Nosh Talk: Comal Chef Matt Gandin

Comal Executive Chef Matt Gandin favors fire for cooking instead of sous vide or with kitchen tweezers. Photo: Gary Yost

What is always in your refrigerator?
Kimchi from Sinto Gourmet. They have a stand at the San Francisco Civic Center market on Wednesdays. They make several varieties of delicious Korean style pickles, nappa cabbage, cucumbers, turnips. They last forever and I can make an easy delicious meal by steaming some rice, and grilling chicken thighs or Korean cut shortribs to serve with the pickles.

What do you cook up for a late night snack?
I keep bagels in my freezer at all times. They’re from my friends Blake and Amy’s Montreal-style Oakland bagel bakery, Beauty’s Bagel Shop.

Where/what do you eat on your day off?
I know it sounds cliché since I worked there for almost nine years, but I still love Delfina and their pizzerias. I also like to check out the new restaurants that my colleagues are talking about. I don’t frequently have nights off, so I need to make it count.

Do you have a secret ‘junk food’ vice?
Butterfingers, Reese’s, or any peanut butter candy.

Any food you can’t stand?
Cooked farmed salmon.  I can tolerate it cured as Gravlax, but cooked? Gross, metallic flavor and mushy texture.

What is your fantasy ‘last meal?’
If I could turn back the clock, burritos, tacos, or tostadas from a restaurant called Rudy’s Mexicatessin, which was in Brea, CA, not far from where I grew up. Unfortunately, Rudy died several years ago and the restaurant is now shuttered.

What ingredient is overused and needs to be retired?
Pork belly. Sure it can be delicious, but it is so often poorly prepared and fatty.

What is the next big thing?
A return to cooking with fire, as mankind has been since its discovery. I think that 10 years from now, we will look back at this point in time when sous vide cooking and kitchen tweezers were prevalent, in the same way that professional baseball views the steroid era.

Your favorite special meal to cook?
Risotto made with porcini mushrooms that I have foraged.

Favorite restaurant in the world?
Trattoria San Sisto, on the outskirts of Bologna. I had a simple meal there when I was 21 years old that made a strong impression on me, and, ultimately, put me on my career path. I have returned in subsequent years and have not been disappointed.

Who would you like to have dinner with (alive or dead)?
Bob Dylan. I’ve heard that he is a jerk, though.

A food tip/secret/ to share with readers? 
Cooking is more an art than a science. It is informed by all of the senses, not just taste. Smell, touch, sound and sight all play an important role in creating delicious food. With practice, one can develop what I refer to as a “mental palate.”  When developed, a chef can taste in his or her mind how certain ingredients and cooking methods will taste before even beginning the cooking process.

Matt Gandin is Executive Chef at Comal, and former Chef de Cuisine at San Francisco’s Delfina. Comal serves earthy, modern interpretations of dishes from Mexico, with emphasis on Oaxaca and neighboring coastal regions. It’s at 2020 Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley.

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