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Meet the chef: Chris Cosentino of San Francisco’s celebrated Cockscomb restaurant

By Ina Yulo Stuve  |  September 4, 2020

“Honestly, I never got past the idea of cooking for a living,” says Chris Cosentino, chef and co-owner of Cockscomb in San Francisco, Acacia House in Napa Valley, Jackrabbit in Portland, and Rosalie in Houston.

Despite dabbling in a number of sports growing up, Cosentino says his love and passion for cooking was always in the spotlight. A familiar face on food television, Cosentino is best known for his love of all things offal. “Most folks never take the time to study and learn how to cook it properly,” explains Cosentino.

“There is a lot of technique in cooking offal, it’s very perishable, needs a lot of specific cleaning. And a whole slew of folks didn’t even bother to do those things they just dove in headfirst and made some either over cooked or even worse, undercooked dishes.”

LLM – Luxury Lifestyle Magazine food writer Ina Yulo Stuve chats with Cosentino on the importance of mental health in the hospitality industry and why he thinks no one will ever compare to Anthony Bourdain.

In your opinion, what have been the major drivers in people’s idea of a career in hospitality today compared to 10 to 20 years ago? 

As a young man, I was enamoured by the cooks who were able to make food on a large scale. I think this will make a permanent change in how the hospitality industry will function in the future and how people view hospitality as a career. I feel that the younger generation has had a lot of access to technique, menus, and recipes through the internet that we as young cooks didn’t have so we learned through apprenticeship.

Chris Cosentino has a passion for cooking using quality ingredients. Image credit – Alan Wei

You were one of the earlier champions for offal and whole beast cooking. What are some of the common mistakes that restaurants make when cooking offal? 

It’s really important to understand the history and techniques of offal cookery throughout history. It is then much easier to understand how to work with, handle and cook these unique cuts of meat. As I always say, it’s important to have a foundation before you build the house.

How do you go about work-life balance for both you and your team, especially in a famously cutthroat industry?  

With the opening of Cockscomb, moving forward we will be closed two days a week so we can build a solid team that can grow together. It will automatically provide time for days off, but also opportunities for company trips to purveyors and producers which are opportunities to be together outside of the restaurant.

This will also allow for a more managed guest experience since it will be the same team working together always which will create a better bond and flow of work for the team and guests.

I manage myself by spending time on my bike which helps give a perspective that gets me outside, to think and be clear. Spending time with my family cooking, eating and enjoying quiet time is always a plus.

I’m a big Top Chef fan and it’s probably the one show that has really influenced my love for food and cooking. Do you have any favourite food-focused shows, movies, or documentaries?  

I think Netflix has done a great job capturing the chef and culinary industry in a bunch of its shows. Ugly Delicious, especially season 2, Chef’s Table, Tampopo, Eat Drink Man Woman, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi are all amazing but at the same time sad.

The most inspirational one to me seems to be Breaking Bread. Roy Choi is a true force of nature when it comes to making a change. He also has a great show teaching cooking and discussing food with Jon Favreau called The Chef Show. The shows that will always be my favourite are No Reservations, The Layover and Parts Unknown. Tony (Anthony Bourdain) has always been the best guide to the world and used food as a vehicle to communicate. To me, he will always be the only one.

Rosalie in Houston is an homage to Cosentino’s great grandmother and her amazing Italian American cooking

What made you decide to start your podcast series ‘Losing Your Mind with Chris Cosentino’? 

Having mental health issues for a lot of people is tough to speak about so I started it to give folks, who I think are doing good things or have overcome things to get where they are, a platform to say what they want. I try to have fun interviewing different people with all sorts of thoughts, practices and careers. It’s about sharing information about themselves to a new audience.  Not everything is about food, it’s a mix of things and people that I think have things to offer the world.

You now have restaurants in San Francisco, Portland, Houston, and Napa Valley. How did you go about choosing those locations and how do you reflect the local food scene in your cooking?  

Each restaurant has a specific feeling and style based on the history of the area: Cockscomb in San Francisco is based on the rich culinary melting pot of the gold rush and all the amazing cultures, foods and unique flavours they brought with them. Acacia House in Napa Valley is all about the five countries of origin that the wine grapes came from: France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Germany, to help create the valley and its amazing wine programs.

Jackrabbit in Portland is again about the rich history of artisan craftsmanship, farming, lumber and the town of James Beard – all those things helped to create an amazing city that has an insane love of food. Rosalie in Houston is an homage to my great grandmother Rosalie and her amazing Italian American cooking.

What is one type of cuisine you’d love to master? 

Mastering a type of cuisine is impossible; we are forever learning, adapting and growing as chefs. I really try to learn techniques and the history of food from as many cultures as possible that allows me to understand people better. Cuisine is a gateway into the lives and cultures of the world, so trying to master one is never of interest to me.

Cosentino tries to learn techniques and the history of food from as many cultures as possible

 Since being in lockdown, is there a certain recipe that has become your go-to?  

There hasn’t been a go-to dish during shelter-in-place. I have been cooking a lot of different things, making sure to buy from our farmers and supporting the local food economy. But all the dishes depend on what my family was asking for and I would just cook. Always simple and delicious. I started a video series on Instagram for people to see what I was doing, and they seemed to really enjoy it.

Tell me more about the Bay Area Hospitality Coalition and why that movement means so much to you. 

It is a group of chefs and restaurant owners who are all trying to help the community of restaurants get open after this global pandemic. We have created a group that meets with politicians, community leaders, and gathers information to share with the hospitality community at large.

Aside from Cockscomb, if someone were visiting San Francisco, where would you send them for: breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks?

For dinner – Night Bird, Mr Jius, Prabecu, liho liho; for lunch, Swan’s Oyster Depot is a must; ABV for cocktails, Tonga Room for cocktails, Tornado for beers and Dottie’s True Blue Cafe for breakfast.