Erin Beach

Mark Dommen
One Market
1 Market St,
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 777-5577

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Jami English:When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Mark Dommen:I sort of fell into cooking. My dad made me get a job when I was 16 to pay for gas for my car. I worked in the same restaurant as a line cook every summer until I graduated high school. By then I realized that it was something I could see myself pursuing as a career so I enrolled in the California Culinary Academy.

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Chef Mark Dommen
One Market | San Francisco

Californian native Mark Dommen graduated from the California Culinary Academy and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Hospitality Management from the University of San Francisco. He began his professional career with Hubert Keller of San Francisco’s Fleur de Lys, where Keller mentored him and showed him the finer points of contemporary French technique.

From there Dommen spent four years in New York, polishing his skills with David Burke at Park Avenue Café and Gray Kunz and Christian Delouvrier while at Lespinasse. Dommen opened Palladin as Sous Chef for Jean-Louis Palladin before returning to the West Coast where he opened Julia’s Kitchen. The restaurant, named after Julia Child, celebrated American cooking at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, California.  

In between the time he spent on the East and West coasts, Dommen went to Europe to explore serious fine dining at Michelin two- and three-star restaurants including Kunststuben in Zurich, Schwartzwalsdstube in Germany and Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monte Carlo. Dommen joined the Lark Creek Restaurant Group in 2004, and has been approaching seasonal Californian produce with a blend of classic French and modern techniques at One Market ever since, sourcing much of his menu’s produce from The Ferry Building across the street.

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Interview Cont'd
JE: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
MD: I started in the kitchen of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco with Hubert Keller who became my mentor. I moved to New York and spent 4 years working with Gray Kunz at Lespinasse and also with David Burke at Park Avenue Café. After that I got the opportunity to open Palladin as Sous Chef for Jean-Louis Palladin, where I really utilized my experience in French cuisine. From New York I was invited to join Julia Child at Julia’s Kitchen in Napa Valley as the opening Executive Chef.

JE: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
MD: I think culinary school really depends on the individual. I went to CCA and it definitely started me out in the right direction. It exposes students to a huge amount of information in a relatively short amount of time – it’s up to the student to decide how he will utilize that information. I don’t think you get enough hands on experience in culinary school to really build a career from, but it’s not their job to give you work place experience – they just give you the tools you need to start out. I definitely take into account whether or not someone applying to work in my kitchen went to culinary school. I tend to favor candidates with formal training but I don’t require it.

JE: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
MD: I ask cooks what their overall goals are. Knowing what they want for themselves in their immediate and long term future gives me an idea of how they would work out in my kitchen. Employment needs to be mutually beneficial – they should be happy with what they’re doing and we should be happy with what they’re contributing. I also ask about their previous position – what they learned and why they left. It gives you an idea of what exactly they’re looking for in a job, and that provides insight into whether or not they’ll fit.

JE: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
MD: Find a mentor early on who you can look up to and learn from, like I did with Hubert Keller. It’s important that you like his work and cooking style and that you really appreciate the food he’s turning out. Once you’ve found a good fit, utilize that person for all he’s worth. Get his advice, share his connections, and learn from his experience. He’s probably been through it all. Also, I think proper, classic technique is really important in all you do – not just knowing how to do something in the kitchen but knowing how to do it the right way and the best way. Good technique is something culinary school doesn’t always teach, so it’s important that you find a way to learn it on your own.

JE: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under-appreciated or under-utilized?
MD: Right now I’m into lavender. It tends to be a popular ingredient in desserts but I’m using it a lot with savory dishes right now. Chocolate is the same way – I’m trying to use it in a savory context as much as I can. They both lend a depth of flavor without being overpowering.

JE: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
MD: I really like any shellfish mixed with Pernod and lemon juice. When the three are in balance, they add up to a full, fruity flavor, which is somewhat unexpected. I think lamb and lavender are also a great combination.

JE: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
MD: The Gray Kunz spoon. When I was at Lespinasse everyone had to work with a special spoon that the JB Prince Company later marketed under Gray’s name. Once you get used to it, you really can’t go back to using any other type of spoon. I use my Japanese mandolin all the time too. I’ve grown to appreciate using wood to cook. I cook with almond wood in the wood burning grill and it gives this amazing flavor that you can never get from gas or charcoal. I’ve started to work a lot with an immersion circulator. Without it we couldn’t do sous vide properly.

JE: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MD: Since I’ve started using my immersion circulator, I’ve been referring to Sous Vide Cuisine by Joan Roca and Salvador Bruges a lot.
JE: Where to you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
MD: I love all of Europe, but I’d really like to go to Asia because I’ve never been there. I love the flavors, especially those of Thailand.

JE: Which person would you most like to cook for? Who would you most like to cook for you?
MD: Julia Child was definitely one of the coolest people I’ve cooked for. When we opened Julia’s Kitchen she was just so real and honest which was really refreshing. She would eat your food and tell you why she did or didn’t like it. I would have loved to have made a meal for James Beard. I never got to meet him and he was such an important guy in the industry.If I could have anyone cook for me, I’d probably have to choose Joel Robuchon.

JE: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
MD: I’d probably be in the wine business. Or a fireman.

JE: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
MD: Success for me would be to own my own restaurant. I wouldn’t want it to be too big because there’s no way you can have total control over the food you’re sending out, but not too small because those never make enough money. I think the ultimate success for a chef is to obtain some sort of good balance between your work and personal time spent with friends and family. I’m not sure how realistic that is considering the craziness and demanding hours in this business, but it would be great to not have to worry about being in the kitchen all the time and spend a little more time at home.

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   Published: June 2007