I recently had an amazing and eye opening dinner at Incanto Restaurant in San Francisco, California. The chef and partner at Incanto is Chris Cosentino. Chef Cosentino is known for preaching the gospel of innards and entrails. He uses the parts of the animal that many immigrant communities across the United States have been cooking with for years. Chef Cosentino puts his own spin on these variety meats to astounding success. He also has an awesome website that I visit regularly called www.OffalGood.com.
Let me tell you a little bit about what I devoured during my recent meal at Incanto. I started out with a few appetizers. The first was foie gras, trotters, strawberry jam & pickled green strawberries. I always compare foie gras to peanut butter. It is so tasty and delicious. The beef heart tartar with a quail egg was next. This was a real treat for me. I love raw meat to begin with, so it was awesome to try this traditional dish made with heart instead of filet mignon. I think I like this preparation more than what I am used to. I concluded the appetizer course with mission figs with Boccalone Lardo. Figs and pork fat! Need I say more? It was a little taste of heaven.
For the pasta course, I was pleasantly surprised with a pork blood pappardelle with pork kidney. This was absolutely delicious. The pork blood really brought out the flavor of the dish. And the pork kidneys were very tasty little morsels that made the dish very exciting.
My main course was pork belly & leg with grilled peaches, dandelion greens & onion salsa. If you know me, you know I am a lover of pig. So chances are if there is pork on the menu, I am eating it. The pork belly was crispy and delicious. The leg meat was smooth and buttery. It was able to cut it with a fork. And the grilled peaches were extraordinary. Grilling really adds another layer of flavor to just about any food.
This was one unforgettable meal. And what really made it special was the opportunity I had to meet and talk with Chef Cosentino. It was great to see a chef who is so passionate about what he does and the food he makes. You can taste love and passion in a dish. I definitely tasted it during my meal. I liked offal before this meal, but after it I am a disciple of offal and a life long lover of the unmentionable parts of an animal.
Once I got back to Jersey, I wrote Chef Cosentino an e-mail asking him if he would not mind being interviewed by me for the blog. He kindly obliged. So what follows is my interview with Chef Chris Cosentino. Enjoy!
Tony Mangia: Where do you trace your roots in Italy?
Chris Cosentino: My great grandparents emigrated here from Naples.
TM: When did you realize cooking was your passion?
CC: All I ever did as a kid was cook, garden then as I got older started working on fishing boats in New England and local farms. My first job was as a dishwasher at IHOP.
TM: Did you go to culinary school? If so, where did you go?
CC: I graduated from Johnson & Wales, I got a bachelors degree in culinary arts, food service management.
TM: What’s your fondest memory of culinary school?
CC: Staying out dancing until 4 a.m. then sleeping in the chef’s office, so I wouldn’t be late for work. I never was late or missed a class.
TM: What advice could you give to a person who is considering culinary school?
CC: You don’t know sh*t, so shut up and listen. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but when I did everything changed for me.
TM: If culinary school is not an option for someone, what advice can you give them for getting into cooking?
CC: Work for a chef you believe in and put your head down and learn from the school of hard knocks it’s a great way.
TM: You’re originally an East Coast guy. What drew you to California and in particular, San Francisco?
CC: All the boxes of produce I was looking at said California, and there was so much talk of California so we chose S.F. Now 14 years later I am still here.
TM: How many restaurants do you have?
CC: There is 1 restaurant, Incanto. That’s all there is right now.
TM: Would you consider opening a restaurant on the East Coast?
CC: Not sure. I love the Bay Area, so it would be hard for me to do this elsewhere. It would have to be a totally different concept.
TM: Where do you get your inspiration for your dishes?
CC: Inspiration is everywhere, look around.
TM: What is it like working in your kitchen?
CC: I don’t want to speak for my cooks. I have guys that have been with me for 4 1/2 years and a guy who has been with me for 7 years. I like the fact that the menu changes daily and depending on the farmer’s list.
TM: You are known for cooking offal. You even have a website dedicated to offal, www.OffalGood.com. Can you please explain what offal is for those who do not know?
CC: Offal is those parts of a meat animal which are used as food but which are not skeletal muscle. The term literally means “off fall”, or the pieces which fall from a carcass when it is butchered. Originally the word applied principally to the entrails. It now covers insides including the HEART, LIVER, and LUNGS (collectively known as the pluck), all abdominal organs and extremities: TAILS, FEET, and HEAD including BRAINS and TONGUE. In the U.S.A., the expressions “organ meats” or “variety meats” are used instead.
TM: What drew you to offal?
CC: It’s just a natural way of eating and cooking. It’s about doing the animal justice; it’s just the proper thing to do. The flavors are rich and its unique textures add so much dimension.
TM: Besides offal, you are also known for your salumi. You are the proprietor of Boccalone Salumeria in the Ferry Building on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Where does your passion for salumi stem from?
CC: The magical transformation of curing pork is an amazing lesson in patience with a delicious reward.
TM: Can our readers order your salumi on line or is the only option taking a trip to San Francisco?
CC: You can order some of our products on our website www.Boccalone.com, otherwise just come to our store in the Ferry Building.
TM: What is your favorite ingredient to use in your cooking?
CC: I like everything it all has its place and time.
TM: What are some of the most bizarre things you have cooked and eaten?
CC: Balút and stinky tofu are the most bizarre and nasty things ever.
TM: Do you have any plans for writing a cookbook?
CC: I am working on a book with my wife as the co-author. She is way smarter than me.
TM: Chef Aaron Sanchez and you are the hosts of the Food Networks “Chefs vs. City”. The show, which airs on Fridays at 10 PM (Eastern Time), has an interesting concept. Aaron Sanchez and you go to different cities across the country where you challenge two local chefs to different food challenges. What was your toughest challenge on “Chefs vs. City”?
CC: The hand pulled noodles was the hardest hands down.
TM: What is you favorite food and why?
CC: I like everything, well almost.
TM: You are also a regular on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” also on the Food Network. So, what is the best thing you’ve ever ate?
CC: Not going to say. That is like picking a favorite child that is just wrong.
TM: What’s on the horizon for you?
CC: Lots of cooking!!!
I want to thank Chef Chris Cosentino for taking the time out to do this interview with me. It is greatly appreciated. And don’t forget if you’re in the Bay Area, make sure you check out both Incanto Restaurant located at 1550 Church Street in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood and Boccalone Salumeria located in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. Tell Chris I said hello! I hope you become an offal convert like me!
Living to eat,