Chef Chat: Walter Sterling of Oakville Grocery Co.
Hannah E Williams
Chef Walter Sterling of Oakville Grocery Co. fell in love with food at an early age.
"My mom was a fabulous cook, and my uncle would stuff ducks and do really cool things all the time," Sterling says. "I was always surrounded by food growing up. I hung out with Jean Pepin as a little kid."
After graduating with a double major in international studies and Spanish from Emory University, Sterling attended Universidad de Salamanca in Spain for culinary school. "I really fell in love with Spain and just food in general."
We snagged Sterling for a quick tour and a candid conversation about what makes him and Oakville tick. Keep reading to hear more about how, if not for the health department, Sterling would be hanging Serrano hams from the ceiling and why he wants to cook with Gordon Ramsey, or not.
As we peruse the market, Sterling highlights the pastry case full of tantalizing goodies, the Italian Farro wheat pasta that even most people with gluten allergies can enjoy, the selection of more than 100 artisan cheeses and the imported meats.
"I'd have Serrano hams hanging from the ceiling if I could, but the health department frowns on it," Sterling says. "We try to get the most unique stuff they'll let us import. If they can get unpasteurized Italian meats through, we'll take them."
Favorite kitchen tool? Wooden spoon. I think it's the most underrated kitchen tool out there.
Best advice you ever got? If you're not making friends, you're making enemies. Especially in very competitive kitchens. It's very important to keep your head down, keep your mouth shut, be liked and make friends. It's very hard to succeed in that environment when people don't like you.
Who would you like to cook with? I think it'd be really interesting to cook with Gordon Ramsey, just because he's just a freak spaz. I'd like to stand next to him and yell at a bunch of people one day, spend the evening screaming at his staff. Just to get some anxiety out. He's bad enough on TV, I can only imagine how bad he'd be in real life. It'd be fun to be his sous chef for a day. Scratch that: I'd rather cook with Juan Mari Arzak and make Basque food in Spain.
What would you like to see more of in the local food scene? I'd like to see more concentrated focus on the type of cuisine. If you're going to do French food, do French food. If you're going to do Italian, do Italian. Keep it pure to its form. Everybody's trying to please such a wide variety of people that the food is now washed into this one area where it's a little bit of everything and not really doing a good job at any one of those things. Pick a type of cuisine and stick to it.
Last thing you ate that totally blew your mind? The Goat's Milk Fudge from Fossil Creek Creamery. It's almost like a goat's milk cheese where it breaks down and is almost kind of gritty, and then it comes together in a smooth paste. It's really interesting.
Check back tomorrow to hear about Sterling's bartending showdown and the dish Chef Daniel Boulud wants him to make over and over again.
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