10 Questions for Chris Cosentino
The below full-length feature version of 10 Questions for Chris Cosentino appears in the current issue of Gourmet Live. Download the free Gourmet Live app for this story and more.
Chris Cosentino doesn’t let a single piece of a good pig go to waste. The executive chef of San Francisco’s popular Incanto restaurant serves up classic cuts of meat alongside the animal’s lesser used parts, known as offal (think tongues, necks, brains, tails, and feet). He’s known for his preparations of such delicacies and has become a meat master, co–founding San Francisco’s Boccalone, which prides itself on “tasty salted pig parts.” Cosentino, who chronicles his journey through head–to–tail cooking at Offal Good, is stepping up with his prediction for the next meat to make its mark on the culinary scene. Hint: He’s bringing fatback…back.
Gourmet Live: As a muse of meat, and more specifically, offal, what inspired you to explore cooking with lesser–known animal parts?
Chris Cosentino: It was disheartening for me to see how much of the animal was going to waste, especially given how prevalent the sustainable food movement had become. From a culinary perspective, there is such a broad range of flavor, texture, and depth with offal cuts of meat, and not utilizing them is a real shame—like a painter who has a whole palette of color at his disposal but only uses black and white. Ultimately, however, it’s really about giving the animal the respect it deserves.
GL: With your restaurant Incanto’s menu including everything from Leg of Beast to Blood Pappardelle, is there a single dish you consider the most extreme?
CC: I don’t like the word extreme because it reflects a personality or trend versus what we’re actually doing at the restaurant, which is just serving good food with California ingredients (including offal) firmly rooted in Italian traditions. Also, what may be adventurous for an American diner is completely normal for another person from a different culture, so extreme is a relative term. I put food on the menu for flavor, not shock value.
GL: What is your favorite pork dish to prepare, either at your restaurant or at home?
CC: I am a trotter (pig’s feet) guy—they are my favorite to cook for sure—and I like to try them everywhere I go to see what people are doing with them. Right now I am in love with cooking Ibérico de bellota pork. I get it fresh from Ibérico Fresco in L.A. and serve it medium–rare. It completely melts in your mouth.
GL: How do you approach nose–to–tail cooking from an animal rights perspective?
CC: The practice of nose–to–tail consumption of animals sourced from ethical producers, the only kind we use for Incanto and Boccalone, preserves the integrity of the animal and honors its life and death by using every part of it.
GL: What’s the best method of preparation for introducing a person to offal?
CC: I say to pair the familiar with the unfamiliar because it takes the edge off for most people. So pairings like bacon and liver or kidneys and lentils are easier for people to digest, literally and figuratively. I think the heart is the best cut to give to a first–time offal eater—a gateway cut. It’s a giant muscle and it can be cooked similar to a steak, from grilling to tartare. It’s approachable.
GL: Is there a different approach to wine pairings for offal versus more traditional cuts of pork?
CC: Offal has very decadent flavors even with the lightest of preparations, so I like to serve crisp, light whites that will cut the richness but also cleanse the palate. This really highlights the nuanced flavor profile of the different cuts. Sometimes, I also like to pair offal with beer, which can be very refreshing with certain recipes.
GL: Do you cook offal at home and is your son receptive to eating it?
CC: At home I cook sweetbreads sometimes on the grill, but most of the time I cook pretty light because my son loves things like a great big salad. He’s a pretty open–minded eater for a 6–year–old, but not offal so much yet. It’s always a fully balanced meal at home and I save the indulging for going out or when we have guests.
GL: Is there any food, offal or otherwise, that you will not eat?
CC: There isn’t much I don’t like, but I cannot eat balut, natto, or McDonald’s.
[Editor’s Note: Balut, a Filipino delicacy, is a duck egg that contains a partially developed fetus; natto, a strong–smelling traditional Japanese condiment of fermented and mashed soybeans.]
GL: As pork belly and sausage have their moments in the culinary spotlight, what do you foresee as being the next big trend when it comes to meat?
CC: I think that back fat will be the new trend, and that people will learn how to serve it in many different ways outside of an antipasto plate. I serve it grilled and braised, and we also produce lardo from it, which is spiked with herbs and spices—from belly to back is my prediction!
GL: What advice would you give people who are nervous about cooking with or eating offal for the first time?
CC: Having offal for the first time can be daunting, even for the culinary adventurous, so I recommend that you share a dish with a friend who is an experienced offal eater and can talk you through the experience. For example, what they like about the dish or how it’s nuanced or different. In regards to cooking offal, it takes a lot of love, care, and time to prepare these cuts properly. Be sure to start with just one cut and master the technique, then move on to the next one. I recommend beef heart to start with, since it is so similar to a skeletal cut of meat and can be worked with in the same way.