Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Stuart Brioza: I fell into the culture of cooking.
AB: Do you feel that attending culinary school was important to the development of your skills as a chef? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
SB: I worked for 6 years before I went to the CIA. I enjoyed culinary school, but I would not recommend it to aspiring chefs. I think it’s more important to go to college and work for really good people.
AB: Can you talk about your mentors? Which chefs do you consider to be your peers? What chef/s do you most admire?
SB: Paul Hogan, whom I worked for at the Park Avenue Café in Chicago. Also Pete Peterson of Tapawingo in Ellsworth, Michigan. He was a showman of hospitality. He taught me how to work with guests and treat your staff with respect.
AB: Are there any unsung regional ingredients that everyone should know about? What are they?
SB: Porcini powder – I use it with mushrooms, and sprinkle on Jamaican pepper or allspice, as well as black and white pepper, salt, and sugar.
AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
SB: A chinois and a cutting board.
AB: What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?
SB: Work hard, and don’t worry about the money - it took me 8 years to pay it off. Keep your nose to the grindstone, be enthusiastic, and focus.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
SB: A great starting point is to ask about the last dish they cooked. I want to see how they describe food. I look for the details and the enthusiasm.
AB: Is there a place that you want to travel to for culinary researching purposes?
SB: Japan – there are certain clean lines to the food, the way they build a dish with simplicity. I want to see how ingredients are dealt with, the minimalism, simplicity, and complexity all at the same time. It is very sincere food.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants in San Francisco? What is the most memorable meal that you’ve ever had?
SB: Incanto, Slanted Door, and Great Eastern in Chinatown - I love the minced squab in lettuce leaves.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry right now?
SB: Spanish influences, and simple, fresh foods. In 10 years’ time there will be fewer great sauciers, which is something to think about.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
SB: Developing my own cooking style, which will translate to my own restaurant. In the last 5 years my food has gotten better. I hope that going to Japan one day will influence my cuisine. I also hope to have more of an opportunity to influence young cooks and their careers.