Some chefs are strict about measuring ingredients, others not so much. Which camp do you fall into? “I’m definitely a no measure chef. I had a very hard time writing The Chef Next Door, a cookbook that has 100 recipes. The hardest part about the cookbook was making sure the recipes worked. I would wake up with nightmares. Oh, my god, what if somebody gets the book and they make a recipe and it doesn’t work?”
Do you ever use cookbooks? “Cookbooks for me are purely inspiration. I will look at maybe the title of a recipe or a photo and I’ll think oh, I know what I want to make now. It just sparks something.”
Apron or no apron? “You know what? I actually wear an apron. Chefs always wore a uniform but now we just see chefs in their t-shirts with a cool apron on. I miss the days of wearing a uniform. At heart, I’m a line cook. I kind of miss the chef coat because when I put that on then I’m on. But I have to say, when I’m at home and I’m cooking I do like having an apron on. I do. It just feels right. When you’re done and you sit down at the table you take your apron off.”
After all your years behind a stove, do you still enjoy cooking for people at home? “I do! Absolutely! I’m actually under a kitchen renovation right now, so I cannot wait to cook in that kitchen and have friends over and cook for them.”
Was designing your home kitchen easy or hard? “It was weird. I’ve only ever done restaurant kitchens.”
How restaurant-grade is the kitchen? “It can’t be that much because it’s in a New York City apartment and it was a transformed galley kitchen. I knocked out a wall. There’s only so much you can do.”
No salamander? “No, salamander! I had to have a 30-inch range because I had to fit the range, the fridge and the counter all next to each other. You don’t have space for big equipment like you would in a restaurant. I can pretty much cook on anything, so that’s okay.”
Tweezers or no tweezers? “I’m a little bit old-school in the way that I don’t use tweezers. I’m not opposed to them entirely. I’ve grabbed them and used them when somebody else has them. I use spoons. I use spatulas. I use tongs to turn meat but never for fish.”
Why? “Because it would break it. A fish spatula for fish. I love citrus, so I have multiple Microplanes in my kitchen. Citrus zest is a key element even if you’re just making rice. You put some lemon zest in it. It kind of ups the game a little bit and it’s not that hard.”
What equipment do you use most often when you’re cooking at home? “I’m starting to slowly gather equipment but honestly the one thing that sits on my counter every day is a blender, my Vitamix. That and my coffeepot. Everything else gets put away and taken back out when I need it.”
Do you bring home menus from restaurants? “I usually like to take menus from wherever I go. I just moved into this new place and when you move you try to purge and it’s like here another box of menus. Here’s another box of menus. Do I keep this one? Do I keep that one? I don’t like to throw them away.”
What’s your favorite kind of salt? “I love kosher salt. And I do like sea salt for finishing. Iodized salt is so fine and so dangerous. As soon as you pour it onto something you are in salt land. You don’t taste flavor any more. You just taste salt. Kosher salt has a bigger grain and it’s easier to control. Sea salt is the same way and that has a better flavor. Iodized is so fine and it comes out so fast.”
Are there any ingredients that you’ve become burnt out using? “No, I would never give up on anything. It’s a good to take a break if you’ve made something 100 times. You get burnt out on that dish. So, step away and do something else for a while.”
Amanda Freitag is the author The Chef Next Door and can be seen on hit Food Network show Chopped.
Interview has been condensed and edited.