Chef Samin Nosrat: Taught by the Best

I first met Chef Samin Nosrat at her popup Tartine Afterhours dinner at Tartine Bakery and Café in San Francisco’s Mission district. Once a month, the family style dinners – held via lottery since they are so popular – center on seasonal local food. Trained at the food mecca Chez Panisse by Chef Alice Waters, I talked to Samin at her Popup General Store while she was preparing delicious tomato sauce made from dry-farmed Dirty Girl tomatoes.

The Local Dish: Chez Panisse recently celebrated their 40th anniversary and you worked some of those events.  As a young chef, how does Alice Waters influence you?

Samin: I started out as an English major at Cal. Through a funny series of events, I became a busser at Chez Panisse. And that was it – after that, I pretty much knew that I loved food and I wanted to be around it. It was so enchanting, so beautiful.

I was surrounded by people who were as equally motivated and perfectionist as I was. It was one of the first times in my life that I felt I was at home. There is so much care taken in every single task there – even the way you tie the trash bag and bring it to the can.

Eventually, after an internship with Christopher Lee, I got a job as a prep cook in the Café. After that, I also had the wonderful luck to study with Michael Pollan and he was a mentor to me (Writer’s note: Samin was the pitmaster at a recent pig roast in his backyard). The wonderful thing about Chez Panisse is that once you become part of that – it’s a bit like the Mafia in that you can never leave! And Alice is like our “Donna”!

Reflecting after the 40th birthday, I’ve thought a lot about how Alice has this magical ability to get anyone to do anything – I found myself up at two in the morning seasoning pork leg.  She makes you enthusiastic about doing the best job that you can for her and the project. A lot of us worked really hard on the 40th. We were pushed to our limits. I remember trying to understand what it was, what is it about her and about this thing we are a part of that makes us all so happy to be there.

For me, working around her and around that restaurant has taught me so much more than just cooking. It taught me a really amazing philosophy about what goes into making just one plate of food.

My experience has given me the confidence to cast my net: I’m going to try to write, teach…and they all fit together. The classes let me see what people are hungry for and write about that.


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