Nate Appleman on Pulino's, Fried Chicken and the Underappreciated Onion

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2009 has been a very good year for Nate Appleman. After becoming a Food&Wine Magazine Best New Chef and receiving the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef award, he teamed up with Teflon Keith McNally of Balthazar, Pastis and Minetta Tavern fame and is on his way to becoming a New York City food media darling. Savory's Louise McCready spoke with the former A16 and SPQR chef to find out what he's working on, what ingredient he'd pick to win The Next Iron Chef, and where he likes to eat in NYC.

Louise McCready: Even though in 2007, you said you'd never leave San Francisco, it turns out you're teaming up as chef and partner with Keith McNally to work at Pulino's Bar and Pizzaria opening on the Bowery this December. Have you started planning the menu?

We've just started working on the breakfast menu, but I can't say any more than that.

I know you're starring in the second season of The Next Iron Chef? With what ingredient do you think you'd be able to win, hands down?

I'll go with chicken. I like chicken.

What's your favorite way to prepare it?

I think my absolute favorite way would be, gosh it's a toss up between grilled and fried. Fried chicken is my favorite.

Who have been your greatest culinary inspirations?

I guess my grandmother would be one of them. She was a great Southern cook. I really enjoyed eating her food. Other than that, the farmers.

Recently farm-to-table has gained a great deal of popularity, but do you try to make relationships with the farmers you procure food from? Do you try to eat locally or buy locally as much as possible.

The relationship factor is huge in this business. I would assume it's huge in every business. Any time you have a relationship with somebody it's going to be much easier to get what you're looking for. Especially farmers because you can tell them, you can bring seeds back from Italy and we've had farmers grow them for the restaurant. The level of appreciation on both sides is very important.

So you chose chicken as the ingredient you think you'd win with, but you seem to be uniquely suited for today's pork renaissance as your grandfather was a butcher and you've been called the David Chang of the West. What is your favorite cut of meat, of what animal?

Let me back up, the reason I didn't pick pork as the answer to the first question is because last year I was on Iron Chef America and pork was the ingredient and I lost. It definitely would have been my first choice. That said, pork ribs are one of the greatest cuts of all time.

What's your favorite type of barbecue: North Carolina, Tennesee, or St. Louis? Do you have a preference?

Italian. Can I say that?

So how would you prepare the ribs?

Simply spice and roasted in a wood-fired oven. I'm not much for those sweet sauces of the South. That's why I didn't say Kansas City or any of the others. It's more like whole hog than ribs.

When Food & Wine made you one of their Best New Chefs this year, they noted your Berkshire pork shoulder roast and porchetta with lemon and wild arugula from A16 and spaghetti amatriciana with guanciale, tomatoes, red onion, chile and pecorino from SPQR as their favorites. Between a meat-based and Italian restaurant, which would you prefer to run?

I'm going to have to combine the two. Those are my two loves: Italian food and meat.

What is your favorite underappreciated ingredient?

I'd say onions because no one ever talks about that great onion they had that one time. Onions are definitely underappreciated. I use them in almost everything. I love the flavor - cooked, roasted, grilled, every which way.

Where do you like to go for culinary travel?

Italy.

Any particular place?

No, all over. I think each region is so unique and that's where I get my inspiration, so I don't think I could choose just one.

What are your favorite restaurants in the US?

Animal in LA. Aziza in San Francisco. And New York Noodle Town in New York.




Watch our video of A16 in San Francisco featuring Nate Appleman.

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