Chef Damian Sansonetti Makes Coq Au Vin

Where did you learn to cook?
I went to University of Pittsburgh for a little bit and then I decided to go to culinary school. My father's a chef, I learned from him and I always made pasta with my grandparents when I was little. As far as I can remember, I was always in the kitchen cooking.

Favorite cookbook?
Larousse. It's like an old French cookbook from the late sixties or early seventies. They update it every few years. It's kind of cool to see the old translations compared with the new ones to see how cuisines have progressed and also what things have stayed in style.

What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
Fleur de sel. I must have Fleur de sel. It's sea salt. Usually you can either have coarse sea salt or fine sea salt, I love the coarse sea salt, especially the stuff from France. If it's fresh harvested and unfiltered, it has a nice minerally fresh sea water kind of flavor and you put it on top of roasted meats or fish and it really brings out the flavor.

Favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
My family moved to Texas a few years ago where there is this little town in between San Antonio and Houston called Shiner. It's like only 2 1/2 miles wide. They make this awesome beer called Shiner Bock and a couple of smaller beers but it is a family run little brewery and it's really good.

Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
We have a pretty eclectic mix in the restaurant but whenever we're working I like to listen to old classic rock or sometimes heavy metal, I need something to get me going and in the mood, moving around the kitchen. I don't want to listen to something that is very know.

What is your favorite type of food?
Italian. I like going very regional, my family is from central-southern I like seeing things from the East Coast of Italy —My family is from the west coast. I love Moroccan food which influences parts of Southern Italy —especially with Sicily and Sardinia. I love how food changes and the culture changes in historical ways. A Sicilian style dish like an Eggplant Caponata, a sweet and sour type of thing with ingredients like raisans and honey. You would find some of those same ingredients in Moroccan food too. You can see the similarities in a tajine for instance —it has a little sweet and sour too it. The Italian form would have more tomatoes or seafood in it. There is a lot of stuff where you can see back and forth like that.

When you go on the borders of northern Italy and Germany or France and Italy you see how the cuisines kind of mix it up. Alsatian food has German influences, you see how on the borders of countries there's a crossroads of cuisines.

Most memorable meal?
The first time I was in Italy I went to a restaurant that was in the Piazza of an old church. It was in the hills of Chianti in Casta Lare. They served whole roasted and stuffed wild rabbits, and some of the freshest most beautiful vegetables I ever saw in my life at that point.

Most memorable dinner guest?
I don't want to say his name but he was kinda cool. I did a party and we were a little short handed and I didn't know what was going to happen but a lot of people for the party that we were hosting it for kind of pitched in. It was a very big family affair, a Christmas Eve Dinner. I won't say his name but he's a songwriter and he's written many grammy winning songs.

Most irritating celebrity chef?
Honestly, there is a lot of them but I think right now it's more the moniker of celebrity chef because there is a lot of peole out there that are on the Food Network or TV shows that aren't really chefs. That's what the most irritating thing is. People come out of nowhere and they're automatically thought of as chefs. Some of them say "I'm not a chef" and that's cool but some people take on the whole thing and everyone thinks they're a culinary wizard or god —they're more of a personality then a chef.

I know we are kind of looked at as rock stars sometimes, put on a pedestal —but there are celebrity chefs who still run the restaurant. Obviously Daniel is one of them, he was here in the restaurant last night and the night before. He is still very much involved.

What makes indie food better?
Even though we have four restaurants in New York City, each one is individual in what we do and what we highlight. We're trying to bring back an art form in this restaurant with the charcuterie and the pâté. We're trying to bring back French cuisine. But also I think when you go out and dine in indie restaurants it's fun because they have more freedom to go outside the box.

We get a lot of stuff from small farmers or little purveyers and we can only have it for one day. Somebody had a really nice pig from down in Georgia which is cool so we'll use that for a special. In fact, we're using it tomorrow. We can always work with different things, we're not very strict or regemented to stuff. We can have a little more fun and be more experimental.