Thursday, March 9, 2017
Bruce Kalman’s Northern Italian cooking style embraces the diverse and abundant produce of California. He creates exquisitely balanced flavor profiles meant to warm the soul at his restaurant UNION in Pasadena, CA and Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market in L.A.’s Grand Central Market. His commitment to indigenous ingredients goes beyond the farmers’ market to build strong connections with local providers, which keeps the operations’ carbon footprint low, supports the local economy and connects diners to high quality vegetables, meats and cheeses straight from the source.
Why did you choose to make a sweet dish? Do executive chefs typically know how to make dessert?
As a savory chef, I enjoy making sweets from time to time; throughout the course of my career, I rarely had a pastry chef, so I made a lot of pastries myself at my restaurants. This dessert in particular combines sweet with savory bacon, sage and pink peppercorns, which provides a nice balance.
With this recipe you used the Matfer Bourgeat Exoglass® Baba Molds and the Prep Chef to core and slice the apples. What do you like about them?
The Exoglass molds are fantastic. They’re lightweight and completely non-stick which is so important when you’re baking. And they transfer heat really well, so my upside down cakes had a nice, crisp outer edge. The Matfer Prep Chef is awesome! I am a huge proponent of using a knife for pretty much everything, but this beautiful beast is super sharp, well designed and simple to use. It’s also easy to disassemble and clean. On most cutters, you have to manually lift the handle back up, so I love how the double-sided handle and springs force the pusher back up – that’s such a great feature.
At UNION, you’ve really become known for your handmade pastas. What do you attribute this passion for Italian food to?
My introduction to making a lot of fresh pasta was during my time at Spiaggia in Chicago with Paul Bartolotta. He was all about refined, simple Tuscan cooking packed full of flavor. For me its kind of like a song with a melody that you can’t get out of your head no matter how hard you try. Then you hear another song and its gone, but inevitably it always comes back because Its been buried in your subconscious all along. Fresh pasta and Italian-influenced cooking is that damn song to me! I love the soul, the flavors, the overall concept of cooking with the most amazing ingredients that are local and indigenous. Italian cooking is extremely challenging as it is so simple. Its cooking without a net, so everything you do has to be perfect. I love to cook low and slow ragu, stew, braise, roast, all of it. It’s a vehicle that transports emotion from your heart through the food on the plate to the guest eating it.
Sourcing from local partners is very important to you. How did that come about?
I go back to the values that most other countries in the world have. They cook with indigenous ingredients that are at their peak in season. The flavor and quality of these ingredients is unsurpassed. You can’t compare a peach ripened on the vine within 100 miles and harvested the day before you buy it versus one that is ripened on a truck or in a gas house and sits in a warehouse for who knows how long. That is the basis of the food I cook. “Shit in, Shit out” is what I was always taught. If you want to cook the best food, it requires the best ingredients. Moving to southern California, I am like a kid in a candy store. It is the most interesting place to be when it comes to sourcing ingredients. We purchase olive oil from a small olive ranch. We buy produce that I have never even heard of before. Our grain and polenta are freshly milled every week, and so on. The seafood is incredible, sustainable and fresh out of the water within a day or two of receiving it. You can’t beat that!
You’re recognized for using the whole pig in making porchetta. Why is this important to you?
For many reasons. First, it has to do with being respectful to the animal. I want my guests to trust me, and using whole animals is a big step in the right direction towards being fully sustainable. It also means that I have control over all of my ingredients – knowing who raised them and how, what they ate and what kind of life they lived is really important. It’s even important to me to buy whole pigs for ground meat for Knead, so I know its fresh and single origin, meaning who knows how many pigs contributed meat to a bag of stew meat you buy from a purveyor. I’m also a huge proponent of supporting small, local businesses.
You wear a No Kid Hungry bracelet. Can you speak to your involvement and what it means to you?
No Kid Hungry is an amazing organization. I am honored to be so heavily involved cooking dinners, contributing to the galas and being the chef chair for Taste of the Nation Los Angeles, which supports No Kid Hungry. It’s not just about providing meals to young children that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, but its also about educating them to understand what good food is, to take on responsibility and to learn how to eat right. I had the opportunity to visit an elementary school in an underprivileged neighborhood in L.A. last year, and I saw how all the hard work and dedication that everyone puts in pays off in a huge way. I sat in the classroom with the kids as they were having breakfast, and got to see the smiles on their faces, which made it all worth it.