chef: mike stollenwerk
location: little fish, philadelphia, pa
recipe: diver scallops, roasted red grapes and cauliflower mousse
Alfred Portale, Eric Ripert, Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller. Alfred Portale has been most appealing to me in his style of cooking. He's probably the one I've followed for the longest amount of time, about ten years now. The way he handles the ingredients, everything is fresh and there's not too much on the plate. I like the simplicity —how he could start with just a stalk of celery and somehow make it exciting.
Where did you learn to cook?
I attended both the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Culinary school is definitely not for every chef, it's all what you take away from it. I started with 350 people in my class and graduated with 40. I had been a bus boy since I was 13 and then became a sous-chef when I was 20 at the Washington Inn.
Before I went to school I had a very strong background. While the other kids in my class were taking the basics, I was elaborating more on them with the chefs and took a little more away from the experience. I definitely recommend getting experience before going to culinary school.
Gotham Bar & Grill, Alfred Portale's first cookbook.
What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
Truffle, Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Watercress.
Favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
Any wine from Cosentino Vineyards in Napa. His wines usually don't make it to the east coast, unfortunately. But he does a lot of blends, with grapes all over California.
Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
Our kitchen is actually in the restaurant, so we usually play rock or Latin or anything funky that keeps it goin' and is still good for customers.
What is your favorite type of food?
Favorite food is anything I haven't had yet. The last thing I had when I was in New York was calf's brains in a ravioli. I'll try anything.
Most memorable meal?
Budo in Napa, and Le Bernidan in NY. I remember at Budo, the item that sticks out in my mind was the amuse. It's just a little taste of something before you start to eat to get your tastebuds going. It was a very simple little bite served on a spoon: just a little avocado with an oyster and caviar. It was simple and the flavors stuck out.
Most memorable dinner guest?
Jerry Blavat, an old DJ from down the shore. The Geator with the Heater. He's an old-time radio personality, and he has the most energy of anyone I've ever met.
Most irritating celebrity chef?
Guy Fieri, if in fact he is a chef. He actually won Who Wants to be A Food Network Star a few years ago.
What makes indie food better?
More attention is paid to the ingredients and the final dish, not just doing the cooking. For example, in a chain restaurant, everything is written up in a book and the dudes that work there are just aiming to get a paycheck. They don't really care what goes out, they just turn it out. I like to use ingredients from local farmers and source out my ingredients. Some people think that's a chore, but I think it's a good time. I drive to NY once a week to get my fish up in Manhattan right off the boat. It sucks getting up at 5 in the morning, but my menu changes every week based on what I find. I like the challenge.
—Rebecca Troutman, Associate Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org