Chef and Tell, part two: Rachel Kesley on umeboshi vinegar, the traveling food cart and eating a buzz button
This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Rachel Kesley, executive chef of WaterCourse Foods. In part one of that interview, which ran in this space yesterday, Kesley dishes on produce-driven menus, vegetarianism and her fascination with figs.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Respect is number one. Respect your team, respect your food and respect yourself. Cleanliness is also key. I have thirty staff members in the kitchen alone, and at any given time there are ten of us in there, cooking away. That's a lot of hands making a lot of food, and it can get messy. You must have a willingness to learn and be pushed. For a lot of the people coming into the kitchen, this may be their first time dealing with a vegetarian -- even vegan -- menu, as well as all the different ingredients that we use on a more regular basis than most restaurants. And last, but certainly not least, you have to be able to work hard but at the same time keep it lighthearted. We have a demanding job, but we want to have fun without compromising the integrity of the food. If you don't enjoy what you do, the job becomes even harder. Through my experience, I've realized that in order to make great food, everyone needs a good laugh.
What's never in your kitchen? Processed foods, high-fructose corn syrup and, most obviously, meat.
What's always in your kitchen? Umeboshi vinegar. It's Asian plum vinegar, and it's far and away my favorite thing to cook with. It doesn't change the color of anything, but it really enhances the flavor of everything. I love the stuff, and I put it in everything. It's a salt and a vinegar in one -- magic.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? The Wine Bible and The Flavor Bible. My old sous chef gave me The Wine Bible for my birthday, and it's amazing. Both are probably my most-referenced books.
One book that every chef should read: In the Devil's Garden, by Stewart Lee Allen. I graduated with a degree in history, and this book dives into certain foods' reputations and how they got them based on historical context. I think it's so important for people to know where their food came from and why we eat what we eat.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? The traveling food cart. It would be me and a silver-bullet trailer that's been converted into a kitchen on wheels, cruising down the Pacific Coast in search of the best local ingredients and flavors. We'd buy what we needed from the local markets and set up shop. There would be some vegetarian ingredients, some not, but it would definitely be a produce-driven venture.
Guiltiest food pleasure? Chocolate-covered almonds. I've eaten an embarrassing number of them in one sitting. The crunchy texture, combined with the sweet and salty flavors, is my absolute favorite.