Round two with David Payne, executive chef of Jelly
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? I have a great library of cookbooks that I've collected in my wanderings around the country, but I've gotten to the point where, unless I'm doing some baking and need to know complex ratios that I just don't keep in my head, I use recipes mostly as inspiration. When I was making the chorizo that we use at Jelly, I must have read at least 100 or more recipes, online, in my own cookbooks, and at the Tattered Cover -- which, by the way, has a nice selection of cookbooks -- and I also looked at family recipes from Texas. And by doing all of those things, I was able to choose the makeup of my spice mix to my own liking, making it completely, 100 percent unique.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Get your pan hot. Home stoves just don't put out the heat needed to get a nice piece of meat nicely browned on the outside before it starts to release juices, so use an iron skillet, and make sure it's hot.
Best nugget of advice for a culinary-school graduate: Don't be that arrogant guy who thinks that you're automatically a chef just because you have a culinary degree. You're a chef in the making, to be molded by the experienced chefs you work for. They'll teach you what you need: speed, specific knowledge, a sharp tongue and your own limitations. Listen, be respectful and learn.
Favorite childhood food memory: My mom used to make steak fingers with country gravy -- something that I probably wouldn't cook for my kids today. Sorry, Mom. Sometimes it came with rice, sometimes potatoes, sometimes macaroni and cheese, but the star was those steak fingers. The crispy pieces of flour, left in the lard to make the gravy, were so tasty. I don't think I could repeat it in a busy restaurant, because you'd have to make the gravy to order, in the same pan that you cooked the steak fingers in.
Favorite junk food: Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream -- chunks of chocolate, chunks of cherries, all in an ice cream. Shut the front door.
Weirdest customer request: I worked at a brewery in Berkeley, and we used Fiestaware for our plateware -- and we had all the colors. There was this one middle-aged, very hippie-looking lady who would come in and eat with us and drink some beers. And then she totally freaked out on us one day because we plated her food on a red plate. We had no idea why until she described to us how the government dictated that the red coloring in the plates was radioactive. I couldn't even begin to repeat the very long-winded, passionate, anti-government speech she gave us. The point was, however, to never serve food on red plates. Who knew?
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: Rocky Mountain oysters. They're chewy, but not so bad, really.