Interview with Chef Dave Larkworthy of 5 Seasons - Atlanta

October, 2007

Heather Sperlin: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Dave Larkworthy: My first word was apple. I grew up around interesting, perfectly-cooked food; family bonding meant going to the farmer’s market. I basically taught myself to cook with the CIA book.

HS: Did you attend culinary school?
DL: No, I'm self-taught. I basically taught myself how to cook from The Culinary Institute of America Cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook, and Julia Child.

HS: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
DL: I worked with Chef Jack Shoop in Florida. I opened a 46-seat bistro called Gourmet Grill in Buckhead, which I sold to my partner after 2 years. I spent 6 years working with the Buckhead Life group, working almost every position, including pastry chef for the Buckhead Bread Company.

HS: Who are some of your mentors?
DL: Definitely my mom and dad – my dad is a high-level thinking guy. I admired Julia Child, too. She used to drive a lime green car with a soup spoon antenna – how cool is that? She demystified food for a lot of people. Also Pano Karatassos at Pano and Paul, Jean Banchet, and Thomas Keller, via his work.

HS: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
DL: ‘Why are you here?’ and ‘Do you know how challenging this is?’ If they’re up to the challenge, I’ll give them a chance. Then they’re either here 2-3 days or 2-3 years.

HS: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
DL: RUN! And then I’d say: it’s a very vibrant but physically exhausting thing. Learn as much as you can and work at the best places you can, and try to grow. If you’re not going to try to be the best at what you’re doing, don’t do it!

HS: Is there an ingredient you feel is particularly underappreciated or underutilized?
DL: Skins and bones – though for the most part, a ton of ingredients are underutilized in the kitchen. I try to cross-utilize my ingredients: use the chain from the filet to make gyoza filling, and so on.

HS: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
DL: I love acids and vinegars and how both play off round, fatty tastes. I’m more inclined to sour than sweet. I like pairing lime with pork belly and smoked chili peppers with strawberries.

HS: Do you have a particularly indispensable cooking tool?
DL: Besides power? One of the things about cooking for a living is that you have to be very adaptable – you can’t just rely on tools! You have to be able to improvise.

HS: Your menu is shockingly technique-driven for a sustainable brewery. I’ll admit, we were surprised.
DL: I try every technique I read about. Harold Magee is an indispensable resource. And with 10 or more specials a day, we get to play around a lot.

HS: What are your favorite cookbooks?
DL: Well, Harold Magee and the CIA cookbook, plus The French Laundry Cookbook and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie. I grew up with The Joy of Cooking and The New Basics Cookbook.

HS: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
DL: China has some of the most interesting food on the planet. I’d love to go to some 4000-year-old restaurant.

HS: What are your favorite restaurants – off the beaten path – in your city?
DL: Little Bangkok on Buford, Nuevo Laredo Cantina, and Panang on Buford – I used to go to one in Flushing, and now it’s all over.

HS: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry?
DL: Unfortunately, there are a lot of giant chain restaurants coming in. There are pockets of great food, but the city is struggling with the whole chain/mini-mall thing. Atlanta has come a long way, but we still have a way to go. What’s great is the huge farming community. Georgia is very fertile and has a lot of agricultural strength that hasn’t been tapped. And there’s a new, young generation of farmers and a resurgence of small farms.

HS: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
DL: We try to get the best ingredients we can and handle them with care, discipline, and love. We make food that makes sense, we source locally, and support local farms. I think the most important thing is balance – in your food, with your friends, with your employees and your family. And humility. Really, I could study the egg for the rest of my life and still wouldn’t learn everything there is to know about it.

HS: What is the 5th season?
DL: In Japan it’s the wet season, but it can also mean in season – that’s what it really means to us. Plus, we like doing things a bit excessively…

HS: How does the beer play into it all?
DL: Well, seasonal food and seasonal beer makes all the sense in the world. Plus farmers like beer…We work with over a dozen local farms, and give many of them the leftover grain (from brewing) for composting. We deliver 2-6 tons of grain to the farm three times a week.

HS: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
DL: Maybe something environmental, something involving my hands and my head. I couldn’t cook at a regular restaurant though – if I didn’t have complete freedom, I couldn’t do it.