Meet Chris Cosentino: Chef/Partner of Incanto, Boccalone and Pigg; author of the new cookbook, Beginnings; and our featured chef partner this season at Williams-Sonoma. With his inspired interpretations of Italian dishes and innovative whole animal cooking, Cosentino has proven he’s someone to watch in the culinary world.
I asked Cosentino to share insight into the man behind the food — from his thoughts on nose-to-tail cooking to the three things he always has on hand in the kitchen. Keep reading to learn which ingredients he is excited about now and what he’s cooking at home for his family.
Q: Describe your food philosophy.
A: I love to cook in an Old-world, peasant Italian style—just great tasting food with simple ingredients.
Q: Why nose-to-tail cooking?
A: When an animal is slaughtered for food, I feel the best way to honor its life is to serve all of it. I also really love the flavor and textures of offal because they are complex and varied.
Q: What are people’s responses when they try something new in your restaurant? What are some surprisingly delicious things you’d encourage people to try, or easy introductions for people to get into offal?
A: Most of the time our diners are familiar with offal and bring their friends in who are not as adventurous. It’s easiest to start with the products people are most familiar with, like chicken liver, or with something that tastes like an item that they already love, like a grilled beef heart, which is just like a steak. I like to call these cuts the “gateway offal.” They will eventually graduate to other cuts. After that, then you can venture into more adventurous cuts like tripe and kidneys. We win over a lot of customers that way.
Q: How can people recreate nose-to-tail cooking in their own homes? Where can they find the cuts?
A: I recommend buying these cuts from a local butcher or farmer who has great animal husbandry practices. Know where your meat comes from and you will feel better about cooking it.
Q: Why is there more interest now in this style of cooking?
A: People are increasingly concerned about the origins of their meat. They are starting to talk to their local butchers more, who are introducing them to offal, which can be a lot more economical than, for example, a premium steak. As people try it, prepared properly, they find that they love the flavor.
Q: You started creating your own cured meat products through your company, Boccalone — why? Were you looking for something other producers weren’t providing?
A: I started Boccalone, my salumi company, after we couldn’t keep up with the demand for the products at the restaurant. We were looking for a space to produce it offsite, found this USDA space in Oakland and we decided to go for it. It has been a great experience. Then, we opened the store in the Ferry Building in San Francisco and it took off. Things have been crazy ever since.
A: Everything inspires me: a painting, a bad meal, a great meal, an ingredient at the market or a trip to another country. All of these things influence the way I cook each day as well as the great chefs I’ve worked with and admire: Mark Miller taught me the history of food; Traci Des Jardins, Jean-Louis Paladin; Marco Pierre White; Fergus Henderson; Paul Kahan; the list goes on and on. I am thankful for all the chefs who have come before me and shared their knowledge of the craft. We all get better by sharing.
Q: What’s a typical meal you’d cook at home for your family?
A: I cook only one meal per day. I don’t cook anything special for my son—he eats what we do. There’s always a salad with a vegetable. Right now its asparagus. Then, there’s typically some fish, a pork loin, pasta, whatever we like that day. I load my pantry with lots of ingredients so it could be an Asian dish one day or a Spanish dish the next. It depends on what we are in the mood for.
Q: What are 3 ingredients you always have on hand?
A: Extra virgin olive oil (preferably Olivestri), salted liliput capers and vinegar.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the animal to cook with and eat? Favorite cured meats?
A: I love pig’s feet. They have a richness and unctuousness that is amazing. I cannot get enough of them. In the salumi world, I love Nduja, the spreadable Clabrian-style salami that we make at Boccalone. It is spicy and addicting.
Q: You’re a cookbook collector. Which of your cookbooks have you used the most?
A: I use all of my books. I buy each one because it has information that I need or something I have never seen and I want to learn. Books are a very important part of my culinary education. I cannot live without my library.
Photo Credit: Michael Harlan Turkell
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.