Chef Josh Galliano of Monarch Restaurant in Maplewood, Mo., was selected as a Midwest finalist for this year’s Food & Wine’s “The People’s Best New Chef.” According to F&W, Galliano “brings the southern Louisiana flavors of his youth to Missouri using local produce.” I recently spoke with Galliano about the life of a nationally recognized chef. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
How much freedom do you have in creating your menu? Do you experiment with ingredients throughout the year?
I have complete freedom — the only restrictions I really have are the ones I place on myself. I often find myself sitting down with a new, unique ingredient, trying to figure out how to show off what’s great about it. For instance, recently we received a supply of an uncommon cooking vegetable called crosnes. I worked on manipulating it with other ingredients to create a flavor that’s acceptable to people — something that they’re sort of familiar with, but that still brings out the vegetable’s unique flavor.
Since growing up in Louisiana, you attended culinary school in London, were a chef in Manhattan, and now live in Missouri. Have you always made a conscious effort to incorporate the New Orleans flavor from your childhood into your cooking style?
Not really. Most cooks don’t have a style when they’re learning; they’re basically just trying to learn as much as possible from the person they’re cooking under — that’s part of the apprenticeship. You sort of piece together the parts you like and get rid of the ones you don’t. It’s a long process, but in the end you hopefully find out who you are as a cook.
Are there any cooking utensils that you find indispensable, but that the average person has probably never heard of?
We use cake testers with little plastic thumb holders to gauge the temperature of meat and fish. I’ve learned to tell how done a piece of meat is by how hot the thumb holder gets after the tester has been in for about 20 seconds. I like them because you can take the temperature without destroying the meat or losing a lot of cooking juices. Also, they only cost about 90 cents to $1, so we can buy about 20 of them and supply the whole cooking staff.
Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to food — meals that people wouldn’t expect a world-class chef to appreciate?
There’s pretty much a constant supply of Nutty Bars in my house. Sometimes they’re my breakfast, sometimes they’re my dinner, sometimes they’re my midnight snack.
How long have you been making your own root beer, and where did you discover the recipe?
I’ve been doing it for about five or six years. I started doing it so that I could keep my supply of root beer going without having to keep paying for it. I started looking for recipes on the Internet, and ended up experimenting with a lot of different ingredients. There were some good moments when I said, “This tastes great!” and some bad moments when my recipe literally exploded on me. Now I have a recipe that I like and that I stick to.
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