Q & A With Andy Cook, Part 2: Risotto as Object Lesson, Cooking to Jazz & The Importance of Google Image
Andy Cook, executive chef at both Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood and the month-old Boxwood Café, has been at the posh hotel since it opened in the summer of 2008. As we learned yesterday, Cook, a native of Birmingham, England, has become very fond of Los Angeles, of its weather and its produce. Turn the page for the second part of our interview, and check back later today for the chef's recipe for wild mushroom risotto.
Andy Cook in the kitchen of the London West Hollywood
Squid Ink: What's the one thing that you wish people realized about cooking?
Andy Cook: How easy it is. Yeah, I think people are scared of it. I think a lot of people don't know how easy it is to be at home and cook yourself something simple. It's all about practice. We do master classes here twice a month which are very popular. I'll go through, step by step, how to prepare something, a risotto or fish, and show them how easy it is to go home and cook for their friends. And then we also do something where you can spend the whole day in the kitchen with us, preparing a 7 course tasting menu, have your friends come in the evening and then you host the dinner and explain how everything's put together. One thing we always do is cook risotto, because I think it's a great thing to show them how simple it is to get something really tasty. It's a great recipe to show the balance of flavors--the acidity, the sweetness, how to season things correctly, the texture, and all those things. I think if people really understood those things when they were cooking--which only comes through practice--then I think more people would cook. I mean, it's great that people eat out. That's why I have a job. But at the same time it amazes me that people are so scared of something that's really only a matter of practice.
SI: What's your favorite cookbook?
AC: Larousse Gastronomique is one that I constantly go back to. But a lot has to be said for Google Image as well. I just love looking at images of food. Whether it's on the internet or going through the Alinea book or Robuchon. Not necessarily looking at the recipes, but looking at the pictures. Someone once said, what was it: a bad artist copies and a good one steals. I like the big encyclopedias of vegetables and fish. And Pierre Gagnaire's great because he doesn't include recipes. It's more just images and real artsy-fartsy stuff.
SI: What's your favorite music to cook to?
AC: We don't generally have music in the kitchen here, but if I cook at home, I'm a bit of a jazz man. Herbie Mann. It goes back to the first job I had, and those three chefs with the radio blaring and all that. And as soon as I came to London, well, that's not what we're about. But if I cook at home, something relaxing.
SI: Who do you think is the most interesting chef working in L.A. right now?
AC: That's a very good question. David Myers I really like. In terms of interesting--that's a very English word. English people use that to get away with not having to describe anything. I would say it was good to see José Andrés come over here. I think he kind of shook things up a bit. Not that what he was doing was new in the culinary world, but it was new for L.A. I don't know. I like L.A. because it's more about simplicity, about everything just being good. Maybe that's why fine dining won't ever really take off here, because maybe that's not what it's about. Maybe it's just about being simple and relaxed.
Andy Cook at the London West Hollywood
SI: Do you have any opinion about Michelin not coming to L.A. this year?
AC: I think it's a shame. But it won't make any difference to anyone. It was interesting to see Michelin go to America and America's reaction to Michelin. Because Michelin has a big history in Europe, obviously; it's the gauge that everyone goes by. When it came over to America, well, America's already got an established restaurant scene and things like the Zagat Guide. That's not one body deciding, it's the public deciding and giving their reviews and Zagat giving their scores based on that, and I think that's great. Maybe it's more honest. The whole way restaurants are reviewed is changing anyway. You go and buy a restaurant guide and look at the review of a restaurant that was done 8 months ago, and then you go on Yelp and you have a review hat was done 2 days ago. Restaurants have to be a lot more aware. It's great to have a Michelin star and the prestige that goes with that, but restaurants and chefs need to be more in tune with what's going on and how instant your reviews are now, and how much people listen to that. My girlfriend doesn't do anything without looking at Yelp first. She doesn't get out of bed unless Yelp says it's worth it or not. Seriously.
SI: Is there anything that you won't eat?
AC: Foodwise, probably not. The only bad eating experience I ever had was when I was in Italy working at a seafood restaurant. I was doing a stage in Rome and we were doing some mis en place and the chef said, try this, try this, and he gave me what looked like half a potato with some yellow thing in the middle. I have no idea what it was and you scooped out the middle of this thing. It was a sea urchin. A sea lemon I think he called it, and I put it in my mouth and it was like, what are you doing. It was like swallowing a glass of sea water. But I was completely new to the whole experience of eating raw seafood. I was 25 and still finding my feet. Otherwise, no. I was in Japan for 3 1/2 years, there's nothing I won't eat. Other than whale. And shark fin.
SI: If you could open any kind of restaurant anywhere in the world, what would it be?
AC: That's a difficult question. After living in Asia, in America, in Europe, I'm now struggling trying to decide where to settle down. Wherever you did it, you'd want it to be successful, so I think that's important. It would be great to do Italian in California. Fine dining in New York. Europe, Italy. Well, you wouldn't be able to open a restaurant in Italy because they'd just throw you out if you weren't Italian. Some English guy cooking pasta for them wouldn't go down really well. I think ultimately, maybe London. Something casual, like a nice French brasserie that did breakfast, lunch and dinner. Where I could serve chick butty, right, exactly.
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