Antoinette Bruno: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Linton Hopkins: I was pre-med at Emory but my heart wasn’t in it. I had cooked at the time and was working at the book store and saw the Red Book Guide to Cooking Schools and decided that I could make a career of cooking. My grandfather in Tennessee had instilled a love of food in me…so I applied to the Culinary Institute of America.
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
LH: I worked in New Orleans at Mr. B’s Bistro and Grill Room at Windsor Court, and at DC Coast in Washington, DC.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
LH: Yes I recommend it. It’s a great resource. You get out of it what you put in, and it certainly helped open doors for me.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
LH: Gerard Maras at Mr. B’s. He taught me about foraging for wild goods, treating farmers with respect, and about volume in terms of putting out quantity and quality. Also Jeff Turks at DC Coast. He taught me about being prepared for service. He told me not to just spin the wheel, meaning don’t just add ingredients to a plate, but rather really think about what you need to add complexity.
AB: In which kitchens have you staged?
LH: I staged at Taka and learned all about the handling of raw fish.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
LH: We go through a personal interview, a written test, and then we give them a mystery basket which is a vegetable plate with eight vegetables. They can have the kitchen for 90 minutes to do what they want with it.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
LH: That you are going to work hard and that you have to realize you are an apprentice to the chef’s vision.
AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
LH: Jerusalem artichokes and turnips, which are perfect when cooked with butter, in a gratin, sliced thin, pureed, or paired with seafood. Broccoli puree is also good and versatile.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
LH: Black pepper and fruit, game organs (liver, kidneys, heart) with mustard, fleur de sel with fresh raw hamachi.
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
LH: A food mill, because of the gentleness of the way it breaks down thickness in to airy lightness, to almost baby food consistency.
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created of borrowed and use in an unusual way?
LH: Poaching using the milk of vegetables, like using corn milk (we scrap the cob and run it through a Champion juicer) to poach lobster or shellfish.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
LH: Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point.
AB: Where to you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
LH: Everywhere, but especially Japan for their culinary sensibility, freshness, and simplicity, and Italy for classic combinations and their passion and vision.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants-off the beaten path-in your city?
LH: Figo Pasta for simple marinara – it’s great for kids. I also love Taka Sushi.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
LH: Everything is about hospitality. Guest come to be welcomed to a place, so I think hospitality wins every time.
AB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for?
LH: I would cook for Julia Child because I grew up with her cookbooks and love her Chicken Kiev. I’d like Pierre Gagnaire to cook for me.
AB: Where do you see yourself in five years? In ten years?
LH: I think I’ll be here at Restaurant Eugene, still working with farmers, and maybe opening another concept, like a bistro.