Interview with Chef Jonah Oakden of The Blue Plate - San Francisco

June, 2007

Will Blunt:When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Jonah Oakden: My dad is an organic farmer so I learned a little about food from him. I started cooking when I was 17 at Café Gabrielle.

WB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
JO: I started off working with Jim Donavan at Café Gabrielle. I moved to Postrio, where we would regularly do at least 200 covers. I worked really hard. It kicked my ass but I learned a lot.

WB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs without a culinary school background?
JO: I went to CCA but I didn’t graduate. I would get yelled because I didn’t have my shoes shined so I quit and started working. You can learn as much in the field as you can in school.

WB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
JO: All of the guys at Postrio – they got along, inspired each other, and even the front of house was good. Chef Cory Schreiber, of Wildwood Restaurant in Portland, Oregon, is a mentor as well.

WB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
JO: Get a job at a place where you love the food and just dive right in and get working.

WB: Is there any ingredient that you like do you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
JO: Pork, greens, celery, cabbage, and eggs are all really important ingredients for chefs.

WB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
JO: I like any surf and turf combination, like fried oysters and braised bacon, clams and chicken, and scallops with pastrami.

WB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
JO: My Gray Kunz plating spoon. I get really mad when they hide it in my kitchen.

WB: Is there a technique that you have either created of borrowed and used in an unusual way?
JO: We make pastrami in a pretty unique way. We brine it longer and use a hotter smoke in a barrel smoker.

WB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
JO: I like simple French cookbooks. I find Michael Bras’ books pretty inspiring.

WB: What are your favorite restaurants off the beaten path in your city?
JO: Tacos Morenas, Brother’s Korean, and Boulevard. I go to La Taqueria and get crispy tacos with red salsa that aren’t on the menu.

WB: Which person would you most like to have dinner with?
JO: My grandparents so I could say “look at me now!”

WB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
JO: I think food should be as seasonal as possible. I like to give people food that has a hand-made feel at a good value. I like good solid food using solid tools like ovens, pots and pans and fire.

WB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
JO: There is a widespread charcuterie trend going on right now.