Iron Chef: Our Boy, Cosentino, Representing
(Note from Carla: The following post was written by Steven Fineberg. As a primer to the post which is an ode of sorts to the SF restaurant, Incanto, you may want to read Incanto's gutsy [insert snort] manifesto, Why We Serve Offal. Offal is an important part of a traditional foods diet for many reasons, not the least of which is nutrient density. I daresay Incanto is a mecca for Local Foragers. Oh, and something that I admire them deeply for, besides their incredibly fine cuisine: they have complimentary filtered sparkling water.)
By Steven Fineberg
Every night, Chris Cosentino reigns as the “Iron Chef” at Noe Valley’s Incanto restaurant. Cosentino is a new breed of chef. He is passionate about restoring traditional foods to the American table. He accomplishes this mission through many channels.
One way is through building relationships with local producers. He shows respect for the food by honoring the whole animal, utilizing its entirety; muscle meat, organs (offal) and fats. In addition Chris is supportive of organizations with a conscience, such as Seeds of Change, Chef’s Collaborative and Slow Food. Cosentino has a passion for meat and Italian food that stem from his East Coast Italian-American roots. Whether the meat is cured, raw or roasted, traditional cut or offal, traditional food foragers can find it all at Incanto. Also, there is an abundance of fresh local produce used to create delicious salads, homemade pasta dishes, risottos, entrees and sides.
The menu at Incanto is varied to please the most discriminating diner, as well as picky eaters. When I dine at Incanto, I start with offal – either an interesting combination of pates such as pig’s head and foie gras, or I have a pig's trotter or a raw dish like heart tartare. Then I dive into a hearty roasted meat entrée; the lamb neck or pork shoulder is heavenly. Additionally, they have scrumptious polenta and vegetables roasted in duckfat. The panna cotta for desert is yummy!
This past Sunday, April 22nd, Cosentino battled on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef: America” against Iron Chef Mario Batali. I have dined at Batali’s Babbo restaurant in New York, as well. My praise for Incanto reveals for whom I was voting!
The “Secret Ingredient” featured that evening was GARLIC. Cosentino remained true to his rustic Italian cooking style. He prepared pasta by hand using a Chitarra, an old-world pasta-making machine. He filled the deep fryer with duck fat rather than unhealthy polyunsaturated vegetable oils...I cheered! The fat was infused with garlic. This garlicky duck fat was used to sauté the offal from squab. First the livers, then the heads and talons.
Within 40 minutes, Cosentino prepared 6 courses. The 3 judges raved about his food and originality, yet penalized him for presentation. Batali’s plating earned him the 2-point lead. The judges were swayed by an artful presentation. My take is that Batali’s plates looked like dishes served in any over-priced restaurant in any major city.
Some of the knockout dishes Cosentino prepared were:
- Homemade garlic pasta with snails that were flash-frozen, then shaved with a meat slicer.
- Garlic roasted squab with a garlic flan for dipping. Cosentino advised the judges to pick up the head and eat the brains by sucking through its beak. (Like a crawfish, he said.)
- Braised pork belly and tripe served over polenta. The tripe was pressure-cooked with the pork belly for tenderness, and then fried in garlic duck fat to a crisp golden brown.
To celebrate the evening, I prepared an “Incanto” inspired meal which included: chopped bison liver pate, slow-braised garlic and red-wine lamb shoulder stew, served with velvety, garlic cannellini beans. As side dishes, I prepared pork fat sautéed beet greens and a mixed lettuce salad.
Incanto will be featuring Cosentino’s Iron Chef Menu May 18 to June 30, offered on Friday and Saturday evenings only. Visit www.incanto.biz. Incanto is located at 1550 Church Street @ Duncan.