Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Mohammad Islam:I have always had an interest in food, which later grew into a passion. I came to the realization that this is what I wanted to do everyday, believing that it would give me the fulfillment that I was seeking.
AB: Did you attend culinary school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Do you only hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
MI: I was older and didn't have the financial means for schooling. I would recommend school to aspiring chefs because it helps to build the basics. But I hire any person with ambition and passion.
AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
MI: Gabino Sotelino of Ambria in Chicago who helped to direct my ambition. Sarah Stegner of Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, taught me the importance of discipline. Jean-Georges helped to bloom my creativity and imagination.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MI: There are no shortcuts. Everything I cook is made from scratch. I believe in using the best products that I can find including local, organic and seasonal produce.
AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
MI: Chinese dry beans. I use them in braising and for depth of flavor and complexity. I also use fresh tamarind to add a hint of sourness to dishes.
AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
MI: A mortar and pestle - because I like to be able to control the texture and coarseness, as well as keeping flavors fresh and vibrant.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
MI: Do you like this profession or love it?
AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
MI: Discipline and concentration. That is what I see lacking in most young people today.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MI: Earlier Charlie Trotter cookbooks. Georges Blanc's Simple French Cooking, Alice Waters' Chez Panisse books , The River Café cookbook.
AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
MI: Any foreign place I am lucky enough to visit. I am always interested in trying something new and learning new techniques.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants – off the beaten path – in Los Angeles?
MI: Royal Star and Yuca taco stand.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
MI: Continuing to create good food with a strong following. Pursuing and continuing my passion.