Beloved chef Rocco DeSpirito has plenty of thoughts when it comes to food.
We spoke to the famous chef to get his answers to our rapid-fire questions. See it below:
What's your favorite ingredient to cook with? You have to start with the basics. So salt, pepper, olive oil. The salt that I love the most is La Baleine. Comes in the blue can. It's sea salt. It's from France. It's amazing.
Your signature dish. So there is a dish that I created at the beginning of my career called Taylor Bay Scallops with uni and mustard oil. That is amazing. And I think you'll find that if you have it even today, people will love it. It's bay scallops from Cape Cod. It's tomato water and mustard oil and sea urchin. It's so good.
Sweet or savory? Whoa. Sweet and savory both have their moments, but in general, if I had to pick one, it would be savory. The saltier and the meatier and the fishier, the better. Oysters would be a great example of one of my savory, my favorite savory flavors
Meat or veg? Again, another difficult one. If I had to choose one, though, forever, I would choose veg. There's so much great vegetable product out there. There's even plant-based meats now. So you don't have to choose. You can have everything.
Best cooking you've ever received? Still going to be my grandmother's cooking. She would go into her garden, pick vegetables, grab eggs from her chicken coop, And make an omelet for me. And there's just no beating that. And the level of skill that my 85-year-old grandmother had is unmatched.
Favorite cuisine? To this day, I'm going to say besides Italian is Thai food. Thai food is something I experienced in Thailand pretty early on, and probably the best combination of flavors, use of ingredients, sweet, sour, salt, bitter. Fascinating mouth feel. Thai food is probably going to be up there in my faves.
Most challenging dish you've ever cooked? It was kale, Believe it or not, in an episode of "Tournament of Champions." It was during a cooking competition; that's when the cooking becomes very challenging because it's like cooking something with your hands tied behind your back. It was so challenging, I didn't even recognize that I grabbed collard greens instead of kale and basically was disqualified for that.
Favorite food city in the world? It's still New York City, and Paris is a close second. Rome would be in the top three for sure. But then if I had to say, not in Europe or North America, Bangkok.
Top three essential ingredients in French cooking? Butter, wine, herbs.
Favorite food and wine pairing? Let's see. It's a Spanish Pairing. It's Txakoli, which is from the northern region of Spain, I believe. It's a slightly spritzy white wine with a lot of acidity and some sweetness. It goes really well with just about anything, especially the tapas that you get in the San Sebastian area. Txakoli and Tapas.
What's a must-have herb or spice in your pantry? Rosemary. Definitely a must-have. Curry powder. Also a must-have. And again, salt. A good salt. Can't cook without great salt.
What's an Ingredient you can't stand? Okay, well, there are very few ingredients that I can't stand. One of them is the mountain yam. It's a Japanese ingredient. And you grate the yam and you stir it or you whip it and turn it into this sticky gel-like substance. And I don't like it. It's not good. And stop trying to convince me that it's good. It's just not.
What's your favorite comfort food? This is an easy one. I'm sure I share it with millions of People. It's pizza. I can't push away pizza. Good pizza, bad pizza, any pizza.
Best food memory from childhood? It's eating Marino's Italian ice. Rainbow flavored. The blue part, the bubblegum blue flavored. Italian ice from a brand fresh new, brand-new five-gallon tub of Italian ice is heaven.
What's your favorite dessert? It's going to be something chocolate. And I know that's lame, but really good chocolate mousse. Really good chocolates are some of my faves. And then I have to say if it's not going to be chocolate and fruit base, it's strawberry shortcake in the peak of strawberry season.
Best way to elevate a simple dish? Add fresh herbs. Add fresh herbs of any kind to a simple dish and you'll be able to elevate it. Another thing you can do is you can top it with something called furikake. Furikake is a Japanese rice seasoning that is made of mostly seaweed, some sesame seed and other savory flavors. But putting that on top of anything makes it taste better and makes it look really fancy.
If you could cook for a celebrity, who would it be? I think it would be Lady Gaga. I'd like to cook for her. I know she has an Italian restaurant that her dad runs and I imagine she's fond of Italian food. I'd like to make her both my healthy and unhealthy versions of my classic Italian dishes like spaghetti carbonara and other things like that. Lady Gaga, if you're hungry…
When in doubt…? Always add more butter.
Never go heavy on…? The salt. Too much salt is inexcusable
Last meal on earth? I would like that to be very similar to my earliest meals on earth. Something cooked by a loving member of my family.
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Craving some of chef DeSpirito's food? Head over to Sag Harbor Kitchen and experience his pop-up through the end of the month. "My vision for the Sag Harbor Kitchen pop-up is to bring a really fresh approach to fresh seafood and dining in the Hamptons," says DeSpirito. "I’m using trusted local sources for ingredients like GOSMAN’S for beau soleil oysters, bluefin tuna, east coast halibut, swordfish, Maine lobster and the fish farm in Amagansett for steamers as well as Norwich Meadows Farm for produce. My dishes are simple but still interesting takes on classic beloved seafood dishes like lobster cocktail, tuna Crudo, miso salmon, as well as grilled lobsters with homemade French fries."
Photography by: headshot by Madison McGaw/BFA.com; food image courtesy of Sag Harbor Kitchen