The Truffle's Rob Lawler on Spam musubi, brains, glutards and his favorite cheese
And then Lawler got axed. "Frank has a really creative team," Lawler says, "and to be honest, I'm not the most creative chef, and I'm not great at controlling food costs, either, so, yeah, Frank fired me -- but everything's cool now, and I don't feel bad about it. He still buys his cheese from us, and we still eat at his restaurants."
When he got the boot, Lawler bounded around Brasserie Rouge, Duo and Potager, and he was part of the opening team of Rioja. But along the way, he started thinking about a career change. "Karin and I randomly walked into the Truffle one afternoon, asked Dave Kaufmann, the original owner, if he was interested in selling it, and three months later, it was ours," recalls Lawler, who, in the following interview, weighs in on brains (they're not just for zombies), his countless kitchen disasters and the nastiness of natto.
Six words to describe your cheese shop: Fun, delicious, beautiful, inspirational, improving, inclusive and personal.
Ten words to describe you: Father, stubborn, demanding, optimistic, grateful, addictive, concentrated, opportunistic, generous and critical.
Favorite ingredient: Perfectly ripe, seasonal produce from my back yard. We have a postage-stamp-sized backyard, so whenever I can pick enough of something besides tarragon to include in a meal, it's a very satisfying rarity.
Best recent food find: I just learned how to cook Spam musubi from our friend, Ellen, who makes Helliemae's salt caramels. It's one of those weird, why-is-this-so-damn-good sort of things. You basically sear off slices of Spam, hit the pan with some garlic, soy sauce, water and sugar and then pack it into a form with Japanese rice, and then you wrap it all in toasted nori. It's like eating fast food, because you feel all cheap and dirty afterward, but it's just so good. Our boys love it, and Ronnie, our four-year-old, keeps saying, "Thank you, Papa, this is good!" He's never had McDonald's, but if he did, he'd probably say the same thing.
Most overrated ingredient: I think most everything has its time and place, and anything can be prepared well, but it's weird to me that boneless, skinless chicken breasts are so popular with your average American. You may as well just eat from a tube, because it's boring food for boring people.
Most underrated ingredient: Brains. They're really subtle, and not just for zombies anymore. We get a whole pig every year, and that's always the first thing I eat, sautéed with brown butter and sage. It's a real pain to get them out of the skull without breaking them up. They have the flavor of sweetbreads, but the texture is closer to scrambled eggs. My boys love them, too, and Karin, my wife, is afraid she'll get the hunger for them.