Interview with Chef Peter Rudolph of Campton Place - San Francisco

June, 2007

Will Blunt:When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Peter Rudolph:I grew up in Martinez in the East Bay of San Francisco, surrounded by fresh produce in my grandparents garden. That was where my initial interest in cooking came from. I decided to go to culinary school at California Culinary Academy because I was looking for a satisfying job. I liked the idea of working a job where I could learn, be successful, and get positive feedback, and cooking seemed like it had all of that.

WB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
PR: After I graduated from CCA, I started as a pastry cook at the Brasserie Savoy in San Francisco under Chef Dean Max, but I wanted to do more than just pastry so I took the opportunity to work at The Dining Room in the Ritz-Carlton in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, first with Chef Gunter Seeger and then with Chen Joel Atunes. In 2000 I took a Sous Chef position at Jer-ne in the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey. I then moved to Navio at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay as Executive Chef.

WB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs without a culinary school background?
PR: I graduated CCA in 1993 – I think it’s really helpful because it gives you a solid introduction and framework for cooking and helps you establish connections. I only have one guy in my kitchen who didn’t go to culinary school.

WB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
PR: Gunter Seeger taught me to have respect for ingredients and what I’m cooking, Joel Atunes taught me a lot about technique and how to blend flavors, especially abnormal flavors because he is such a fearless chef. Troy Thompson taught me that a chef shouldn’t have any reservation or hesitation in the kitchen – just do it.

WB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
PR: I want to know if they are honest, hardworking, and truthful about their goals. Only 1% actually mean it. Their one day stage is the most important element.

WB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under
PR: Olive oil is my favorite ingredient. It can take on so many different flavors – it can be nutty, grassy, sweet, bitter. I especially like Italian varieties like Picholine and Castello di Ama. Nuts like pine nuts and walnuts are also important. They’re so versatile, they can be uses for puree, stocks, consommé, popcorn, whatever. They have a certain inexplicable, unexplored umami.

WB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
PR: Milk and olive oil, sugar and olive oil, and eggs and olive oil.

WB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
PR: My farmers, my cooks and my brain. Things that are precise and exact like plate wipes, rulers, pointed spoons and chopsticks. I use a cast iron skillet for everything. I can’t use anything else. I really want a plancha.

WB: Is there a technique that you have either created of borrowed and used in an unusual way?
PR: I really like wood smoking.

WB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
PR: Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz and Alain Ducasse.

WB: Where to you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
PR: My Trois Gros meal on my 1998 trip to France was an eye opening experience. I would like to go eat my way through Italy to experience the artisanship there and all through all the Paris 3 star restaurants. I would like to go to Spain as well.

WB: What are your favorite restaurants off-the-beaten-path in your city?
PR: Brothers for Korean, Bocadillo, La Taqueria, and My Tofu House.

WB: Which person would you most like to have dinner with?
PR: I’m attracted to people who specialize in anarchy and the philosophy of shape because that’s what cooking is all about. I think in terms of shape and numbers when I’m cooking, so I’d like to eat with anyone who would appreciate that.

WB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
PR: I love protocol and tradition, but that all gets set aside for the guest experience. You need to do whatever you need to and everything you can to keep the people eating your food happy.

WB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
PR: Plates are framing – presentation really affects a dish. When you want to know how to plate a certain dish, ask the vegetable you’re using. I’m inspired by natural form, and I let the shape and feel of the vegetable dictate my final product. Cooking is a creative process – you have to dream it up, taste what you’ve got, tweak it, and do it again. I think that more and more chefs are starting to use that approach.

WB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
PR: To run a successful restaurant you have to be creative and be a dreamer above all else. Personally, I want to be a good dad and husband, make money, and be comfortable.