Feast Portland Interviews
Q&A: Chris Cosentino
San Francisco’s offal lord talks about the inspiration for pig-brain mayonnaise, his leap into online food television, and Portland’s place in the national meat hierarchy.
Feast Portland, one of the country's most original food festivals, lands in the Rose City September 20–23. To count down to the event, read Eat Beat's daily interviews with seven of the great food thinkers coming to participate in this illustrious culinary throw-down—and where to catch them.
Q: You’re known as the “Offal King.” As the unofficial leader in the pig-parts movement, who inspires you?
A: There are too many chefs to name them all, but Fergus Henderson is a huge source of inspiration for me because he has always been about making delicious food regardless of trends. Others are Marco Pierre White, Martin Picard, Jose Andres, and my friends Dave and Fred from Joe Beef in Montreal.You’ve masterminded pork-skin noodles, pork sashimi, and “brainaise,” a mayonnaise starring pig brains. The shopping list at Incanto sounds straight out of a Stephen King novel. Where do these ideas come from? Are you watching too much David Lynch? Do your dishes ever frighten you?
Well, I can’t take credit for the pork-skin noodles because that dish was taught to me by Fred Morin from Joe Beef; I was there for dinner two years ago and he handed me a dish of pig-skin spaghetti, and I actually started to get upset that I hadn’t thought of this myself. Then he taught me how to make it, like any great industry peer does—shares their passion and knowledge. The brainaise was something Daniel Paterson told me I should do, because he had had great results with it and shared that with me. This business is about sharing and hospitality within the comunity of chefs—without that, we wouldn’t progress. The pork crudo is something that just made sense, especially since the Iberico de Bellota pork is so marbled, it tastes just like toro tuna. My dishes never frighten me—I am always excited about what we are doing at the restaurant and trying to push myself and my staff to make things better.
Why do you do what you do? Is it a passion or a mission?
This is about the love of the craft—the ability to make people smile from a meal is a very powerful thing. I feel lucky every day that I am in the business of pleasure and making people happy, so I would say what I do is a passion.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I would have continued my career as a professional cyclist, or at least tried to.
What is the offal capital of America? Is Portland even in the running?
I think Portland has a tremendous passion for all things hog and all the parts as well, which, of course, is near and dear to my heart. I am always excited to come to Portland and see how the meat world is evolving there.
Would you ever date a vegetarian?
No—I wouldn’t date anyone because I’m married!
Between restaurant jobs, you were a professional cyclist competing in ultra-endurance mountain bike races. As an edgy chef but also a pragmatic athlete, what is the ultimate competition meal?
You want to always strike a balance with your meals as an athlete, but the most important factor to consider is knowing when to eat and when not to eat. For me, it was always about starting with a good breakfast like whole wheat toast, peanut butter, and a banana, and a recovery meal of balanced proteins for muscle recovery and enough vegetables and whole grains to give me the nutrients I burned. My favorite post-race meal was plenty of water and a burrito (no dairy) with pinto beans, chile verde pork, lettuce, salsa picante, and avocado slices. I always finished the day with a light meal of salad, a piece of fish, and some rapini.
You’ve logged serious airtime on the Food Network, and you’re locked in fierce competition on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters: Season 4. But you’re joining the online food television revolution with your own show, Pork You, on YouTube’s soon-to-launch HUNGRY channel. How do you hope to break boundaries in the brave new world of Internet TV?
The best part about it being an Internet platform is the freedom it provides—I can really direct the vision and content of the videos and completely be myself, versus an edited version of me.
What’s on your must-eat list in Portland?
I always go to Bunk for a lunch stop and check out Little Bird. I will also go to visit Vitaly Paley—he is a great friend and chef. Then I’m all about finding something new each time, which I’m looking forward to this upcoming trip. I’ve been doing my due diligence!
Catch Chris Cosentino at the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting, featuring the region’s most celebrated wineries, breweries, vendors, and artisans. Friday, Sept 21, 2 pm–5 pm and/or Saturday, Sept 22, 12 pm–4 pm, Pioneer Courthouse Square, $60/day or $100/both days.
Get an up-close-and-personal taste of Cosentino when he cooks in collaboration with James Beard Award–winning Portland chef Vitaly Paley. Feast Dinner Series, Friday, Sept 21, 7 pm at Imperial PDX (inside the Hotel Lucia).
Bon Appétit Presents Feast Portland (feastportland.com) is a region-defining celebration of everything that makes Portland awesome, Sept 20–23. All proceeds benefit hunger relief organizations Share Our Strength and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.
Tomorrow: Aaron Franklin, the owner of Austin’s Franklin Barbecue (the “best barbecue in America” according to Bon Appétit) lets us in on the perfect brisket and gives us a sneak peek at his offerings for Thursday’s Sandwich Invitational.