This is part two of my interview with Michael Rusconi, chef-owner of the new Rusconi's American Kitchen. If you missed part one, where Rusconi dishes about his guilty pleasure and what he metaphorically eats for breakfast, read it here.
See also: Two New Brunches Hit the Valley in October: Mastro's Gets Its First (Bloody Mary Bar!) and Lon's Updates Theirs with Outdoor Marketplace Favorite thing to eat growing up: Growing up, I loved polenta and stew. We often ate at my grandparents' house and it was an incredible spread. My grandfather would prepare the polenta in the backyard over an open flame in a copper pot. We'd pair it with braised quail or dove stew and a spread of vegetables. It was like a gourmet, home-cooked buffet.
Favorite thing to eat now: Roasted duck with kabocha squash dumplings and a sweet and sour cranberry jus. I make it!
Describe one dish you've eaten (from any restaurant anywhere) that blew you away: The dessert cart at Paul Bocuse restaurant in Lyon France completely blew me away. It was sick. It was a train of five carts that surrounded our table with cakes, gateaux and mousses. It was ridiculous.
The American food scene is better now than it was 20 years ago because: The public's increased attention on chefs has made top chefs do even better food.
Has the typical American diner become more sophisticated in the past 10 years? If so, how?: That is tough to say, but the typical American diner certainly has more of an opinion these days. Everyone wants to be a Nikki Buchanan!
How will Rusconi's be different from anything you've done before?: I have worked in fine dining establishments my whole career. Recently resorts. We'll be much more down to earth and less pretentious with a very affordable price point. Also, I get to focus more on feeding Phoenicians, instead of just travelers.
Drawing from your own experiences dining out, how much of the overall impression of a restaurant is based on food and how much on everything else?: Service is the biggest element, I think. Food seems to come second, or why else would there be so many average restaurants?
Favorite dish at a local restaurant other than your own: Any dish Jared Porter does at The Parlor is great. Order his current pasta dish.
What did you take away from your experience at Lon's?: That I can do anything I put my mind to. There's a ton of hard work that goes into opening your own restaurant. I really beefed up my tenacity at Lon's.
Name one chef who mentored you and what you learned from that person: I can't name just one, but Alex Stratta and Vincent Guerithault both taught me great cooking technique and showed me the difference between good food and great food. They also taught me how to take care of guests.
Best thing about being a chef: I get to meet some very interesting people both behind the scenes and in the dining room. There are people who have followed me from restaurant to restaurant, and I cherish their friendships!
Pet peeve when you're dining out: I hate when a server comes to the table and interrupts your conversation frequently. Give me some space to enjoy the meal and the company!
Pet peeve in your own restaurant/kitchen: Move faster, act like you're in a hurry, and for God's sake clean up after yourself!
Last meal on earth -- what would it be?: I'd have Monaco Monte Carlo at Alain Ducasse's restaurant. No question about that!
What should be written on your tombstone?: Devoted husband and father. My life is devoted to cooking, but my spirit is devoted to my family.
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Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles