Chef Ken Tarsitano makes Grilled Cumin Chicken with Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce on top of Soba Noodles

Culinary influences?
My influences are my Italian grandparents, 2 year old daughter, Isabella, and worldly travels. I have degrees in psychology, philosophy, computer science, art, art education, and worked in advertising for about five years. I was going to become a professor of philosophy-epistemology, how you know what you know. Not going to get a job there. So I got a side job to spend three months and China and take documentary photographs. China kinda really opened my eyes, drastically, to all their different types of cuisine. I got pretty lucky to do all that. Now I'm here this is my great grandfather's farm. It used to be a dairy farm. All those trees you see behind you used to be cows. I'd rather squeeze grapes any day than cows!

Where did you learn to cook? —are you self-taught or did you have formal training?
School of the wooden spoon; if I didn't make it my grandmothers way, I would get hit with the wooden spoon… broke a lot of them!

Favorite cook book?
My grandparents' recipe index cards. They are full of intriguing insights and comments about old world recipes.

What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
Wine, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
Jack Johnson

What is your favorite type of food?
It would probably be something as simple as some bread and some wine with a little olive oil —which is what happens most of the time here. We're all cooked out and our dinners are leftover bread around here! But there are certain things that my grandmother cooked that just brought me back to a certain lifestyle, a certain era. There's something about making your own meal that's half the enjoyment for me —the whole ceremony of creating something from scratch to finish.

Most memorable meal?
Street food in Beijing, China. I was in China in 1996 —there was still "red China" —and you weren't allowed to travel without a delegate. You were only allowed to be with certain people in certain areas and they told you 'don't eat the street food' that everyone else was eating. And yeah, I walked down the streets and would see meat that's been sitting out in 80 degree sun, 100 percent humidity that's purple and gelatinous, but with a little streetwise you're able to find out the food that everyone else is eating. Whether its beef or eel or cricket, they're trying to find ways of developing texture and flavor in the meal. So when it comes to street food, to me it's all about texture and the excitement of the flavor pop.

Most memorable dinner guest?
I take this question as the time in which I was a dining guest, and it would have to be Mrs. Matagaulpa cooking me plantain pancakes off the Ometepe Volcano islands. Basically I was in Costa Rica, and was riding this chicken bus with this lady, Mrs. Matagaulpa, for nine hours. She offered me a place to stay for the night. It's now dark, we crossed the border into Nicaragua into a boat with an outboard motor. The waves were higher than the boat at some times, and sure enough we make it across somehow. Slept on the kitchen dirt floor, woke up in the morning and she made fried plantain pancakes —it was just killer.

Most irritating celebrity chef?
None —everyone does their own thing!

What makes indie food better?
Focus on hardworking people sharing food from the heart.

—Rebecca Troutman, Associate Editor, [email protected]