Cafe Society

Rialto Cafe's Robert McCarthy on cooking better than a second-grader

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One book that every chef should read: The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. Most chefs have a ton of cookbooks, some business/motivation stuff and some brain candy. I think we could all benefit from a little more philosophy. And there aren't any books that I know of that better speak to the mindset of chefs and other creativity-based careers than this one.

You're making a pizza. What's on it? We actually make pizzas at home quite a bit. I like to keep it pretty simple: Let the dough rise real slow, make a nice tomato sauce and top it with whole-milk mozzarella, sea salt and black pepper. I put the pizza stone on the grill so that it can get really hot, and when it's done, I butter the crust and hit it with hot sauce and I'm good to go.

Guiltiest food pleasure? I don't know that I feel guilty about it, but I really love hot sauces. I have about fifteen different kinds in my house at any given time.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of? I have a wife and two kids, so I get at least two of everything.

Weirdest customer request: We usually get one good one just about every day, but the one that still gets me even now is the guy who asked for his steak medium rare, but insisted that there was no pink in the meat. I still don't really know what that means.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I once had a chef pull a sea urchin out of the dining-room fish tanks, cut it in half and hand it to me with a spoon. I've always been pretty adventurous, but I definitely surprised myself a little when I didn't even hesitate to spoon it out and eat it.

Best culinary tip for a home cook: Try to work without recipes; they're like a crutch. Decide what you want to make, think about what you already know about making it, come up with a plan and a time frame -- and just go for it. If it sucks, just order a pizza, and while you're chowing on that, try to figure out what you did wrong in the recipe and try again. When you really nail a dish, you'll get hooked on the feeling.

If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Patrick Clark or Jonathan Waxman. Both of them make really soulful food from the heart, which is what I've always tried to do. They're the kind of chefs whose opinion of my food would really matter to me.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson