Our most recent New York kitchen tour was with the Executive Chef of Il Buco restaurant, Ignacio Mattos. Ignacio lives in a bright, sunny walk up overlooking Tompkins Square Park. The kitchen occupies the back of the apartment, and while roomy enough for a table that seats eight, the actual cooking and prep area is tiny for a professional chef. There is a small electric stove and oven, no dishwasher, and minimal storage and work space.
But how effective Ignacio is at adapting to his working conditions! Read on for more of Ignacio's kitchen, plus a seasonal recipe of pasta with ramps, peas, and mint.
Ignacio cooks pastas, vegetables, salads, whole roasted or poached fishes, stews - always adapting to cook dishes suitable for an electric stove (no searing!) and his small space (one or two pot meals).
His favorite kitchen accessories include his beloved Microplane grater and large, sharp knives among which are Japanese knives and cleavers. His favorite pans are cast iron because of their ability to brown, sear and caramelize foods.
In the restaurant, he leans towards fast cooking (he would even say "aggressive") with interesting flavors. The restaurant menu is eclectic, inspired and quite hard to describe. The menu very much reflects Ignacio's interests and personal cooking style: Mediterranean with strong influences from South America, ingredients and techniques from Lebanon and Turkey and a hint of Italian, Spanish and French food - "simple food pulled together carefully." Ignacio likes to cook and present food "as it is" - "chunky and big, bone in, head on, full of character."
Ignacio is highly focused on quality ingredients and knowing where his food comes from. He has some favorite farmer's market vendors for different items including organic produce from Norwich Meadows Farm, arugula and greens all year round from Yuno's Farm, greens from D&J Organic Farms, eggs from Flying Pigs Farm, milk products from Ronnybrook Dairy, and cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm, whom he believes is the very best cheese maker of the moment (sells at Tompkins Square Park).
We asked Ignacio to share a recipe for a dish Kitchn readers could cook at home, and he prepared one during the interview. Let's just say it was so good that it drove us to make reservations at Il Buco the very next night. Il Buco did not disappoint: we had a hard time not ordering one of everything (I am personally still dreaming about the kale Caesar salad of all things) and the care Ignacio places in sourcing ingredients was clearly evident (on that note, don't miss the balsamic-drizzled panna cotta!).
Spaghetti with Ramps and English Peas
1/4 pound ramps (available now)
1 pound of fresh English peas in shell, shelled
1.5 pounds lardo or pancetta (available from Flying Pigs Farm or from Whole Foods)
1/2 bunch mint, picked and chopped
2-3 Tbs butter
2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Pinch chili pepper (Ignacio used powdered Guajillo but red pepper flakes can be used)
2 cloves garlic
Cracked black pepper
3/4 lb spaghetti
Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, freshly grated
Salt and boil pasta water.Cook pasta according to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a sauté pan. Add garlic, ramps and lardo. Cook until fat renders. Once ramps are wilted, add peas and chili and sauté over medium heat. Add some salted pasta water to vegetables to finish cooking. Season with salt and pepper.
When vegetable mixture has finished cooking, add mint, grated cheese and butter to finish. Drain pasta and add it to the sauté pan, cooking the pasta into the sauce. The sauce should be a little loose. Ensure sauce and pasta are well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil and generous sprinkling of cheese.
Ignacio's Kitchen Questionnaire
1. What's your cooking style?
I would say it is a hippie Mediterranean style mixed with a South American touch! (It's a joke but yes, Mediterranean with a South American approach.)
2. What inspires your kitchen?
Ingredients and being hungry! I love that impulsive feeling! No matter where you are you have a great selection of different ingredients (or even not such a big selection, but at least a little) and you have to come up with something; those are my favorite meals!
3. Favorite tool or element:
I like the zester a lot! A nice wood board and a sharp knife.
4. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Don't be afraid of seasoning!
5. Biggest challenge in your kitchen:
The biggest challenge in my kitchen is when we decide to cook for 8 or more people, it's just a little inconvenient. I usually end up making the menu more complex than I should, that's when it can be fun. I try to do it in a way that is not too complicated but still fun.
6. Biggest indulgence:
Fat! Love fat any type of fat! But I just found out that my cholesterol is pretty high! Ahhh! Sea urchin by the pounds!
7. Dream tool or splurge:
I would say handmade knives (pocketknives, I love French and Italian ones, they are beautiful), also nice porcelain or crystal, I love those kinds of things.
8. What are you cooking this week?
This week, hard to say! I haven't been cooking much this week. I'm changing the menu at the restaurant and it has been a little crazy!
9. Desert island cookbook?
I'm not sure that I would have any cookbooks with me on a desert island! I would take it as a vacation and would throw that book away! But good cookbooks -— I really like "A Platter of Figs" by David Tanis! A simple, pleasurable and fun book.
10. Favorite meal cooked here:
I think the favorite meal was a dish from Brazil, I kind of made it my way since we just were walking through Chelsea and ended up deciding to cook at home. We were really hungry and it was about 3:00 pm when we started the whole thing. The dish is shrimp cooked in banana, coconut milk and cilantro, and it is served with rice, farofa (which is a manioc flour — it gets toasted in the sauté pan, you can season it with different things); very traditional. We made some rice as well as collard greens! It was really good!
• More about Il Buco: Il Buco website. They are having an Earth Day lunch fund-raiser from Tuesday, April 21 through Saturday, April 25, 2009, where lunch diners' bills will be reduced and part of every bill donated to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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