Louis Maldonado, one of the top four finalists on Bravo’s Top Chef in 2014, has been called a “Rising Star” (by the San Francisco Chronicle and StarChefs) as well as an ardent supporter of the farm to table movement. At Spoonbar (http://spoonbar.com/) in Healdsburg, CA where he is Executive Chef, he is known for partnering with local farmers—many of whom are also winemakers—to raise specialty vegetables, grains and livestock, all of which end up on his menu. We caught up with him between shifts to talk inspiration, ingredients and what he’d cook if stuck on a desert island.
Symrise: What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with and why?
Chef Maldonado: I embrace everything when it comes to working with ingredients; some things have more mental calming capabilities such as fish. I love cutting fish -- it's very calming and peaceful for me. The same goes for sauce making. I always try to pick up those projects that take all day to develop a small yield but are full of flavor.
Symrise: Is there an old standby ingredient? Or a new favorite?
Chef Maldonado: I love lots of acid and salt. It's my go-to. In my opinion, it’s one thing to have great product but another to actually season it well. I also love spices. They bring a lot of depth to my cooking and add layers of flavors rather than just one or two dimensions.
Symrise: Does living/working in California inspire you?
Chef Maldonado: I'm born and raised in California and could never imagine myself anywhere else. It really is amazing here -- besides the weather and amazing product it's just an overall great place. As far as inspiration goes I’m constantly thinking about food so it comes randomly throughout the day.
Symrise: What kind of food do you like to eat when you're "off- duty?"
Chef Maldonado: I love Mexican food. It’s something I could eat every day and every meal.
Symrise: What trends are you seeing in the kitchen/food world?
Chef Maldonado: Trends are dangerous because you lose your honesty and transparency in what you are trying to offer to your guests. I believe you can't think for yourself and have your own individual ideas when you pay attention to trends. Personally, I have a very good idea of what I want to offer and I don't let anything get in the way or create smoke and mirrors with things other great chefs are doing.
Symrise: Who do you idolize in the culinary world?
Chef Maldonado: In my younger days I would have named a ton of chefs but the older I get, the more I realize that the chefs I’ve worked for did what they are supposed to do to teach me; it's their job after all. I look at my grandfather and father as idols on how to live, act, and work.
Symrise: If you were stuck on a desert island, what food/ingredients would you take with you and why? And what kind of cooking accoutrements?
Chef Maldonado: I would bring my knives and salt and figure out the rest after I survey the island.
Symrise: Any new plans/ventures up your sleeve?
Chef Maldonado: I’m currently starting a new project in San Luis Obispo.
Symrise: What does it mean to be named a "Rising Star?" by StarChefs?
Chef Maldonado: I hold that with a lot of regard. I think it means to me that I have my shit together at a young age and with more time to develop could be a driving force and voice in the industry.