Russell Moore felt it was time to strike out on his own three years ago after working more than two decades at the birthplace of new American cuisine -- Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
The Los Angeles native opened his own restaurant Camino in Oakland, where he cooks his Mediterranean-inspired dishes in an open fireplace and a wood-burning oven.
The 47-year old spoke to Reuters about Oakland's dining scene and working for Alice Waters who founded Chez Panisse.
Q: Describe Oakland's dining scene. Is it in the shadow of San Francisco?
A: "Oakland is a different world. It's coming alive now. People are coming here because it's less expensive. Our staff is all over the map. Our clients are all over the map. Not only ethnicity, but age."
Q; How is your restaurant different from Chez Panisse?
A: "I have a more singular vision. I loved my job at Chez Panisse as a chef. The only reason I wanted to leave Chez Panisse is that I wanted to cook a little bit differently, buy things a little bit differently and have a little different system working. The main thing is that we have this giant fireplace and cook everything out of the fireplace."
Q: Is it a burden to be a Chez Panisse veteran?
A: "I love that I came from there and I love the food they produce there, but there is a 'holier-than-thou' thing. There is a vibe that comes from Chez Panisse alums that we know better than anyone and we know better than you. I get where the backlash comes from. I get that backlash all the time. It's another Chez Panisse guy. Oh it's fresh vegetables. Oh the food is too plain."
Q: Chez Panisse is celebrating its 40th anniversary. What was it like working for Alice Waters?
A: "When you work at Chez Panisse, you are really good in figuring out what Alice likes and what her vision is for the restaurant. That's your job and that's a really good job. We have a funny relationship. We argued a lot while we were there in some ways."
Q: Did that get you into trouble?
A: "I think that's what you are supposed to do at Chez Panisse. If you just sit there and listen and follow and not stretch your wings a little bit with the menu, then the menu is boring and you are not respected as much. I had the idea of not using bottled water and not using certain fish. That's a pain when your employees are telling you about all this stuff. I don't know whether she loves this restaurant (Camino) as I would like her to honestly."
Q: You still care about what she thinks?
A: "I do care. I want people to really like it. I'm not going to change it. We did a great party for them and that was really fun."
BRAISED ARTICHOKES WITH BAKED EGG AND HERB SALAD
6 small artichokes or 4 medium artichokes
Splash of wine vinegar
4 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs of winter savory or thyme
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 fresh eggs
4 tablespoons of chopped parsley and chives
2 small handfuls of mixed soft herbs such as: chervil, Italian parsley, chives, mint or young oregano
2 handfuls of mixed peppery greens such as: watercress, peppercress or arugula
1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Pare the artichokes down to their hearts. Cut off the tips of the leaves. Cut in half and scoop out any choke that might be inside (some smaller artichokes have no choke). If the artichokes are small leave them in halves- if they are large cut them into manageable wedges. Place the cleaned artichokes in water with a splash of vinegar to keep them from browning. Slice the peeled garlic cloves into thin slices.
3. Place the artichoke pieces into a small pot and add enough water to cover 2/3 of the artichokes. Add the garlic, bay leaf, savory, four tablespoons of olive oil and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring often.
4. The trick is to get the artichokes tender and have the cooking water reduce at the same time. If the artichokes are getting soft and there is a lot of liquid turn up the heat to reduce the water. If the artichokes are still quite firm but there is no water left- add a bit of water. When the artichokes are done, let them cool in the remaining liquid. It should be quite flavorful at this point.
5. The artichoke cooking liquid is so flavorful you want to use it for something! So pour the liquid into a saute pan, bring to a simmer and crack the eggs carefully into the artichoke cooking liquid. The liquid should just cover the whites- you may need to add or subtract water -- go ahead.
6. Sprinkle the eggs with the chopped herbs, salt and pepper (yes some of the herbs with fall off the eggs into the cooking liquid, but that's okay). Put the pan with the eggs into the oven. Cook until the whites are set and the yolk is still a bit runny.
7. While the eggs are cooking, toss the herbs and salad greens with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon some salt and black pepper. With a spatula, scoop one egg onto each plate along with a small splash of the cooking liquid and a handful of herb salad.