The Pitch sat down with chef Max Watson at Remedy recently to talk inspiration, ingredients and ice cream. The first part of our interview, in which he shared his start at Room 39 and cooking in an Airstream trailer, ran yesterday.
The Pitch: What's one food you hate?
Watson: I don't like black licorice. I just don't. It's the flavor. I like fennel. I like anise. I was a fussy eater growing up, and now I'm not a big fan of oysters - they make my mouth itch. But now that I'm older, I try to eat everything.
What's one food you love?
I really like vinegary stuff. That's my favorite flavor, tart vinegar. A wine taster stopped by and was selling some 32-year aged sherry vinegar. That was the best I've ever had. I was drinking it from my tasting glass. It's really such a heavy flavor on your tongue.
I like spicy stuff, too. A friend of mine on Facebook asked, what if each of the fingers on your hand could dispense a different condiment. I picked ketchup, mustard, Sriracha, a Mexican-style hot sauce, and my favorite barbecue sauce."
What's your favorite barbecue in town, and what are you ordering?
My favorite barbecue sauce is between Oklahoma Joe's and Gates. But I'll eat at Oklahoma Joe's. I don't like the name - we're not in Oklahoma - but they're the best barbecue. I get the Z-Man with spicy slaw and fries.
What's your guilty pleasure?
Ice cream. I'll eat way too much ice cream in any sitting. I really like pie. I wish we had the facilities here to do more pies.
Vinegar. We always have eight to 10 different types of vinegar, and beans, Rancho Gordo beans, and bacon.
Besides your own place, where do you like to eat?
The Rieger. I eat there a lot. I usually don't have the same dish twice. A lot of times, I'll just get the special. I did have the catfish po'boy twice in a row and I was pretty happy with it. The meatballs are good at the Jacobson. My kids' favorite is Winstead's. We'll get the chocolate skyscraper - everybody gets the chocolate skyscraper.
If you could steal one recipe in town off any menu, which one would you steal?
I wouldn't. It's just one of those things. You really don't do that. That's why you go there to eat.
What's one book that every chef should read?
I think Rick Bayless' first cookbook, One Plate at a Time. It was written so well, and he thinks about every detail. It's really about his process, how he focuses on flavors and combinations and the execution of dishes.
I met him once. My wife and I went to Chicago. We didn't have a lot of money. I was working at Room 39 at the time. And we eat at Frontera [Grill] for lunch and Topolobampo for dinner. My wife was very nice; she told me to not hold anything back. We got the tasting menu with all of the wine pairings. It was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had in a restaurant. I'd never seen service at that level. It was also probably the most we've ever spent at a restaurant.
We went to Macy's the next morning, and Rick Bayless had just opened up a concept in the food court. I wanted to eat everywhere that he had a place. We were sitting in the little section before they opened. And he showed up with spoons in his pocket. He went down and tasted every little thing, and then gave them a few tweaks. There he was at the food court, checking to make sure that everything was the way he wanted it. You have to be that way if you want to make it.
What's your dream drinking or eating destination?
Blue Hill at Stone Barns and the fact that they grow everything right there. They don't get anything from anywhere else. That's as perfect an example of a restaurant as you can have - you're in complete control of everything. That would be my ultimate.
A chef is only as good as ...
The people that work for him. If I could have a bunch of me back there cooking, it would be exactly what I wanted. Instead, I have to be able to explain what I need and want. And people have to be able to interpret that and execute it.
I like the vibe we have in our kitchen. I've hired a lot of young guys with no experience. To get good employees, it takes a lot of work upfront. But they're coming into their own now and starting to figure it out. We joke that it's like Hook, when Robin Williams is at the food fight and suddenly sees the food. When somebody does something without asking or has that aha moment, we say, "You're doing it, Peter."