I have been a fan of Galen Zamarra, the chef/owner of Mas (farmhouse). This understated Greenwich Village restaurant is one of the New Yorkâ€™s treasures. Itâ€™s my pleasure to have him as my first guest of Twinkle Spotlight to share his idea of cooking and ingredients with us all. - Wenlan
Wenlan: What do you enjoy the most about cooking?
Galen: I get very excited about food, in its raw, natural state. I like everything about the textures, colors and smells of food. So as a chef I want to somehow take those inherent natural qualities of food, and (hopefully) improve upon them, either by some technique or flavor combination for example. So my cooking is always simple, so I donâ€™t lose those natural qualities. It is both the challenge in doing that, and the imagining of the taste of the food in my mind while it is being prepared that I love best. Also, I love to give people the simple pleasure of a meal prepared well. Eating isnâ€™t only something we like to do. We HAVE to do it. So often it is overlooked, or done in haste and not enjoyed. Some people donâ€™t know how to cook, which to me is like not knowing how to swim. So having the ability to give someone that simple pleasure is a lot of the reason I became a chef.
W: MAS changes menu daily as you believe the freshest ingredient is the key to good food. What do you suggest the best ingredient for August?
G: August in New York is when the local farmers are hitting their stride. My two favorite foods this time of year are Corn and Tomatoes.Â Corn loses sugar from the moment it is picked. So buying it straight from the farmer is the best way to insure the most flavor. Tomatoes are best when grown in the field, as opposed to a greenhouse. So August is when those tomatoes start to appear. Both seasons are so short, and I spend the rest of the year missing them.
W: Do you get inspired by traveling and try to cook with local ingredient? If so, whatâ€™s your most recent creation with a local ingredient?
G: When I am traveling, food is always the number one thing on my mind. I love the opportunity to try new restaurants and cuisines. Also, even though we live in New York and there is every cuisine and ingredient available, it isnâ€™t the same as when you are in that country. Like Italy for example, Italian restaurants just arenâ€™t the same in New York as they are in Italy. I think the culture of food has such an impact on the actual experience of eating it, and that is something you just canâ€™t bring.
We went to Maine last summer, and I got to participate in a big Lobster Bake. It was a lot of fun and very community oriented. The kids gathered mussels from the rocks. The ladies got ready the potatoes and corn and gathered the seaweed. The guys made the fire, got the lobsters from the water and built the entire thing. It took all afternoon. It was a lesson in culture and cooking. Lately I have been thinking about how to recreate that experience in the restaurant, and cooking with seaweed etc.
W: I assume you love wine, but whatâ€™s your favorite beer?
G: I happen to love beer, and beer with food. I am very excited to be a part of Craft Beer Week in September, and will have some beer events at the restaurant for it. At Mas we donâ€™t push our beer program much, as we would rather people have wine, but that is just the concept of the restaurant. I grew up in Northern California, which is as much Beer Country as it is Wine Country. I spent a lot of time in brew pubs and drinking craft beers. Anchor Steam has a special place in my heart because I grew up drinking it. For myself, I love Porters, especially with oysters. I also love Six Point Brewery in Brooklyn.
W: You wanted to be a chef when you were very young. Is there any other professions you can see yourself at were you not a chef? And why?
G: If I was at all good at it, I wish I could be a Yankee. But I was destined to be a baseball fan, not a player. As a kid, I was also in love with the ocean, and considered Marine Science. I spent most of my youth at or in the ocean. I am fascinated with it and aquatic life. If I could study Killer Whales it would be a dream come true. But ultimately cooking is where I headed.
W: Will you publish a cookbook? If so, what approach the book will have for home cooking?
G: I will publish a cookbook, but I just havenâ€™t had the time. I have a few ideas for them. Since I have had kids recently I realized how important proper food for children is. So I would like to write a cookbook about that. My other â€œmore seriousâ€ book I wonâ€™t go into detail with but it involves seasonal cooking of local ingredients, just like what we serve at Mas. Hopefully it will inspire people to buy local and eat seasonally. I am less interested in teaching people how to cook, as I am to teaching them how to buy and eat sustainably. When you go to the grocery store, even Whole Foods, there is one aisle of fresh foods, and twenty aisles of produced/packaged foods. We need to be brought back to nature, not just for the environment, but for our own health. We are just finding out how horrible all the food is for us. People need to cook at home again, and cook real food, not processed food.
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