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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview with Commonwealth's Jason Fox

Posted By on Wed, Oct 13, 2010 at 2:00 PM

  • Eric Wolfinger
  • Jason Fox.
Eric Wolfinger
Jason Fox.
I never got to taste Jason Fox's food when he was chef at Bar Tartine -- he cooked there during my four-year stint in Seattle. Commonwealth, which Fox and his partners opened this summer, was my first encounter with his food. Before Bar Tartine, Fox had been chef de cusine at Scott Howard, and before that, Stinson Beach Park Cafe. He's been kicking around Bay Area kitchens for much longer than that. I took the conversation we had while I was writing this week's review as a catch-up session.

SFoodie: What were you doing in the interim between Bar Tartine (which Fox left last August) and Commonwealth (which opened this summer)?

Fox: Hanging out with my daughter and working on opening Commonwealth. We've been working on this since September -- looking for spaces, putting business plans together, etc. I did a little consulting and a couple of Mission Street Food dinners, but putting this together was almost a full-time job. All of us (chef de cuisine Ian Muntzert, GM Xelina Leyba, Anthony Myint) had worked together at Bar Tartine, and we had a shared vision of the restaurant we wanted to have.

So what is Commonwealth allowing you to do that you couldn't do at Bar Tartine?

I'm pretty proud at what we did at Bar Tartine. The modern cooking -- we were doing a lot of this stuff there. I'm always trying to evolve and get better. Noticeably, I guess I'm playing with more Asian ingredients, while Bar Tartine was more in the Mediterranean mindframe. We invested in a few more toys here. We've got a fancier vacuum machine, more circulators, so we're able to play around with the food a little more.

You're using a lot of -- well, let's call them less-common ingredients like pig ears, lamb's tongue, and the like. How are you able to use them and keep prices affordable?

Well, we're keeping prices affordable because we're using pig's ears and lamb's tongues. It's also being sustainable. We're using as much of the animal as we as can, and everything has its place. Fergus Henderson's nose to tail cooking was a huge influence on us. Plus these are the things that taste delicious. For me, a lamb tongue is more enjoyable than a filet mignon. It's a much more flavorful cut.

A couple of quick questions regarding the cooking techniques you used in a few of the dishes. How'd you make the fluffy, almost spongy idiazabal buttons on the tomato salad?

We make a fondue out of idiazabal cheese (a Basque sheep's milk cheese), cream, olive oil, and milk. The we set spoonfuls of it in a sodium alginate bath. When calcium meets sodium alginate, it forms a sort of gel. We tried to keep a balance between jiggly and firm.

What about the foie gras on the tasting menu. You described it as "cured." Was that prepared like a terrine?

Well, we packed lobes of raw foie gras with salt, cognac, and seasonings, and let it cure for two days. Then we re-formed it [into a tube] and sliced rounds of it to serve on the plate -- not quite raw, not quite cured.

What about the circular slices of guinea hen on the hen and prawns dish? Was that braised sous-vide?

Sometimes it's guinea hen, sometimes young hen, depending on the supplier. We brine the bird, then bone it out, and roll the meat into cylinders, using Activa or meat glue to form it. Then we poach the meat at medium-low temperature. And to order, we crisp the skin on the exterior in hot oil and butter.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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