Interview with Chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto - San Francisco

October, 2005

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Chris Cosentino: When I was a kid, my parents got divorced and my mom worked, so I went to visit my grandmother, who was originally from Naples. My mother’s family made sausages and everything revolved around food, although no one had ever worked in a restaurant. Also, I was a lackluster student and was much better with my hands. The kitchen gave me a way to learn without books.

AB: Do you feel that attending Johnson & Wales University was important to the development of your skills as a chef? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
CC: Johnson & Wales gave me focus and direction. I went from being a student to a teacher’s assistant in my second two years, which is when I received a B.S in Foodservice Management. School has gotten very expensive though. With school you get what you put in – otherwise it is just a party atmosphere. 75% of culinary school graduates I get are non-trainable. They lack basic skills. They all want to be TV chefs as fast as they can.

AB: Who are your mentors and what are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
CC: Jean Louis Palladin told me, “Never cook for a reviewer, cook for yourself.” I have a lot of respect for Tom Colicchio. I’ve never worked for him, but I respect his passion.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
CC: I believe that everyone deserves to eat well, not just rich people. I also believe in sustainable eating. It’s about using everything; eat the radishes, eat the greens, kill the animal and use all its parts. We filter and carbonate our own water.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
CC: Innards –they are the most under-utilized ingredients there are because most people are afraid of them. It all comes back to sustainable eating.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
CC: There are a slew of Japanese knives I can’t live without - Mac, Masahiro, and Misono. I also had an old-fashioned peppermill, a Penzey Spice, but I lost it at the Beard House.

AB: What tips would you offer young cooks just getting started?
CC: Shut up and listen. Don’t ever take anything personally. Criticism isn’t a personal attack.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
CC: The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall (a whole new approach to looking at meat) and the Time Life Series of Variety Meats (1974) edited by Richard Olney (the only book to date that demystifies organs).

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
CC: London – everything is a one-hour plane ride away. I could call a farmer and get a 12 pound, acorn-fed baby black pig.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants off-the-beaten-path in San Francisco?
CC: Pho tu do Noodle House on Clement Street, and Azteca Tacqueria. Slow Club has the best burgers - Sante Salvoni is the chef.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
CC: I see “to-go” becoming a permanent service by restaurants. Food is getting wackier and wackier. I love New York because no one is ever afraid; no holds barred – they go for it! Doing something different is okay.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
CC: I’d love to own my own restaurant. I hope for a better life for my son, although I wouldn’t trade my world for anything.