Puttin’ on The Ritz

Interview by Alastair Bland |
Culinary Personalities

When and where did you first begin to cook? What dishes did you first attempt?
I began cooking for family and friends at the age of 14. My parents would get home from work late and I would be waiting impatiently. I thought to myself, “I can cook like they do.” So, I started by making fresh pastas and bread. That was my beginning, then I developed a passion for grilling and slow braises. After learning from trial and error, I was eventually able to prepare a homemade meal—and impress my parents, too.

Was there a person in particular who got you interested in cooking?
My mother, for sure. She taught me the importance of home cooking at an early age. Nothing was store-bought or pre-prepared. Her values resonated even when my friends were going to fast food chains.

Have you explored many styles of cooking? What is your favorite sort of cuisine to prepare?
Having the opportunity to travel and visit some great restaurants, I’ve worked with many amazing chefs from abroad. Their tastes and traditions have inspired my own cooking style and continue to do so. Also, the cooking scene is so diverse and exciting in San Francisco that it encourages me to try new techniques and ingredients.

I have a personal affinity for Japanese cuisine and culture. The country’s approach to food seems to be the purest I have come across. I have traveled to Japan a couple of times and I love walking through the markets.

Which ingredients do you especially enjoy working with?
Seafood has always been a passion of mine. You can do so much with certain fish—serve it raw, lightly marinate it, or even grill a fillet. Good seafood preparation lends itself to great food and wine pairings, which is something that we take very seriously at the restaurant.

Would you consider yourself a stylistic purist? Or do you enjoy blending elements of different culinary styles?
I believe that simple is better. The most important elements are the ingredients—you must find products that are at the peak of freshness and flavor. Only then can you truly take a “pure” approach to food.

What are your signature dishes at The Ritz?
It’s a little too early to say. The local markets will determine the dishes we offer, but we do have an amazing pizza on the menu right now that features black cod, local nettles, and yuzu, as well as a steamed bun with fried boneless chicken feet, fresh grapefruit, and black bean sauce.

What else sets Parallel 37 apart from the SF restaurant crowd?
We find the best local ingredients and create fun, original, tasty dishes. I try to create an environment where the cooks are constantly learning about the products, why certain combinations work, and how to cook in season. That might sound silly, but there are so many restaurants that have good food, but with a little sea salt, or a squeeze of fresh orange or cider vinegar, the dishes really explode with flavor.

How does cooking in a restaurant compare to cooking at home? Do you prepare other types of food in your own kitchen?
I tend to cook more comfort food when I’m at home—Salt-Crusted Sea Bass and a Peking-Style Bird are always fun. Being with friends and family and a great bottle of wine is my idea of a good time.

As a professional chef, what is your favorite part of the job?
I really enjoy working with people. Having team members who are excited about learning and taking cooking to the next level makes my job fun and interesting.