Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Christophe Hille: I had gotten a bachelor’s degree in music and wasn’t excited about pursuing it, so I switched to cooking. I was always a gourmand as a kid, although I almost never ate out. My mother, who was French, was a good cook. I was a fussy eater, but I loved food. Then I got a job after college cooking at a country & western bar.
AB: Which early job position and/or restaurant do you feel was most influential in shaping your culinary style and business philosophy?
CH: Le Clos de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence, a fancy but rustic restaurant, was very influential. In terms of a mentor, Laurent Manrique taught me delegation of duties. There are some things that you should be doing and others that should be delegated.
AB: Can you talk about working at Charles Nob Hill?
CH: Charles Nob Hill was a fine dining restaurant with a small kitchen – very fussy. That experience pushed me away from fine dining. I knew then that I wanted to pursue something less fussy.
AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers? What chefs do you most admire?
CH:Craig Stoll of Delfina and Chris Cosentino of Incanto, both in San Francisco.
AB: Are there any unsung regional ingredients that everyone should know about?
CH: We use a lot of bread crumbs here. Traditionally, Italians use leftover stale bread to finish for texture and to thicken. Here we use leftover bread, pizza dough, etc. because it absorbs sauce and holds it.
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
CH: Zucchini salad – we slice raw zucchini into thick slices, salt it and let it rest. It sweats and the salt “cooks” it.
AB: What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?
CH: Cook food that you would like to eat.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
CH: Do you appreciate this kind of food or do you prefer fine dining?
AB: Is there a place that you want to travel to for culinary researching purposes, and which place that you’ve already been to has had the greatest impact on your menus?
CH: I just spent 2 weeks in Japan. I like home-style Yakatori cooking. I want to go to India – it is food I like eating, but I know nothing about how it is created.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants in San Francisco? What is the most memorable meal that you’ve ever had?
CH: Tampopo for Japanese home-style cuisine. And Thai House Express has the best Thai food in San Francisco.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry right now?
CH: Lots of pizzerias – this town is going back into a regional Italian direction.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
CH: In 10 years I’d like to be making my own cheese.