiing. He currently resides in West Hollywood with his wife and newborn son.
Interview with Chef Mohammad Islam of Chateau Marmont - Los Angeles, CAAntoinette Bruno:
Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
I have always had an interest in food, which later grew into a passion. I came to the realization that this is what I wanted to do everyday, believing that it would give me the fulfillment that I was seeking.
AB: Did you attend culinary school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Do you only hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
MI: I was older and didn't have the financial means for schooling. I would recommend school to aspiring chefs because it helps to build the basics. But I hire any person with ambition and passion.
AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
MI: Gabino Sotelino of Ambria in Chicago who helped to direct my ambition. Sarah Stegner of Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, taught me the importance of discipline. Jean-Georges helped to bloom my creativity and imagination.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MI: There are no shortcuts. Everything I cook is made from scratch. I believe in using the best products that I can find including local, organic and seasonal produce.
AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
MI: Chinese dry beans. I use them in braising and for depth of flavor and complexity. I also use fresh tamarind to add a hint of sourness to dishes.
AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
MI: A mortar and pestle - because I like to be able to control the texture and coarseness, as well as keeping flavors fresh and vibrant.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
MI: Do you like this profession or love it?
AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
MI: Discipline and concentration. That is what I see lacking in most young people today.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MI: Earlier Charlie Trotter cookbooks. Georges Blanc's Simple French Cooking, Alice Waters' Chez Panisse books , The River Café cookbook.
AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
MI: Any foreign place I am lucky enough to visit. I am always interested in trying something new and learning new techniques.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants – off the beaten path – in Los Angeles?
MI: Royal Star and Yuca taco stand.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
MI: Continuing to create good food with a strong following. Pursuing and continuing my passion.