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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chef's Choice, Part 2: Mark Sanfilippo of Salume Beddu

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 9:30 AM

This is part two of Robin Wheeler's Chef's Choice interview with Mark Sanfilippo of Salume Beddu; to read part one, click here. For part three click here.

  • Robin Wheeler

3 favorite restaurants in St. Louis, besides yours? El Bronco, Gokul, Niche.

Local chef who most impresses you? José at El Bronco. The man is the epitome of what I consider important about food and cooking. This guy is quietly making mini-masterpieces everyday at his shop on Cherokee. He cares about cooking each of his taco meats perfectly and then crafting the tacos so that they are in perfect balance. It's so simple and so honest. These are the tacos that he had back in Mexico and he re-creates them because he loves them. He's not looking for adulation; he's just making people happy and content one taco at a time.

Favorite restaurants elsewhere? Pizzeria Mozza, Pot Pan Thai (LA), Quince (San Francisco), A16 (San Francisco), Horseman's Haven (Santa Fe).

Your favorite food city? San Francisco. It's so crazy out there. The quality of available ingredients is unbelievable. You go to a place like the Ferry Building and there's basically everything you need to make an incredible meal. It feels like the populace is hypersensitive to quality ingredients, and the marketplace shows it.

Favorite recent food find? Colatura. It's a direct descendant of what the Romans called garum. It's basically a Mediterranean fish sauce, and it adds incredible depth of flavor to dishes.

Most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Olive oil. There is no one ingredient that plays such a vital role. Well, maybe salt.

Favorite local ingredient and where you get it? Pork. Part of the reason I came back to Missouri to start up Salume Beddu is because of the high quality of pork raised in the state. Folks like Hinkebein Hills, Greenwood Farms, Benne's and others take the time and energy to raise their animals properly, and it shows. I couldn't do what I'm doing without these guys.

Five words to describe your food? Rustic, honest, simple, clean, satisfying.

  • Robin Wheeler

One food you dislike. Hard-boiled eggs.

One food you can't live without. Pasta.

What ingredient will never be allowed in your kitchen? Hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis has the best... Locally raised meats, and not just pork. Where else can you get lamb like Dave [Hillebrand] has at Prairie Grass Farms?

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis has the worst... Thai food. I love Thai food and I think it's some of the most flavorful and varied food around, but there's just not enough options for authentic Thai food here in town.

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more ... Cuban food. It's a great cuisine and there's not much of it here in St. Louis.

Your best tip for home cooks? Buy kosher salt. Use it. Buy two olive oils -- one medium grade for cooking, and one that's the highest grade you feel like forking out the bucks for. The latter will be used for finishing dishes. Oh, and grow your own herbs and experiment with them.

Your favorite after work hangout? My buddy Mike's front porch.

One person, dead or alive, you'd love to cook for? My grandparents. They died when I was too young to really cook for them.

Favorite kitchen tool. My ten-inch chef's knife.

What's next for you? More salumi. We have acorn-fed mangalitsas coming in that I'm going to transform into some beautiful prosciutto.

What inspires you? Simplicity. I go to my garden and pull off some arugula and the taste is complex yet pure and simple. You can't improve on that, you can only try not to mess it up I think the same is true with any high-quality ingredient.

Chefs who inspire you? Nancy Silverton. As hard as the staff worked at Mozza, she was always there with us. She came in early in the morning and left after me. She works the line at the Osteria, and she never failed to thank her staff for their hard work. She treats people with respect and earns theirs in return. That kind of attitude has a huge effect on the whole restaurant from the busboys to the servers to the prep cooks. She clearly loves what she's doing, and it shows.

Favorite cookbooks? It changes from time to time, but right now I'm really into Giuseppe Coria's Sicily Culinary Crossroads. It's not a sexy cookbook, more of a history lesson than anything, but I find it fascinating and fun to read.

Proudest professional moment? Bringing my first coppa into Pizzeria Mozza and having Nancy and Matt Molina (the executive chef) go crazy over it.

Favorite music to have in the kitchen? It sounds snooty, but I kind of like opera.

What's on your pizza? Good mozzarella, excellent sauce, my olives, salted anchovies, Sicilian olive oil.

  • Robin Wheeler

What's in your omelet? My best omelet? Missouri hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, fresh thyme, and a little fontina.

What are you drinking? Spanish red wines. They just seem to go best with the stuff I cook.

What's the most surprising food you've eaten? Oysters. I was surprised that I ended up being addicted to them. I didn't think they would have that much going on, or that they would be so appealing, but I love them and eat them whenever I have the chance.

What's the best request you've gotten from a customer? Best as in funniest? "Do you have a low-fat sausage?" Best as in coolest? One of our customers' very young sons specifically asking me for sopressata. It's really cool to hear a little kid say, "Do you have any sopressata?"

Most difficult lesson you've learned in this business? How to properly salt a dish.

When did you know for sure that the chef's life was for you? That's why I'm a salumiere.

{to be continued...}

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