Iain Chisholm, chef of Amerigo: "Big egos are everywhere in the restaurant business""
This is part two of my interview with Iain Chisholm, chef-owner of Amerigo Delicatus Restaurant & Market; part one of our chat, in which Chisholm admits that he doesn't mess with Asian ingredients and likens the absence of bread to a night without stars, ran yesterday.
What's the most noteworthy meal you've ever eaten?
When I was eight, my parents took us to San Sebastián, Spain, and my dad, uncle and I were wandering around the old town where all the tapas bars were. I was complaining that I was hungry, so we popped into one of the tapas bars, and I had never seen anything like it. There was this huge bar with hundreds of tiny little hors d'oeuvres that were beautiful. You just took what you wanted, and the servers kept tally. It was a real eye-opener for me in terms of turning me on to good food.
What's your favorite dish on your menu right now?
Creamy polenta paired with seared side pork, scallions, thyme, blueberries and wildflower honey. It sounds like a sweet dish, but it's not. The fatty pork and silky polenta get cut by the slight sweetness of the sautéed blueberries, and with the savory scallions, it's really well balanced. I'm about ready to take it off the menu, and I'll be sad to see it go.
What dish would you love to put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell?
I'm ready for cold-weather food, and I've been waiting to put some rabbit on the menu, which is something I've never run at Amerigo, so I'm not sure how it will sell, but I'm pretty confident that it'll go over just fine. Our customers are typically willing to try everything we put on the menu, but rabbit just isn't very popular in the states, and that's a shame, because I love the earthiness of the meat. It's perfect for fall.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth?
A miracle berry. A buddy who I went to culinary school with got into growing these West African berries that totally screw up your palate. You chew the berry, hold it in your mouth for a while and then swallow it, and eating it makes everything taste totally different. We went through my refrigerator and made the weirdest combinations to see how it would change the taste. Drinking vinegar tasted like the sweetest juice. Spicy things like Tabasco combined with Worcestershire sauce were actually pretty tasty. It was a trip.
Last meal before you die?
My mom's pork roast and sauerkraut. And her cherry pie to finish. That's what she made every year on my birthday for years.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator?
Dijon mustard. I've been hooked on it since I was eight. It's the best condiment there is, and I never allow myself to run out.
What's your best recipe tip for a home cook?
Use recipes as guides, not as formulas. Cooking is fun, because you get to make every dish a little different. Use the recipe to get the gist of what needs to take place, and then use your own sensibilities to make the dish your own. Cooking is not the same thing as baking. Baking is regimented, whereas cooking is very flexible.