The walls of Chef Perfecto Rocher's LA restaurant, Smoke Oil Salt, are such a warm red that you feel as if you've literally stepped into the heart of something. The chamber beats and glows with an ancient passion for Spanish cuisine. Chef Rocher recently unveiled his newest project:
Traditional Valencian Putxero, a Spanish stew made with rice, lamb, beef, pork, pilotes (Valencian meatballs), chickpeas, potatoes and other vegetables. The stew is being served exclusively on Monday evenings for $35. After being impressed with my meals and overall experiences at SOS, I wanted to learn more about this Chef. We sat down at a neighborhood Starbucks and got to talking. I found out he likes to eat bikinis...
Q & A
FP: Are the Monday night dinners only for a limited time?
PR: We are going to try to work with that and see what the reaction is, see if it’s the same one we have in mind. If they like it we’re going to continue it, if not we’re going to change. You adapt yourself to the situation. You try something, it works or not and you go from there.
My dishes change all the time on the menu. One day I have this one day I have that. The paella, I keep it consistent, it’s only served one time a week (Sundays). If the people come one time to have paella and maybe they don't come back after three or four months or six months, why do you want to change it? I like to change things on the menu for my weekly regulars, but for paella and putxero I think we need to me more consistent for one year or something for a creative base. Maybe I am wrong, but that is the mentality I have.
FP: What is your favorite meal memory?
PR: My favorite meal will always be Arros al Forn. My mother used to make it, that is my favorite. It has blood sausage, rice, a whole clove of garlic, sweet potato, chick peas, pork, you can put pig feet too if you want. It is served as a cassoulet. I don’t think I could try something that would be better than that. Maybe it’s because I am used to it from when I was younger, but yes, this is my favorite.
FP: What inspires your cooking?
PR: I think travel. I get to live in LA which is amazing because there are so many cultures here and things to see, but I love the Valencian cuisine more than anything because I bond with that. We have fish, we have meat, we have cheese, we have wine. You know? It is a very good area. Travel opens your mind to see other possibilities, to think about your own food to see how you can use other products and incorporate it into your traditional methods. I usually go back to Spain every year.
FP: What’s one of the weirdest things you’ve ever eaten?
PR: In China I tried monkey meat, snake, cockroaches...that was the most disgusting. I wanted to try it because I was in this part of the world, you need to try things.
FP: What Chefs do you admire?
PR: I come from a family of the restaurant business, but I didn’t want to be a chef when I was younger. I wanted to be a musician, but my mother and grandmother inspired me a lot. I have cooked here with David Kinch at Manresa and I think that is one of the biggest places I’ve been to. He’s lived in California his whole life, I think he’s a very smart guy. He opened my doors to understand food in a very different way. I’m used to the food in Spain, but when I came here to California, he was one of the pioneers to you know start working more with organic food. The produce you make, you cook, you know, farm to table. I came to him in 2005. That was amazing. I think it is one of the best places I ever worked and I learned a lot from David Kinch. He’s a good person.
FP: How would you describe the Culinary scene of Los Angeles?
PR: Five years ago, I said, “LA is going to be the number one city in the United States.” I said that five years ago and I continue to say that. Why? Because, San Francisco is on the top, Chicago, New York and this is a big city to be lower than the others. I think here you have more people, more cultures together, more food. We have millions of foods here in LA you can’t find everywhere. You change one area, you find something new. It’s amazing. I think that during the ‘80's and ‘90's, you know, the chefs came here and they catered more to the people than they tried to cook what they really felt inside themselves. They tried to do what the customer wanted and that is good because we work in a customer service industry, but this style is not mine. When you’re a chef you want to do whatever you want. You know, people go to your restaurant because they like your food. A chef is something very…it is something that comes from your soul, if somebody breaks your soul, you are losing your identity you know? You’re losing your soul when you try to do what the others say. There’s a lot of restaurants like Republique, Union, Bestia, Alimento; these are good restaurants and the people, they are doing what they want. It’s not that they do it for other people and I think that is going to change this year more people and next year is going to come more people and one day comes somebody from New York like Daniel (Boulud) or somebody like that and boom! Michael White I heard is coming and I love that guy and that means something. That means that this city is starting to grow and when these people from New York, Chicago, from San Francisco come here it is special.
FP: Are there any restaurants on your list that you’ve been wanting to try?
PR: I want to try Alimento.
FP: What is one of your favorite things to cook at home?
PR: I always make a rice dish. I love rice because in Valencia we have almost 200 different kinds of dishes of rice. People only know Paella and a couple others but we have many more. Something quick I will make is a “bikini.” A “bikini” is a sandwich of ham and cheese but we call it bikini because when we cut it like this it looks like a bikini. This machine what is it called? For making the sandwiches? The Panini machine. I love it, a bikini with just ham and cheese and in that, oh f*ck I love it, a lot. And I put olive oil and salt. Olive oil, salt, ham and cheese some pickles some olives or whatever that’s enough a glass of wine with the cheese that’s enough…buh-bye. You don’t want a complicated life.
FP: Do you have any tricks as a chef for home cooks?
PR: I always think to get a good olive oil and get good salt and a good vinegar. This will change the quality in your kitchen. I focus on one thing, I like this olive oil I’m just going to use it and be consistent. You don’t want special olive oils in my opinion, you don’t want special olive oils for special food. You want one olive oil you can use for everything. At my restaurant you will get the same flavors every time.
FP: What would you do on a day off?
PR: I would love to play my guitar. You know when I have a day off I go to the mountains...Topanga, Malibu, where ever there is a mountain I go. I like the big trees.
Smoke Oil Salt will be celebrating its one year anniversary at the end of this month and in LA, that is saying something. The traditional dishes, honoring Chef Rochere's hometown of Valencia, have the flavor of timeless pride and cultural dignity. If you bite into the house-made sausage, sip the Brut Cava from Catalonia, or touch anything else to your lips, you will know what I mean.