What/Who inspired you to become a chef?
I was fortunate to be partially raised by my great grandmother and spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her and a lot of time during the summer on the back porch shucking corn, stringing beans, pealing peaches, etc. That gave me a sense of seasonality and a taste for freshness along with an understanding of hard work. Also, I wound up hitching a ride to Mexico when I was 18 thinking it would be a two-week trip, and I ended up getting stuck for about 3 months. I was in a village with no running water, electricity, phone or a postal system. I spent most of the time with the Mamas and the children while the men went off into the mountains to work. I collected wood for fires, fed the pig, picked chilies and tried my best to be useful. I wound up eating a lot of simple beautiful food and have indelible memories of the smells and tastes of what was, at the time, a very exotic experience for me. When I finally made it home I enrolled in culinary school.
What is your culinary philosophy?
I am not sure that I have a defined philosophy. I believe in a firm foundation in classic cooking technique and then throwing it out the window and using a more intuitive approach respectfully treating the ingredients that are around us naturally that is symbiotically beneficial to the cook, the diner and most importantly the ingredients themselves.
What does the ‘art of plating’ mean to you?
Artfully and even seductively presenting food that is respectful to the ingredients and the guest themselves. It’s less about pretentious self-expression and more about a respectful offering.
How do you try to translate your philosophy onto the plate?
I don’t practice plating. I don’t draw a blueprint to follow. I have a dream and once all the elements are in front of me I try my best to reconstruct it.
Can you explain to us how the creative journey of your dishes begins?
I usually wake up at 4 in the morning with my mind racing and write down a series of what appear to be schizophrenic notes of ingredients. I walk to work and pick random things along the way. If I always had the luxury of a good market that would be dreamy. In the high desert lack of options clears the mind. I peruse the pantry and clean out the fridge. I talk to people around me and ask what appear to be random questions. I cull the heard of ingredients and put what makes sense in front of me and hopefully we just might have the very beginning of a dish.
Do you have a particular dish that was a favourite to create?
Recently I have been terribly excited by the simplest thing: Mesquite Bean Ice Cream. I feel like it is something that has never been done before and we do it so well.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
I have been so fortunate to have had so many experiences and work with so many talented human beings I would not really be able to pinpoint that. The most recent thing that was really funny to me is that I turned around in the kitchen during service to find a server but unbeknownst to me Daniel Humm was standing in the kitchen with his hands on the pass looking around wide eyed. Humm Dog said “Wow this is crazy” and walked out. I think he was more impressed with our unconventional kitchen than the food but surreal nonetheless.
Is there a dish of another chef that you feel is iconic and why?
As many times as it has been said, I believe that Thomas Keller’s Oysters and Pearls is truly iconic. It was an inspiration and example to young cooks of my generation that we could be respectful to our craft, responsibly creative and make something truly delicious and new.
What do you think is on the horizon for the future of the fining dining scene?
The future seems to be upon us. Fine dining is more relaxed, casual dining is more refined. Restaurants that are drawing attention are propelled by the chefs and staff that have an incredibly vast body of knowledge and know how. Attention is being paid to the specific geographical location of the house itself and what is around it to be served. All the shtick and labels are dissolving. You can forage, go to the farm, grow your own and use sous vide and not have to label yourself as a foraging restaurant, farm to table or molecular gastronomist. We can use certain tools and techniques and just be. The cuisine speaks for itself.
Whose restaurant would you most like to eat at and why?
I would like to go back to Tlamanalli in Teotitlan del Valle where Abigail Mendoza is cooking. That level of beauty is unexplainable and unattainable.
Find out more information about Rocky and The Capri here | www.thunderbirdmarfa.com