“Offal, huh? Must taste like it sounds.” Ba-dum-dum.
It’s a sentiment I’ve heard more than once, and quite possibly one I myself expressed multiple times many years back. Heart. Tongue. Brain. Kidney. The “nasty bits”, many wouldn’t consider sniffing at. How can it possibly be any good? I can tell you from personal experience, though, that when these cuts are handled by the hands of a capable chef, they can be good. “Offal” good.
One such chef is Chris Cosentino, of Incanto in San Francisco. Having built a brand around offal, Cosentino is part of a movement of chefs that see the importance (and common sense) of utilizing every part of an animal. Waste not, want not! I had the opportunity to check in with Chef Cosentino, touching on where his love of food came from, the importance of passing on cooking knowledge, and writing his first cookbook.
Foodie Journal: Did you always love to cook?
Chris Cosentino: Yes, I grew up around great cooks. My great grandmother, Rosalie Cosentino, was from Naples, Italy and my grandmother, Helen Easton, was an amazing English cook. Some of my most cherished childhood moments are with both of them in the kitchen, making great food memories and learning from them.
FJ: Where did you end up getting your start in the business?
CC: My true beginning in the food business was at a ripe age of 15 as a dishwasher at IHOP. It amazed me to watch the 2 cooks make so much food with such perfect timing and execution. Ever since that first job I have craved knowledge of food and been passionate about cooking.
FJ: It seems like offal has really become much more common place in restaurants these days. Why did you decide to gravitate towards offal, and nose to tail cooking in general?
CC: When I started cooking offal 10 years ago it wasn’t very common. Now, it is great to see it featured on so many menus in the country.
FJ: Do you have a favorite piece of offal that you enjoy working with?
CC: Each cut of offal is so unique that I couldn’t pick just one. It would be like picking your favorite child.
FJ: I saw a web short from Breville where you’re out on the town with Chef Jamie Bissonnette in Boston, and you both touch on the importance of teaching others to cook. Can you just speak a little about why teaching others to cook really is so important?
CC: Sharing with peers is extremely important because technique and product sharing can help change the way people work to improve the quality of food. If we don’t share our knowledge of cooking, we don’t see progression for the next generation. Like the many great chefs who came before us, it is our responsibility to make sure each generation is growing and making the food world better for everyone.
FJ: In line with teaching people, you just published your first cookbook last year. What was the experience of getting that out there like? Ready to get started on your next one?
CC: It was a huge challenge. I was always a poor student so writing a book was a big personal achievement. I was always told that you should never write like you speak when I was in school and now everyone tells me to write so they can hear my voice! I learned so much from this first experience and I can’t wait to make my next cookbook even better.
FJ: The final question for you: Do you have a specific food memory from your life that you’d like to share?
CC: I feel so fortunate to have so many great taste memories in my life. At the age of 12 years old I ate a raw clam on the half shell alongside my grandfather, Thurston Easton, for the first time. I had never had an uncooked clam so when he busted open the clam, drizzled on some lemon, and told me to chew it, it was a total game changer. It was crunchy with a huge explosion of brininess but it was also so delicate. I was immediately hooked and ate a dozen. To this day, I will always love them and think of my grandfather.
Chris Cosentino is chef/partner at Incanto, located at 1550 Church Street, in San Francisco. He released his first cookbook, “Beginnings: My Way To Start a Meal” in 2012.