Chef Laurence Jossel
Nopa | San Francisco
Laurence Jossel got into the restaurant business as a teenager,
dishwashing, bussing tables, and waiting on them. By the time he
was 18 he knew that food was his passion and enrolled at the Culinary
Academy in San Francisco to get behind the line. After school Laurence
spent time at La Folie and The Dining Room at
The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco under Gary Danko. From there Laurence
opened Kokkari, Chez Nous, and finally Chow,
where he met the partners for his current project: NOPA. Together with fiancée Allyson Woodman and Jeff Hanak, Laurence
has built a neighborhood restaurant that’s making simple,
hearty, accessible food with local ingredients and a focus on sustainability.
You won’t see it advertised on the menu because part of his
philosophy is to carry out his philosophy without making a fuss.
Dishes like his simple but perfectly executed White Beans with Feta
and Oregano do the talking. But behind-the-scenes at NOPA,
menus are recycled, food waste is composted, and absolutely all
the ingredients are organic. Laurence sets the standard very high
when it comes to sustainability, committed to leaving the smallest
imprint possible as a restaurant.
WB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
LJ: I worked for Roland Passot at La Folie for 17 years. It was there that I learned how to cook with speed. I was the sous chef at Gary Danko for 4 years and I spent 3 years at Tony Gulisano’s restaurant Chow.
WB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs without a culinary school background?
LJ: CCA was great back when I was there, but I think it’s become too expensive for what it is. I usually try to hire a good half and half balance of trained and untrained chefs.
WB: 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?
LJ: I ask why they cook and find out the last time they were at a farmer’s market. I try to suss out the most intelligent candidates. I’ll take a smart and lazy hire over someone stupid but hardworking.
WB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
LJ: I think the general freshness of the ingredients themselves is underappreciated.
WB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
LJ: An acidic ingredient offsets anything wood smoked well.
WB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
LJ: A rotisserie grill.
WB: Is there a technique that you have either created of borrowed and used in an unusual way?
LJ: We use the grill as a smoker, which doesn’t occur to a lot of people.
WB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
LJ: The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
is a favorite. I think she’s a genius in the way she breaks things down to their simplest forms. Even though it’s not technically a cookbook, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan is a really good book for a chef to read. It
is a really important book for chefs.
WB: Where to you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
LJ: Italy to learn about rustic cooking.
WB: What are your favorite restaurants off-the-beaten-path in your city?
LJ: Firefly is a great, friendly neighborhood restaurant. I like Da Flora in North Beach for Italian. It’s run by Hungarians. They make their own bread and have great gnocchi.
WB: Which person would you most like to have dinner with?
LJ: MFK Fisher or Elizabeth David.
WB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
LJ: Teaching kids.
WB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
LJ: Keep ingredients local, sustainable, and accessible.
WB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
LJ: I think success means to grow enough to be able to give others responsibility.