Grub Street magazine Interview

July 13, 2009 on 2:38 pm | In Blog, Offal, Press | Comments

Chris Cosentinos Cookbook Too Scary to Publish

cosentino.jpgJust back from the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival, offal ambassador Chris Cosentino cooked for Taste of the Nation last week, and is about to wrap up shooting on his new Food Network series, Chefs Vs. City. The rest of the time, he’s cooking at his restaurant, Incanto, the only one in the city to serve Certified Humane meats. He took a few minutes to speak with us about making disgusting meats delicious, his admiration for Fergus Henderson, and his new book idea.

Why the obsession with offal?
I don’t know. I’m just a smelly cook, that’s all I am. I’m just a guy who cooks cuts of meat that, for me, are more flavorful. I believe if you’re willing to kill it, you should be willing to eat it.

Fergus Henderson is the grand daddy. The mac daddy. He is, and always will be, the grandfather of the reintroduction of offal in England and the world. When his book The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating came out, we were enamored by that book. Someone had to stand up and do that. And to me that’s a big deal. I look to Fergus a lot for direction, I look to him sometimes when I feel a bit lost. I can reach out to Fergus. He’s become a very good friend

Why do you think people are more comfortable these days with kind of “weird” meats, like marrow or sweetbreads, than they have been in the past?
They’ve always been in high-end restaurants. You’re seeing a trickle-down effect now. In regards to why they’re becoming acceptable, I think it’s a new generation of diners. In World War II, it was the norm. Rationing stamps only got you so much meat. So offal cuts got you more meat for your stamps. We win the war, and now processed foods and canned foods become more available. You start to see a decrease in those meats now that we’re a prosperous nation. My grandmother and my mom won’t eat many of those things.

Now, our generation is more curious, wants to know where it’s from. We’re interested in sustainable living. [But] these foods, these techniques, they’re as old as time. I’m not reinventing the wheel here, I’m digging up the past. That’s all I’m doing. These traditional uses of these meats are everywhere in the world, except in the U.S., where they disappeared.

You’re working on a book?
The title is called “Odd Cuts and Guts: Rediscovering the rest of the animal.” It’s a how-to guide. It will have animal overlays, and I have a lot of little bonus stuff that will come with it. I’ve been working with a lot of people on this for years, but unfortunately U.S. publishing houses are too afraid. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. That’s why I’m trying to get the book published, so they will understand. If people learn how to use these cuts of meat at home, it will be more acceptable. It’s taking away the fear.

Back in March, you wrote on your site Offal Good about pressure you were getting from animal rights activists to stop serving foie gras. You said the confrontation would be “our Alamo.” What’s happened since?
What it ultimately boils down to is, whether I serve what every other place wants to throw in the garbage, whether I serve an animal that just deceased two seconds ago of natural causes, I’m serving meat. I firmly believe that if you’re willing to put down an animal for food, you should be willing to eat every bit of it. And I firmly stand by that belief. And I think we have to take into consideration, where did this animal come from and how was it treated. You can taste the difference. And a happy animal makes happy customers. Not everybody has to choose to eat meat, and that is everybody’s right, but to dictate that I cannot serve things, that’s not right, either.

Who will be in charge of the Incanto kitchen while you’re out filming your new TV show?
I have two great sous-chefs that are here. But I’m not gone that much. I’m only gone for two days a shoot. The more I’m here, the better it is… People come here because they want to see me here. Does the food change? No, not really, cause it’s the same guys cooking all the time. But they have to look at my ugly mug when I am here.

What did you prepare at last week’s Taste of the Nation?
I did a braised beef shank with horseradish crème fraîche and Michael Symon and I shared vegetables. He did a whole roasted fish wrapped in grape leaves, and I did braised artichokes, asparagus, with radishes and minutina (a green I smuggled into the country) and herbs. Just a nice light salad to cut the heavy richness of the beef.

Anything else exciting on the horizon?
I’m doing a demonstration at the national restaurant show in Chicago. I’m deboning a pig’s head and showing them in front of hundreds of people.

Photo courtesy the Food Network

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