On the Line: Ryan Carson of AnQi By Crustacean, Part One

Categories: On the Line
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Photo by Laila Derakhshanian

This week's featured chef for On the Line had a lot to say, and it shows. AnQi's Ryan Carson's thoughts on kitchen conduct and community are thoughtful, and his food choices (chilaquiles, fish sauce, chicken oysters) show just how diverse his taste is. Stay tuned for more stories from our eight-page(!) interview.

What are six words that describe your food?
Refined, playful, nostalgic, balanced, sustainable, nouveau.

What are eight words that describe you?
Innovative, methodical, brash, impervious, dedicated, artistic, relentless, authentic.

Your best recent food find:

Nước mă'm (fish sauce). It's not necessarily a recent food find, but more of a revisit that [Crustacean chef] Helene An is responsible for. I've fallen in love with its wonderful salt quality. Vietnamese cultures often use it in place of salt. It's always challenging to go out of your comfort zone and use offbeat products to replace traditional ones.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Chicken oysters. They are two small, round pieces of dark meat on the back of poultry near the thigh, in the hollow on the dorsal side of the ilium bone. In French, this part of the bird is called "sot-l'y-laisse" which translates, roughly, to "the fool leaves it there," as unskilled butchers and chefs sometimes accidentally leave it on the skeleton. At AnQi, we serve a chicken oyster curry.

Rules of conduct in your kitchen:
I expect my kitchen to be efficient, clean and well-organized. My cooks are skillful, knowledgeable and willing to go that extra mile to make the restaurant and the food magnificent. That's what makes good restaurants excellent.

Also, in my kitchen, I think it is very necessary to have a respectful family environment because, realistically, as a chef or cook, you probably see your kitchen "family" more often than your own family. The restaurant business is built around long hours, passionate people, high tempers, high levels of stress and a fast-paced environment. So in order to be able to maintain a level of excellence, everyone must treat one another with respect and love one another like family. Otherwise, that 12-hour shift will feel like 20.

One food you detest:
I wouldn't say I detest any food. As a chef, I respect all ingredients and realize that all food has a use, as long as you have an understanding of its flavor. I actually enjoy using obscure products to make a great dish.

One food you can't live without:
It's funny--had you asked me that two years ago, I would have said butter, thyme or garlic, but ever since I met chef Helene An, I would have to say quinzoi and tiato herb. They are her favorite Vietnamese herbs, and I have adopted them as my own personal favorite.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
I honestly think it has the best "community of chefs." While there's always going to be a competitive nature among chefs, it always seems that we're all willing to band together for the better of the community by doing philanthropic events and helping one another responsibly source product as to be more eco-friendly and sustainable. You won't find that amount of camaraderie in most cities.

What fast food do you admit to eating?
Well, I've recently given up fast food completely, but the closest to fast food would be El Gallo Giro in Santa Ana. The quality is top-notch, and it's just as fast as any fast-food restaurant.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Keep things simple. The beauty of cooking at home is that you don't have all the pressures and demands a professional kitchen has. It should be a therapeutic experience, and it should be entered with love and passion for the food or not at all.

After-work hangout:
Well, I live in downtown Fullerton, so more often than not, I find myself enjoying a drink at the Continental or Roscoe's.

Favorite celebrity chef:
There are two: Wylie Dufresne and Paul Liebrandt. I find their approaches to food very refreshing. They have respect for culinary traditions and passion for the future of food. They're throwing out the rule book, but they know what the rule book contains. It's truly inspiring.

Celebrity chef who should shut up:
Marcel Vigneron. . . .

Favorite music to cook by:
Well, I love music almost as much as I love cooking, so the list could go on for days. But if I had to pick a few, I would say Social Distortion, the Clash, Morrissey, Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, Hank Williams, Rancid or Johnny Cash.

Best food city in America:
San Francisco. The amount of cultures that are compressed into that city make for a diverse and exceptional food experience. The city is a chef's dream that is inhibited with people who truly love food.

What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Sustainability. . . . It is very important to the Earth and humankind's well-being. I want my children's children to enjoy some tasty oysters, fish, cantaloupe, potatoes, tomatoes, etc. But at the rate we're going, the future looks grim. As chefs, we have a responsibility and a duty to uphold the utmost respect for our food.

We cater to many people every year--at AnQi alone, we serve 120,000 people per year. We have an opportunity to set an example and present this agenda for such a large audience. We strive to use recycled paper for our menus and use only responsibly sourced fish, produce and livestock if we are to survive and outlive this expiration date that we have blindly set on this world.

What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Less restaurants that cater to the masses. There's only so much Caesar salad, steak and potatoes, and chocolate cake that diners in Orange County can take. Not to say that I would like to see more trendy restaurants, but at least something with more innovation, passion and love for food.  

Favorite cookbooks:
The Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal; A Day at El Buli by Ferran Adrià, Juli Soler and Albert Adrià; Alinea by Grant Achatz; Lessons In Excellence From Charlie Trotter by Paul Clarke; Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide by Thomas Keller; The French Laundry Cookbook by Keller; On the Line by Eric Ripert; Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten; and The Flavor Bible by Karen Page.

When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Either I'm spending time with my wonderful girlfriend, Joanna Hernandez, or I'm taking over the living room, spread with cookbooks and pads of paper, trying to brainstorm, conceptualize and develop new menus.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Balut, a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled and eaten in the shell. . . . I think the description tells it all.

You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Chilaquiles--they're delicious.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Two whole chickens. There's nothing better than a perfectly roasted chicken. . . . It's very nostalgic for me.  

Weirdest customer request:
I once had a customer ask that I cook her rib-eye to exactly 128 degrees Fahrenheit. She even brought her own thermometer to double-check. It was quite odd.

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