With a hit television show, a new digital venture and, oh yeah, that restaurant she runs in Brookside, chef Celina Tio is certainly busy these days.
Fat City caught up with Tio to talk about how she came to open Julian in Kansas City. Today, she's sharing what it's like when the cameras stop rolling and why she's smitten with seafood. Tomorrow, she'll share her latest technological forays and plans.
What are your culinary inspirations? It's hard to say. I grab inspiration from all sorts of things. The smell of a flower might remind me of a time in my life. Music and food take people to special points in time. I'll go out to other restaurants when I'm traveling.
Every time we change the menu, we list the proteins and talk about what's in season. Everybody has different styles, but guests have come to expect my style, so I make sure to reign it in.
What's your favorite ingredient? Seafood, any seafood. It's so delicate.
What was your best recent food find? I was in Iceland and I had a langoustine sandwich. It was with carmelized onions and a remoulade sauce. And delicious french fries. They were thick-cut. I like my french fries to have potato on the inside. It's either got to be one or the other. If you're Durkee potato sticks, own that. They're all delicious. That's the kind of food that excites me. It's feel-good food.
What's your favorite local ingredient? There are a lot of yummy things here. Shatto milk, though -- that root beer milk is pretty good.
What's one food you hate? Fermented shark from Iceland. It's awful. It's like somebody took a skate wing that's been around too long and fermented in ammonia. I tell people if they want to make it, they should take a piece of halibut, put it in a multiple-cat litter box for two weeks. Then dry it and put it in a jar for two more weeks. The only good part was, I got to take a shot of Brennivin [Iceland's signature Schnapps].
What's one food you love? Other than french fries? [Laughs.]
What's never in your kitchen? Food as of late because I 'm
What's always in your kitchen? Nice olive oil and nice salt. I have different kinds of Fleur de Sel, including some from France brought to me by friends, and Himalayan rock salt.
What's it like when the cameras stop rolling? You go back to the green room, although we didn't have a lot of downtime. I think the longest I was there was two hours waiting for the deliberation to be over. [Top Chef cheftestant] Nikki [Cascone] said they sat in the stew room once for eight hours. They were back there making beds out of plastic wrap.
Do you enjoy the pressure of cooking on television? Is enjoy even the right word? Enjoy is not the right word. You tolerate it. I enjoy production. I really love that the whole thing is exactly like a kitchen. It's a whole bunch of people moving around, working a bunch of hours to get this little product out. The mise en place just happens to be people.
What surprised you about the chefs or judges? I went in with a different attitude than everybody else. I know my job and I know that everyone else has their job. The critic's job is to critique my food. On Top Chef and The Next Iron Chef, they never told me something I didn't already know about the dish. I know the 10 things that were wrong with a dish when they call me on something. I'm there to have fun and make money for my charity [Harvesters].
Have your television appearances changed your restaurant or the expectations of diners? Certainly. They don't always expect a casual neighborhood restaurant. They expect the food from Iron Chef. But if you're going to come here, you should at least read up on the place. The crazy thing was, on a Monday, we had 16 different states represented here. Then I was in Manhattan -- New York -- and I was recognized on the street. At my hotel in Los Angeles, a guy working there was like 'Chef Tio.' It's surreal.
If you eat out, where are you eating out? Blanc for the sliders or lentil burger (sauteed, not fried) and beer. Spin for the eight-color salad and a pizza. At Extra Virgin, I'll have the pig ear salad or octopus salad. I really like trying any local chef/restaurant's food.
Who's got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? Oklahoma Joe's for the Carolina Style Z-Man and the chicken gumbo
A chef is only as good as ... his or her team. If your team doesn't have passion and share your vision, I think you can taste it in the food.