Hanging Out In and Out of the Kitchen with Chef Chris Cosentino

Meet Chef Chris Cosentino. Born and raised in Rhode Island's Italian-American community, his rise through the culinary world has been prodigious and lauded. Chris was one of the first to bring acclaim to each and every bit of nose-to-tail cooking. A winner of Top Chef Masters, Chris is one of the busiest chefs you'll meet; with a life-long love of the outdoors, his constant grind work ethic sees him in partnerships with apparel brands, skate brands, naturally knife and food brands, and more.

You have an outgoing style that people see and experience in first meeting you. It extends to your restaurants, your partnerships, and your cooking style. What do you suppose are the top three influences in your life?

That's such a hard thing to narrow down to only three, but I'll do my best.

Skateboarding was a huge part of my growing up. The ability to be a part of a group of like-minded individuals who are still all uniquely different was great. Skating gave me focus and perseverance, and a strong sense of being myself. It helped shape the person I am today by teaching me to never give up -- just keep getting back up and trying no matter how many times you fall down. Dust yourself off and do it again until you get it right.

Culinarily, there are so many chefs and experiences that have influenced me, my life, and the way I cook. The chef whom I still look to for guidance and direction to this day is Mark Miller, the first big name chef I worked for. He taught me so much about food, flavor, the history of cuisine, the origin of ingredients, and the importance of knowing all these things, as well as how to build dishes and achieve flavor balance in food. Without his guidance and mentorship, I am sure I would be a very different chef than I am today.

Anthony Bourdain showed me that anything was possible. For a young cook he was a guide to parts of the world that I always dreamed of going but wasn't sure I would ever see with my own eyes. As my career grew, I eventually became friends with Tony and we were able to collaborate on many events, meals, and shows. His untimely death rocked me and cooks everywhere. It made many of us take a really hard look at ourselves and address and speak out about mental health in an open and healthy way without fear or shame. I miss him daily.

Above, Chris high in the Rockies at the 24 hour Montezuma's Revenge mountain bike race.

You’re a long-time cyclist. What has been your involvement in the sport over the years?

Right after I graduated from college, I had reconstructive knee surgery. My doctor suggested cycling as part of my rehab, so I started mountain biking and I immediately loved it. Then I moved to DC for work and I got my first track bike to commute around the city. A few months later, my girlfriend and now wife introduced me to a group of folks who were planning to race in the 24 Hours of Canaan in West Virginia. I joined a 4-person team and that was my very first bike race, kind of a crazy way to start. That is where I saw John Stamsted, the true endurance legend and mountain bike hall of famer, compete in the race solo. After moving to San Francisco, I started riding single speed only, and then got into 24-hour solo single speed racing. I raced in quite a few 24-hour events around the country as well as Leadville 100 and Montezuma’s Revenge where I was the first single speed racer to finish the 24 hours, completing 7 loops. I won the 24 Hours of Tahoe solo category on a single speed competing against geared racers. In total I raced 22 solo 24-hour events all on single speed. 

After a few years of racing, I realized I needed to focus all my energies on my culinary career, but I kept cycling for fun. I started riding in fondos, charity events, and local race series whenever I can. Every year I participate in ChefsCycle to raise money for No Kid Hungry and I am a partner in CampoVelo, aka the “Foodie Fondo” in Napa Valley. Ultimately, I am an old guy chasing my bike racing past, all while having fun doing as many fun cycling events with my friends as I can.

You've earned a reputation for embracing offal -- the guts, as you call it! Were you always interested in this style of cuisine?

As a kid I wasn’t interested in eating offal. I was like every other kid who wanted pizza and pasta or traditional New England classics. In culinary school we focused on cuisines of the world, but offal cookery was never part of the training. When I started working in restaurants I saw offal on the menus, but mostly foie gras and sweetbreads. I was fascinated with why some cuts of meat were considered delicacies but others were not. This led me down a path of personal education on offal and how to cook and serve the various cuts. I discovered that offal is a huge part of cuisine all over the world, and it’s also nutritious and sustainable. For a lot of people these cuts are scary and unappealing, but my goal has been to make them more accessible as normal affordable, delicious, and healthy protein options.

We think maple pairs well with everything. Speaking to another New Englander, we don't think you'll disagree. What are your favorite maple pairings?

Growing up in New England, maple was always a part of breakfast but there are no wrong answers. I like it in my coffee. There are the obvious choices of maple cured bacon and pancakes or over berries or in ice cream, but then you can get more interesting with food choices. Maple aioli on a spicy fried chicken sandwich is great or even better, instead of hot honey fried chicken, try spicy maple syrup. It's delicious.

The foundation of UnTapped is its simplicity as it relates to sports nutrition. What are the simplest ways you incorporate maple syrup into the kitchen? 

Ok so I have a recipe for an amazing maple glaze that will add a sweet & spicy deliciousness to lots of dishes. It works for different meats, like grilled or fried chicken, chicken wings, pork belly, or pork shoulder. It’s also great for grilled carrots or roasted heads of cauliflower. I have to warn you, it’s addicting! (Find the Maple Pepper Glaze recipe here.)

The life of a professional chef is full gas at all hours of the day and you're among the leaders in doing it all. What do you do to wind down? 

I like to ride my bike. I ski Telemark in the winter. This last year I’ve had a lot more time to cook dinner for my family and find some TV we all like i.e. the Mandolorian, Ted Lasso.

Thanks so much for the time. See you out on the roads Chef!