An Interview with Chef Simoni
Last year, Chef Simoni Kigweba made his TOM BIHN debut in photos of the Moveable Feast shopping bag, and he kindly shared a recipe with us (the now-famous Tomatoes and Bread). Now he’s busy cooking in Nashville, Tennessee: he’s the executive chef at a new restaurant that will open later this year.
Chef Simoni’s helping us out again this year by modeling The Truck—and he’s also got another recipe up his sleeve, too. We sat down with the chef to ask him how he learned to cook, his favorite ingredients, and where he spends his Sundays.
TOM BIHN CREW: How would you describe your cooking style?
CHEF SIMONI: I like to think that I enjoy cooking that is simple and elemental, using incredible ingredients local to Nashville and inflecting them with a simple elemental technique (air, water, fire, earth).
TBC: Who taught you how to cook? Who were some of your major influences as you were developing as a chef?
CS: Loads of people taught me how and why you should cook. Mom, Dad, friends, and brilliant cooks and chefs. As I continue developing my craft I find inspiration in all the chefs I’ve cooked under, as well as Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Marcus Samuelsson, Alice Waters, and Christian Puglisi.
TBC: Were there any foods or dishes you hated as a kid? Do you feel differently about them now?
CS: Growing up my dad, an immigrant from Burundi, would cook cow stomach that I couldn’t stomach – I don’t know if that’s changed.
TBC: At what kinds of places do you like to eat when you travel?
CS: I love finding regional cuisines specific to different parts of the world wherever I travel. My wife and I love places like Henrietta Red in Nashville, Here’s Looking At You in LA, or a great food hall like Chicago French Market or Liberty Public Market in San Diego.
TBC: How do you relax on your days off?
CS: Sundays are one of my favorite days to rest. I start with CBS Sunday Morning, go for a run, read the New York Times, then hit up Little’s, a local seafood market, pick out something for supper—usually clams—and then enjoy a meal at home with friends.
TBC: What’s one dish your family and friends always want you to make for them at home?
CS: It probably goes between chocolate chip cookies and waffles. Both are fan favorites.
TBC: What are your guilty pleasures—those things you consume when no one’s looking?
CS: OREOs. It’s a vice and I should know better.
TBC: Is there an underrated or under-used ingredient, flavor, or cooking technique that you think should be better-known?
CS: Blanching and lemons. When cooking most vegetables, the technique of blanching enhances their natural flavors. Lemons…a squeeze goes a long way, whether it’s a sauce, Sunday roast, or on top of a piece of grilled fish.
TBC: What advice can you give to people who are intimidated by cooking?
CS: Start cooking with the simplest technique and ingredient—roasting potatoes or preparing scrambled eggs. Both will equip you with tools enabling you to be more comfortable in the kitchen.
Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with Salsa Macha
Salsa Macha: Adapted from Alex Stupak’s Tacos
12 dried arbol chiles
2 oz. dried guajillo chiles
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup raw, shelled, unsalted peanuts
2 TBSP sesame seeds
3 garlic cloves
1 cup cider vinegar
1 TBSP salt
2 TBSP honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast the chiles for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and brown in color.
2. Wearing gloves, remove stems from the chiles and roll them gently to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds.
3. In a 2 quart saucepan, add the oil, seeds, peanuts, and garlic. Toast the ingredients over medium heat until browned.
4. Remove pan from heat. Add the chiles and let steep for 10 minutes.
5. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Add a touch of water to thin if too thick.
Roasted Cauliflower Steaks
2 heads cauliflower
2 TBSP grapeseed oil
fresh ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. As soon as it reaches 475, place a baking sheet in the oven and heat for 10 minutes.
2. Remove only the toughest outer leaves from the cauliflower. Trim stem to create a flat base. Resting the cauliflower on its stem, cut it in half from top to bottom, creating two lobes with stem attached. Trim the outer rounded edge of each piece to create two 1 1/2 inch thick steaks.
3. Dress the steaks with the oil, salt and pepper.
4. Carefully place the steaks directly on the heated baking sheet and cook for 12-15 minutes until fork tender.
5. Repeat the process with the other head of cauliflower.
1 sprig parsley, rough chopped
1 spring basil, rough chopped
1 TBSP lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 TBSP sesame seeds
flake sea salt, such as Maldon
1. Using a spoon, smooth about 1/4 cup of salsa macha evenly over a large platter.
2. Place the roasted cauliflower on top of the salsa.
3. Garnish the cauliflower with parsley, basil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and sesame seeds.
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