After a shift, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “My guilty pleasure after a night in the kitchen is a pizza—there’s nothing quite as satisfying. If I’m in San Francisco, I love Tony’s!”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “Durian! Not only will I not cook it, I won’t even allow it into the restaurant.”
All-time favorite spice. “It’s hard to choose just one, but I do love sumac and urfa—in fact those are two of the spices in the Mina spice blend that we created with La Boîte for our new menu at Michael Mina in San Francisco.”
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “I prefer music without lyrics when I’m in the kitchen. It helps me focus, so something like soft jazz.”
Did you grow up cooking as a child? “Yes! My earliest memories as a child revolve around the kitchen. My mom was a fantastic cook who would whip up the most delicious Middle Eastern dishes—many of her recipes from my childhood meals are served today in my restaurants. I would spend countless afternoons preparing Middle Eastern dishes with her for our weekly family gatherings. She was the person who taught me the importance of experimenting with spices in all of my cooking!”
What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “It’s hard to pick just one, I tend to always have a few on my desk. It depends on what I’m focused on cooking at that time, the season, a lot of things! A few on my desk right now are Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, The Noma Guide to Fermentation and Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov.”
After all these years working in restaurants, do you still enjoy going out to eat? “I do! Going out to eat is part of what inspires me, and I take away a little something with every experience.”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “It would have to be Jean-Louis Palladin.”
Name the all-time best cooking show. “As you can imagine, I don’t have too much time for TV, but I do love watching the old Julia Child or Jacques Pépin shows. Also, the original Iron Chef, when it was filmed in Japan.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I always pack my own very sharp knives.”
Legendary chef Michael Mina owns and operates more than 40 restaurants, including his acclaimed eponymous establishment in San Francisco.
Interview has been condensed and edited.