SFoodie: On your blog, Hot Food Porn, you've been really outspoken about how the kind of California bistro cooking at places like Chez Panisse or Zuni just doesn't interest you, or younger chefs like you. Do you still feel that way now that you're in charge of a café kitchen?
Lau: It's not quite like that. It's that I feel that in this wonderful city, I love, love, love that style of cooking, I'm a big fan of some of those restaurants, I feel the there are enough of them out there that do that job unbelievably well: Range, Nopa, Boulevard. It doesn't make sense to have another one out there. There's other frontiers out there. The important part to say is that while I love that style of cooking ― I love classic French ― it really becomes this idea of trying to do different things, making things interesting, more primal, a little more tongue in cheek, having fun with items. I've tried to get some of their influence ― certain restaurants that do this Guitar Hero thing with primal meat, these guys out there that know what they want and don't care if it's over the top, don't fall under the pressure to conform.
What places are you talking about, exactly?
Le Pigeon in Portland. Au Pied de Cochon, Martin Picard's place in Montreal, Animal. I'm from Boston, and so I got to spend a bunch of time in Montreal. They have this style of cuisine that's not classic French but it has that bistro-brasserie element, but the cooking is so bold and heavy, so innately satisfying. That idea resonated with me a little bit. It's not just that I'm trying to do things along those lines, a lot of it is about reinterpretation with what I can do here. But I don't think anything we're doing at the Summit is so different that it will blow minds.
Do you think fun is missing from most restaurants in this town?
I don't think it's always lacking. There's enough people that have a lot of fun and do unbelievably creative things, people I don't dare compare myself to. But sometimes there's situational areas where certain people wish they could do certain things because its not always accessible. In a full-scale restaurant you need so many elements: payroll is so expensive, there's this pressure to put together ― not pressure ― there's the need and the emphasis to put together great, great product. I think that adds up and that starts to limit what some people can do. And it kind of omits what they might want to do. The competition affects it too. That's just a point of reality.
For a long time at Hot Food Porn you've been really outspoken in your opinions about food, chefs. Has being in charge of your own kitchen made you soften any of those opinions?
You mean will it come back to bite me in the ass? I'm not sure I've quite softened: You are who you are, you are who you say you are. It's definitely about putting your money where your mouth is. But the reality is, what kind of room you have, what kind of kitchen you have, this is an all-encompassing project. It's a lot more than putting together a lunch and dinner menu, it's about making sure everything is in line. How we approach our coffee, or how we approach our tea, finding the right people with dessert ― it's everything you didn't expect. I'm trying to have a very genuine and authentic approach to it, and not get too caught up by the other things that might be a distraction.
Do you see yourself as part of a generation of young chefs in this town, putting your stamp on the local food language?
I don't see myself that way at all ― I don't even see myself in the scheme of that realm. I don't think quite that far about it. But there are an unbelievable group of young chefs doing really awesome things. It's kind of a natural progression of things, even more so now. Sometimes I don't come off as if I'm in love with this new street-food scene, even though I actually really enjoy it ― it gives people the ability, the realm to put their talents in this whole new scheme of creativity, places with smaller names, exploring this other world: You don't have to have the restaurant to put together something new. Street food has its limitations ad fallbacks. You're going to start to have copycats ― Subway is doing food trucks ― and oversaturations. But those guys that set up on Thursday at the Ferry Building, they do really different things and it's always interesting. Ryan [Farr] has always been a mentor to me: 4505 is always fun, always high quality. [Hapa Ramen's] Richie [Nakano] is putting together great, great ramen ― it's been one of the better destinations for ramen in a city that doesn't have that many great ramen spots. There's definitely interesting things happening out there.