Chef News

Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot, Part Two

Yesterday, we heard from Chef Chrysa Robertson; today the conversation continues.

Chef Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot is a true Italian chef; why, you ask? "I always make way too much food!" Robertson laughs.

As the oldest of five siblings, she started making family dinners when her mom went back to work. Meals ranged from simple spaghetti to the "more exotic" Asiago cheese breaded chicken breasts.

The one table rule at the Robertson house: You couldn't leave until you ate your salad.

"Salad was always served after," Robertson says, as is Italian tradition. "My grandfather grew all the greens, he lived across the alley, so we always had to go over and get the lettuce."

"I've always loved the region my grandparents were from - the Friuli region in the northeast," Robertson says.

Today she tells us about her first nerve-racking Italian feast, sweetbreads and all; her embarrassing fryer oil incident three days into a job, and the one addictive snack that always does her in. A lifelong cook, Robertson's had her fair share of restaurant disasters and tough lessons, but she's got a bone to pick with parents of poor eaters.

Click through for the parenting advice Robertson says will put her in hot water.

First memory of cooking? Outside of cooking for my family, when I was first out on my own, I did a big extravagant Italian dinner for my first husband's family. I made Bolognaise sauce - it took me all day. I handmade hundreds of little tortellini. It was the first time I ever cooked sweetbreads. There were sweetbreads, some pork, and beef. It was quite an ordeal, turned out good though.

What's your favorite place to eat in Italy? I love the Friuli region. I've been three times. We use this book by Faith Willinger, Eating in Italy. We must have eaten at dozens of restaurants, and there was not a bad one in there. I especially like when you find these little hill towns with these tiny restaurants, and you're the only ones in there, and there's some old woman in the back cooking. It's usually the best stuff.

Hardest kitchen lesson? When I went to work at Campanile in Los Angeles, I moved from here, and it was my second real kitchen cook job. Going over, I was very cocky. I thought I knew how to cook. And my first night there was the most humbling experience of my life. We did about 300 covers. I was in pantry, and I was just terrified. I've never worked so hard and so fast in my entire life. And I just realized I didn't know anything at that point.

Any major kitchen disasters? Oh yes. [Laughing.] I don't know if you remember the restaurant Roxanne, but I was working lunch. And I remember the guy's name [who I was working with]: Todd. And Todd and I were cooking lunch, I think it was my second or third day, and we had to change the fryer oil. And I said, "Well, what do we put it in?" And he said, "We just put it in these buckets." I said, "But it's really hot, and it'll melt." He said, "No, it's been off long enough. It'll be cool enough." So I proceeded to empty all this fryer grease into these five gallon buckets, and it wasn't really hot, but all of the sudden, I stood there and to my horror, the bottom starts ballooning out. And gallons and gallons of fryer fat went all over the floor. And of course he blamed me. [Laughing.] Oh God, that was the worst. Did you have to clean it up? Yeah, we both had to clean it up. I was so embarrassed. But then the guy got fired a couple days later, I don't know why!

Any famous chef you'd like to cook with? I think Jamie Oliver. I love his food and his excitement and how he cooks, based strictly on his books and the British TV show he had. I love that he's trying to get kids to eat better.

What would you recommend for parents of picky eaters? That is the most frustrating topic for me. I don't have kids, but you can't say I'm not a child-lover: I have nieces and nephews. They say single people make the best parents, so I can sit here all day and say this is what you should do. But buying into their whining and feeding them fast food creates terrible habits and they're very hard break. I guess you as a parent have to make a commitment to getting your kids to eat other things. You're the parent. Ugh, that's gonna get me in trouble! I love kids that come in and eat well; they try things. I just love that. It drives me crazy when they come in and they want refined white flour, pasta, and butter.

What're some of the things your nieces and nephews request on the holidays? Well, I do most of the cooking. They don't really ask me for anything, but they help a lot. They love to help make the pies. My mom makes most of the pies, but we all just get together one night and just do them all. That's fun for them.

What's your favorite pie? I love pumpkin pie. Love it. Love it. Love it. You either love it or hate it.

Any fast food indulgences? No, I really don't eat fast food. I love potato chips, my downfall. The good ones though, kettle cooked. Love those.

What's your favorite dish to make? Oh you can't ask me that! I don't know. Well, we have a mesquite grill here at Rancho Pinot, and I'm a huge champion of real wood and charcoal. I'm definitely anti-gas grill. I love the way the grill makes anything taste. I'm not a burger fan, but I love grilled fish and grilled lamb on there. Just anything. I like very simple things, myself.

This is our second installment of our Chef Chat with Robertson. Check out part one for more on gardening, chicken rearing and keg wine, and check back tomorrow for an easy good-for-you recipe from Robertson that might up your (and your kids') veggie intake.