Months ago I randomly happened to see that Chef Chris Cosentino, of Top Chef Masters fame and the restaurant Incanto in San Francisco was coming to town for a cooking demonstration. The event was part of the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. Chef Cosentino is a “nose to tail” guy. He won his season on Top Chef Masters by cooking dishes made of beef heart, tripe and blood sausage. Despite this meaty background, the Festival had Chef Cosentino putting on a rice cooking demonstration with current Top Chef Masters contestant Chef Sang Yoon. Rice cooking, not pig slaughtering 101, rice cooking. My vegetarian heart sang.
The truth is the reason I wanted to go see Chef Cosentino cook had little to do with his cooking. It had more to do with the fact that he is the spitting image of my ex. Spitting image. The ex who I moved with to Hawaii almost 15 years ago. The ex who, after a seven year relationship, dumped me via email from Korea. There’s not a lot of love lost there. This I can say with relative certainty. But Chef Cosentino looks just like the big J (as the ex is referred to at my house). And I couldn’t resist. I bought a ticket. I told one person. I sort of felt ashamed. I had no interest in his rice cooking but plenty interest in seeing him live and in person.
Then today was the day. I had no idea what to expect. The session was held at the Convention Center. Long tables were set up in front of the stage. Each place was set with a spoon, napkin, bottle of water and two wine glasses. It was about twenty minutes till the session was to start when I arrived. I grabbed a seat in the second row which turned out to be in direct line of Chef Cosentino’s cooking station. He and Chef Yoon seemed to have a great time cooking. Each made a main course rice dish. They bantered throughout and shared the dishes with the audience. A local sommelier paired the food with wine. There was laughing and innuendo regarding salami. The food was excellent and I had a great time.
The Chefs took questions throughout but there seemed to be more at the end. Maybe it was the effects of the alcohol. Chef Cosentino was asked about how he came to be the nose to tail guy. His answer was nothing short of breathtaking. He told the story of three goats that were raised for him (I think I’ve got that right, I should’ve taken notes) and the fact that after the butchering, almost half of the animal was going to be thrown away. And then he got very emotional. He had to stop and take a breath and wait a moment. He talked about the difficult choice to take the life of an animal and how he felt that that life wasn’t being honored by discarding so much of it. Having lived in rural Thailand, I got used to seeing whole animals. I remember visiting a village one afternoon and two school aged children were defeathering a chicken that the family would eat later in the day. It is a place where there is a distinct understanding of where food comes from and what it takes to get it. Chef Cosentino cautioned against not knowing that and being so disconnected from food that meat equates to plastic wrapped packages of unknown origin. As a vegetarian, I loved listening to him advocate so eloquently and lovingly about using the entire animal. So much so, that I told him afterwards how much I really appreciated it. I wouldn’t eat it but it seemed more right. I think guys like Chef Cosentino and locally, Ed Kenney of Town, have the right idea. And at the end of the day, like a ridiculous school girl, I got my money shot with the Chef who was nothing but gracious. And while his resemblance to the big J did not initiate any cathartic moment, I did walk around with a shit eating grin on my face the rest of the day. Totally worth it. Thanks to both Chefs for sharing so much of themselves.