Smoked fried chicken with house-made fermented honey and hot sauce—that’s what StarChefs’ Rising Star Andrew Whitcomb served at this year’s International Chef Conference (ICC). Guests lined up in front of his small food stand during the “Fermentation Funk” Eat@ICC Showcase not only to grab a bite, but also to listen to Whitcomb’s philosophy on sustainability.
The chef, who started cooking in his Maine home at the young age of 13, has eliminated 95% of the restaurant waste at Colonie (Brooklyn, NY), extending the life of ingredients by whipping up new dishes, stocking his pantry shelves, and creating new craft cocktails. We grabbed him for a few moments to chat about ingredients and innovation, in-between bites of delicious fried chicken…
Symrise: What is exciting you in the kitchen right now?
Whitcomb: I’m really into burning right now. I just charred this incredible head of cabbage.
S: Well, it’s definitely the season for cabbage. Colonie has a very farm to table approach. Do the ingredients inspire you, or are you seeking out specific items?
W: Really, what’s inspiring me is cooking with a conscious. I’m establishing relationships with farmers, and definitely getting what’s seasonal. But I tell them to send me something interesting. For example, a few weeks ago, I received these incredible oranges from New Jersey. They’re a bit on the bitter side. But I’ve been researching them and I think I’m going to make a marmalade. But I’m always thinking about how I can use ingredients—I’m currently stocking my pantry with vinegars, as well as pickled and fermented items.
S: Do you often find yourself researching ingredients?
W: I am very inspired by history. I’m reading this book from the 1800s called The Frugal Housewife. I’m also really into Native America culture. I just read how hazelnuts were crushed and used medicinally.
S: How does that play into your creative process when you’re brainstorming new menu options?
W: I’m always thinking about the future—building my pantry—and the past—researching the history of ingredients. Everyone says to think outside the box. What about thinking inside the box? I look at what’s been done traditionally and see how I can make it better.
S: When it comes to cooking, you are drawing from history. Is there anything from your specific past that influences your approach in the kitchen?
W: Definitely. I grew up in Maine. My grandparents didn’t have running water. They made everything from apple cider to vinegar to their own root beer cider. There were always containers of something underneath the sink.
S: Would you offer any advice to chefs who are looking to enhance their creative process?
W: I would suggest documenting everything, down to the last detail. Even small things can make big changes. For example, if walnuts fall to the ground where a farmer is growing vegetables, that can change the way things taste. It’s the same in the kitchen. Also, I try to use everything—the roots, leaves, seeds, etc. I really try to extend the life of an ingredient. I take the time to make things, because it will only help me in the future.
S: Thank you, Chef.
Colonie: 127 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY, colonienyc.com
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