In the Kitchen with Chef Daniel Brooks
In the Kitchen
March 28, 2010
What is the main focus of your cooking?
The main focus of my cooking is selecting high quality seasonal ingredients and applying both traditional and modern cooking techniques. In my cooking style, there are no ingredients of secondary importance; all elements of every dish play an integral role.
I also enjoy using memory, humor, and irony in my cooking; these are wonderful ways to shed new light on traditional dishes or common ingredients. The result is satisfying when a diner explains to me that they understand something new about an ingredient or preparation technique after eating one of my dishes.
Is there a particular nutritional focus of your menus?
The main nutritional focuses of my menus are seasonality, diversity of ingredients and portion size.
Growing up in California, I had the opportunity to watch products come and go, year round. Even as a child, I remember excitedly tasting early season plums – thin skin, sour, and course textured. Then, magically, as the season progressed and the days grew longer, the skin grew thicker, the plums sweeter and heavier with juice. Around July, plums had reached their apex, which for me translated into four to five juice-filled plums daily. I feel lucky to be able to partake in the amazingly seasonal food culture here in California.
I trained to be a chef in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish/Mediterranean cooking style is based around eating a wide variety of proteins, fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and, of course, tons of olive oil. Not only does ingredient diversity keep cooking (and eating) interesting, but also it stimulates physical and mental health. Since spending five years living in Spain and eating a Mediterranean diet, I feel I have more energy, I am sick less frequently and I sleep better.
Portion size is integral to my cooking. Here in the United States, we have become accustomed to repulsively large, unhealthy portions. There are restaurant chains, food packagers, and warehouse stores created around this dangerous habit of overeating. The results are obesity, heart disease and a long list of maladies.
In my cooking, I try to “re-educate” the diner’s appetite by providing myriad options in small and healthy portion sizes. Normal portion size not only contributes to health but also allows the diner to savor and enjoy their food. Furthermore, I have always subscribed to the idea that the first bite of a dish is the best. Therefore, small portion sizes also contribute to positive and more visceral dining memories.
What is your relationship with local farmers?
My relationship with local farmers is an important element in how I determine my menu. I shop at the local farmer’s markets two to three times a week and rely on farmers to educate me about what’s best, what’s new and what’s coming.
My local farmers teach me about food pairings, preparation techniques, the conditions in which the products are grown and the nuances amongst similar products. My cooking would be less detailed and refined if it wasn’t for the significant input of my local farmers.
Are you incorporating locally grown foods into your dishes? How?
Living in San Francisco makes it easy to incorporate locally grown foods into my dishes. San Francisco is one of the few cities that I have lived where the general public demands quality, sustainability and locally grown produce. I have seen people leave grocery stores when they find that the store is not carrying local produce or proteins (I realize that this behavior is extreme but it does exemplify the demand). It is because of the remarkable grass-roots demand that most farmer’s markets, neighborhood stores and even supermarkets carry large selections of locally cultivated, organic products.
How important is sustainability?
Sustainability is vital to our survival. Two of our major present day concerns are directly addressed by sustainability: the economy and health care. A sustainable food system stimulates the economy in that it encourages local production and distribution infrastructures, creating jobs for local businesses. Furthermore, it takes some of the load off of the health care system by making nutritious foods available, which keeps people healthy and fights obesity.
It is quite clear that if we continue to treat our planet as we have over the last 50 years, we will reach a terrifying tipping point. We are all going to suffer greatly if we are not active and vocal about maintaining a healthy food system while maintaining a healthy environment. Although many of us are unaware of our individual impact, we are all directly affected by the type of products we purchase and consume.
To learn more, visit www.chefdanielbrooks.com.