Offal’s Leading Advocate
At the forefront of the whole-animal movement, chef Chris Cosentino woos diners with old world techniques and artful pairings, turning organs and extremities into haute cuisine at San Francisco’s acclaimed Incanto. We chat with Chris about all things offal, Top Chef Masters and the city’s best restaurants.
AndrewZimmern.com: You’ve become the king of offal. What spurred your interest in nose-to-tail cooking?
Chris Cosentino: I would say I’m more of an offal enthusiast, than a king. Many different experiences led to my love of offal and nose-to-tail cookery, including the harvest of my first animal which was an eye opening experience that showed me how much people were willing to throw away. At the time, I was reading antique cookbooks with offal recipes and was attracted to the technique—the challenge of taking a part that is unfavorable and tough and making it into a delicate and delicious morsel resonated deeply with me. I became obsessed and bought every book I could find on the subject to understand the process as thoroughly as possible. It then became a mission for me to reintroduce the past and make these cuts desirable once again.
AZ.com: How has your Italian-American upbringing influenced your food philosophy?
CC: I am enamored by the peasant foods of Italy because I admire anyone who can make a great meal out of nothing. Italian peasant food is so amazing and rich in history but even more so, it’s rooted in family and conviviality–each family might have the same dish but they make it a whole different way. The depth of flavor found within each region is really what makes Italian food so special.
AZ.com: What is your convincing argument for someone squeamish about whole-animal cuisine?
CC: I think that everyone needs to be respectful of food, whether you are someone’s guest or dining in a restaurant. There is a lot of heart and soul put into a plate of food, including the animal’s life that was taken to be put on the plate. So I advise everyone to be willing to try a dish first before you cast it aside in fear. In my house, my son is supposed to take a “no thank you bite ” before he can say he doesn’t like something and I think that rule should be applicable to all diners.
AZ.com: What needs to change in our food culture for the broader population to accept (and enjoy) eating brains, lungs or feet?
CC: We live in a very wasteful society and it comes down to the fact that every culture in the world eats these cuts of meat with joy and admiration. The American perception of offal as ‘scraps’ or sub-par cuts is changing as more mainstream chefs are introducing these cuts into their menus and that’s really the best we can do. My personal method is to serve these cuts by pairing the familiar with the unfamiliar so I can get people to try them for the first time.
AZ.com: What is your favorite part of the animal to eat?
CC: I really can’t pick just one. I like all the parts an animal has to offer, each part lends itself to a different cooking technique and has a different flavor and texture. They are each special in their own way, which makes it so hard to choose only one.
AZ.com: What has been the most difficult challenge on Top Chef Masters?
CC: It was a bit challenging to cook for the playboy bunny since she was such a picky eater.
AZ.com: What are a few not-to-miss restaurants in San Francisco?
CC: There are so many great restaurants in San Francisco but there are a few that can’t be missed for sure including State Bird Provisions and Aziza. I also like a lot of off-the-beaten-path spots like To Hyang for great Korean food.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
CC: I have champagne, a lot of beers, sausages, Boccalone salumi, harissa in a tube, mustards and what ever I find at the farmers’ market that looks good. I always have a lobe of foie gras in the freezer with duck fat, lard, anchovies and bacon.
Check out Chris’ recipe for Venison Heart Tartare with Foie Gras.
Chris Cosentino’s passion for Italian food began while growing up in an Italian-American community in Rhode Island. Chris is a 1992 graduate of Johnson & Wales University and veteran of top-notch restaurant kitchens including Red Sage in Washington, D.C. and Rubicon, Chez Panisse, Belon, & Redwood Park in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to joining Incanto in 2002, Chef Cosentino served as a consulting chef for the Aqua Restaurant Group in San Francisco and Las Vegas and the Kimpton Group in San Francisco and Aspen. Chris has developed close relationships with local farmers through his dedicated involvement with the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market and other Bay Area farmer’s markets. A part-time professional bicyclist, Chris enjoys spending time away from the kitchen participating in 24-hour endurance races on his single-gear mountain bike. For more info and updates, visit Chris’ website, Offal Good, or Twitter @offalchris.