Interview with Chef Joe Sasto

Q: How many years have you been cooking as a professional chef?

A. I began cooking in professional kitchens after graduating from UC Davis in 2010. While in school I was a kitchen supervisor at the Coffee House, on campus.

Q: What’s the name of the restaurant where you’re currently Executive Chef?

A. Currently I’m the Executive Chef at Cal Mare in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you originally get interested in cooking?

A. I became interested in food and cooking at a young age because of my late mother. She instilled in me the power of food and the importance of family. And how those two things are intrinsically linked. Big Sunday Suppers, in an Italian family. Everyone sat down and had dinner together every night of the week. It was tremendously important to my mother which in turn became important to me.

When other kids were out playing sports, watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was glued to the early days of Food Network. Watching Two Fat Ladies or Julia Child. A lot of what I learned as the basis of cooking came from re-watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats over and over again.

Q: What are 5 ingredients that can always be found in your home kitchen?

A. 1.) Preserved Meyer Lemon, 2.) White Soy Sauce, 3.) Kewpie Mayo, 4.) Buffalo Sauce, 5.) Butter

Q: As a chef, why do you value working with local farmers?

A. As a chef, we spend our entire lives and days in the kitchen perfecting and obsessing over what we do. People easily forget that farmers have in turn spent generations doing the exact same thing, investing in their craft and their passion. There is a natural synergy between the two. I feel responsible as a chef to provide that link to the regular diner. Most people have never had that epiphany of tasting what a carrot actually tastes like.

Q: Can you share some of the names of the farms that you enjoy working with?

Before moving to LA I became very intertwined with the local farmers of the Bay Area and Northern California. Some of my favorites include Bohemian Creamery, Marin Roots, De Santis, McGinnis Ranch, Tierra Farms. Honestly that list is just the tip of the iceberg. Each of which has a unique a personal story and connection behind them. Over the past few months since moving to Los Angeles, I have been getting to know the local Southern California Markets and farmers as well.

Q: What are some unique ways you are currently using local ingredients?

A. Before leaving the Bay area, I spent a lot of time preserving and gathering ingredients indigenous to the area. Fermenting local citruses and making koshos from heirloom and unique varieties of fruits. Preserving local seaweeds and wild mushrooms, turning them into powders. Inoculating seasonal shelling beans with koji to make my own misos.

I’ve developed a style in which, I love paying full respect to humble vegetables like the carrot or the beet, and not letting any of it go to waste. Utilizing everything from the stem to the root to the leaf to the peel. Much like you’d be sure to use all of an expensive cut of meat. Someone out there spent just as much time if not more growing a simple vegetable. It deserves just as much respect.

Q: What advice do you have for the home cook?

A: Don’t be afraid of messing something up. Any mistake or failure is only a failure if you don’t learn something from it.

Most people have a hard time cooking at home or see it as a chore because they don’t have the right tools or equipment. It is worth investing in one nice knife, a nice heavy cutting board, and a few good pots and pans. Anything you try to do without the tools isn’t fun. Imagine trying to play baseball without a mitt or bowling in tennis shoes.

Q: Who do you look up to for culinary inspiration and why?

A. The entire team at the Alinea Group. Jenner Tomaska, Ed Tinoco, Simon Davies, Mike Bagale, Grant Achatz. Not because of where they work or the level of accomplishments those restaurants receive or the techniques they use. But because of the way they inspire their team and treat their employees. They have created a sense of family and support, which in this industry is incredibly important. Coming from a background in fine dining, having staged at Alinea, and having an appreciation and understanding of the amount of tedious time consuming work and level of detail that goes into prep and production for that style of cuisine. The fact in which those chefs are able to daily inspire and motivate everyone to devote that level of detail and respect to the food and production is in itself inspiring.

Q: When you have the day off, what do you make for breakfast?

A. Every day whether it be a day off or a workday. A power smoothie. Frozen fruits of the season, bee pollen, matcha, coconut oil, kale, carrots, cashews, maca powder, dates, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seed, flax seed, and any other goodies I have on hand.

Depending on the day off depends on the next move. Some days it’s soft scrambled eggs and some extra truffle butter. Or a dim sum feast in San Gabriel Valley.

Q: What is one of your favorite ways to re-purpose leftovers into a new meal?

A. Most leftovers can be turned into an easy pasta filling or ragu for pasta / bread. A little cheese or binder goes a long way. I always keep some garlic and jared tomatoes on hand for an improtu sugo.

Q: What’s one ingredient that people should be using more of in their kitchens and why?

A. Preserved or fermented things. Historically those flavors are found very prominently in Korean cuisine, kimchi and pickles are a staple. Those same fermented flavors add a big punch and depth of flavor to everyday approachable cooking.

On the flip side, freshly milled wheat is incomparable to anything else. People often forget that flour, usually one of the main ingredients of something your making (pasta or bread or cake). Leading to the majority of what it will taste like. Most flour from the grocery store is at least a year or two old. Imagine using a year old tomato to make tomato soup, it is crazy. Find a local mill or checkout online to find freshly milled wheat.

Q: What advice would you give to someone making homemade pasta?

A. I prefer more yolks than whole eggs, knead for a little longer than you would think, and allow the dough to rest for a little longer than you think.

The next step is understanding the properties of each ingredient that you are adding. Egg yolks vs whole eggs vs olive oil vs water. Each has its own relationship and what it brings to the party. Understanding and comprehending that information allows you to troubleshoot almost any problem and create new doughs without a recipe.

An Original Recipe by Chef Sasto

Chef Joe Sasto has shared a simple pasta dough recipe for you to try at home! Get the full recipe here.