With Friday night service in full swing, we navigated around servers and kitchen crew into chef Paul Gstrein's corner office. Containing a fraction of his cookbook collection, we recognized authors of both classic and progressive cooking techniques. Despite having a dozen other things on his mind, he eventually opened up about family, culture, and the story behind his computer background (more on that Wednesday).
Your earliest food memory:
I was probably about five years old and my family owned a hotel. I can remember tasting the sauces the chef would make.
Favorite meal growing up:
Graostel – a hash made of fingerling potatoes and boiled beef. . . a very Austrian dish!
Your best recent food find:
I recently went to LA for a food show and I met a French chef who made the most amazing homemade salami and venison sausage.
Most undervalued ingredient:
What did you learn in culinary school (in Austria) that differs from what US chefs know?
In Europe, generally working in a kitchen is more like working in the Army. There is a defined structure, almost like a dictatorship, which is very strict. Here in the US, I find it is much more relaxed.
Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter, Bradley Ogden, Mark Peel. Any sage advice learned from them?
No shortcuts. Use the best ingredients possible. Keep it simple. And let the ingredients speak for themselves.
How does your cuisine differ from Bistango (another Dining As Art restaurant)?
I like to make my own versions of items and I work seasonally looking for great ingredients to keep things fresh. My food and cooking style are also heavily influenced by Austrian, Swiss and French cuisine thanks to my background. I think patrons who have dined at both restaurants will notice and appreciate the difference.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Sauvignon Blanc or Austrian wines. If non-alcoholic, I typically drink water.
Where's the best table in the dining room?
The best table in my restaurant is table #16, a corner table in the dining room. It has good privacy, yet you can still see what's happening in the restaurant.
Tell us about the next phase.
I'm looking forward to our annual Oktoberfest celebration where I create updated versions of sausages, goulash, weinerschnitzel. We also bring in unique artisan and imported beers from Germany to pair with foods.
One food you can't live without:
A smoked prosciutto from northern Italy called Speck (pronounced Sch-peck).
Where was your most recent meal?
I recently went to Spago in Beverly Hills. I had head cheese (a cold cut made from the head of a pig) and sampled a bunch of different dishes such as the gnocchi.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Keep it simple, buy fresh ingredients, and keep it simple.
What's good on the summer menu specials?
Our version of paella. We cook all the components fresh-to-order, and then assemble the seafood on top of the rice (the cooking times on each vary). I think it's a more refined restaurant-style paella and perfect for summer.
Eckart Witzigmann. He has worked hard to elevate the cuisine in Germany and I am really inspired by him.
What has growing up in the hospitality industry taught you?
It's always interesting and constantly changing. No two days are the same. On the other hand, I feel those who work in the kitchen and and behind the scenes tend to be under appreciated. Over the years, I have met so many people who are extremely hard workers that I admire, everyone from busboys and dishwashers to other chefs.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
Houstons, various sushi restaurants in Orange County, Tamarind of London and other ethnic cuisine. I like to venture out of my own cooking style.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Scrambled eggs or a frittata with good rustic bread.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Someone came in and asked if he could have the salmon dinner but asked if it could be liquified so he could eat it with a straw. He recently had some type of jaw surgery. Yes, we accommodated him!