Chef News

Christopher Gross of Christopher's Restaurant & Crush Lounge, Part Two

Yesterday we heard from Chef Christopher Gross. Today, the conversation continues.

Chef Christopher Gross may be a picky eater, but there's one thing he's famous for that a lot of people won't even touch: Foie gras. His favorite ingredient have earned him a lot of flak and a handful of protests from animal rights activists and Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge our vote for Best Foie Gras in the Valley.

When he's not whipping up controversial French delicacies, you might be surprised to find Gross racing his motorcycle in Superbike. It's one step up from motocross, the thing that led him into the restaurant business in the first place.

"We didn't have a lot of money, and the next-door neighbors all raced motocross, so I wanted a motorcycle," Gross says. "My first job was at 13: I worked at 31 Flavors on Central and Camelback."

Luckily for our appetites (and his mother's peace of mind), Gross has never been seriously injured on his bike. But now that he can fit back in his suit, he's planning to take to the raceway again in November. We're keeping our fingers crossed...

Today Gross tells us about his closest call on his bike, the reason he's not backing down on the foie gras front despite protestors and his secret for preparing it, plus the movies he's watching at home.

Any serious motocross accidents? No, I've been lucky. I've never really hurt myself. About a year and a half ago, I was doing some things I shouldn't have been doing. There were some guys on bigger bikes that were faster in the straightaway, but then they would all pile up in the corner and you couldn't get by them. I think I was probably saying things I shouldn't say in my helmet, and when I came around the corner I just threw the bike down, but I kept going. I probably slid about 40 feet, but no damage. On the shoulder there's a carbon fiber and a titanium plate, and the titanium plate was sanded down into the carbon fiber into the leather. But I was okay, the bike was still okay, and I was ready to go in the next session.

Least favorite ingredient? Mustard.

Favorite? Foie gras. Is that an ingredient? My favorite thing to eat is a simple roast chicken. If it's done right, that's the best.

So what's the deal on all the foie gras protests? I think we've had six. I'm always very nice to them on the phone. First, I always ask "Are you a vegetarian?," which is okay. They usually say yes. And then my second question is "Do you eat eggs?" They say, "Yes." I say, "You should go to an egg farm. The ducks on the foie gras farms in the U.S. are at the Ritz or Four Seasons or Biltmore whereas the chickens at the egg farms are at a sleazy hotel on Van Buren. There's a great book that a journalist wrote, not having any opinion called The Foie Gras Wars. It's a great book that got started from Charlie Trotter in Chicago not using foie gras anymore, and another chef in Chicago said he was stupid. And it went to New York and Los Angeles. Basically it just says it's the easy in to get legislation to start on other things, because a. most people don't know what foie gras is and b. if they do, they've never had it.

What's the trick to preparing foie gras? Doing as little as possible to it, and not overcooking it. Two many people overcook it. I make a joke if I have a new cook working, and they haven't dealt with it a lot, and tell them it's not a piece of fried bologna. It has to be kind of medium rare inside. It's also $40 a pound, so you don't want to mess it up.

Famous chef you'd like to cook with? There's a lots of kitchens I'd like to play in? He's a friend, but he's probably one of the chefs I admire the most: Michel Richard at Citronelle in D.C. He's quite a genius I think. And so many of his techniques or creations are in other people's kitchens, but they just don't know where they came from. I've known him for a long time, and one of the first times I went back to LA for a few days, and I was sneaking into his restaurant La Citrus one day. When he saw me he grabbed me and said, "You're having lunch with me today." He had a glass wall so you could see into the kitchen, and he got his chef to do a cooking demo on the other side of the wall, showing so many tricks and techniques. One time, I was with him, he said, "This is a great potato to make: 4-1-1. Four parts potato, one part egg white, and one part butter. It's like homemade Pringles." So I was using it. And in the Julia Child cookbook, when we were at her house filming, I said to the producer, "I have to say I was having lunch with Michel Richard, and he gave me this recipe." Then, after the book came out, we were doing a trip to Italy and all met in New York. And we were waiting for Michel. And the first thing he said was "I saw the book, and you put my name on there. Nobody puts my name on anything! They just say they did it." He was pretty happy.

If you're not cooking, we could find you... Eating somewhere else, at home watching a movie, or out of town.

What types of movies do you watch? Foreign films. The last movie my girlfriend and I saw was called Gloomy Sunday. It was a German film shot in Budapest, about the song Gloomy Sunday written in Budapest and attributed to a lot of suicides. Favorite movies are anything from Pulp Fiction to Forest Gump to Schindler's List.

What's in the kitchen at home? Olive oil. Pasta. Butter. Chicken stock. Then all you need is something to put with it.

Any star struck moments? Jean Louis Palladin. I think the first time meeting him. I got to know him, and we did a few events together. He was great. He was one of the first French guys to come over and really do what they were doing in France here, not being manipulated. He did use mostly American product. He was a brilliant guy.

Most memorable meal ever? The one I remember is when I was working in North Scottsdale at Le Relais with Jerry Nelson. We would close for three months out of the year, and he would give me a little traveling expense to go to France, work for a month and then go out and eat. There's one dinner I remember from Joël Robuchon. He was kind of the king of all chefs, like they might say Alain Ducasse or Ferran Adrià at El Bulli in Spain is now. The food was very, very ornate with a lot of steps, very intricate. I kinda went going this is going to be too much fuss for it to be really ultra-fantastic, and it really, really was fantastic. On the same trip, I went to a three-star restaurant in Lyon (possibly Alain Chapel's), but the guy looked like he could be the meanest guy in the world. I was working as a pastry chef, because a friend of mine's dad was a pastry chef outside of Lyon. We went there for dinner, and we sat down in the lounge and [the chef] came and sat down with us: a cook that used to work for him, the pastry chef, his wife and myself. And the chef asked us all, "What are you going to eat?" He first went to the old cook, the cook told him, and he said, "No, no, you can't have that." Then he went to the pastry chef and said, "That's okay, but what're you going to have to drink?" The pastry chef told him and he said, "No, you can't have that." Then, went to his wife, and same thing. Then he came to me, and I said, "I'm going to have the langoustine and the squab." And he said, "That's good." I felt like I was ordained or something.

(This is our second installment of Chef Chat with Gross. Check out part one for more about his picky eating habits and his worldly travels and check back Thursday for his signature chocolate tower recipe.)

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Hannah E Williams