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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Q&A with SPQR's Matthew Accarrino, Part 2: The Forthcoming Cookbook

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 11:00 AM

SPQR's chef, Matthew Accarrino. - ALANNA HALE
  • Alanna Hale
  • SPQR's chef, Matthew Accarrino.

Yesterday, SFoodie began reproducing some of the highlights of our interview with Matthew Accarrino, chef of SPQR. In part 1 of the interview, Accarrino talked about realizing San Francisco's produce was as good as its reputation and getting better acquainted with cucumbers. Tomorrow, he'll pass on a recipe. Today, he discusses how his menu is like a bulldozer.

SFoodie: How often does does SPQR's menu change?

Almost every day. I liken it to the tracks on a bulldozer: the last one picks up as the next one goes down. So as the menu is moving along there is always something coming off and something coming on, but the majority of things are in place.

How would you describe your menu?

My menu is a modern approach to Italian-inspired food made by an American chef. I've very aware of the ingredients that are here. If I'm cooking in California, I look for spot prawns, sea urchin, local produce and local cheeses. Even though this restaurant is Italian we use American-manufactured prosciutto. I have a company in Wisconsin that's making Italian-style cheeses. A lot of things are Italian in style but the ingredients are coming from America, so you're kind of cognizant of where you are. It's not just local for local's sake, because local doesn't always mean better. But maybe it's more evocative of where we are.

Do you have an item on there now that exemplifies your approach to food?

Well...we're doing a sea urchin panna cotta with cucumbers that we marinate with salt and sugar and then dress with lemon juice. We use a marscapone that we treat kind of like yogurt, and then I do a chickpea thing that's kind of like a falafel, basically. It's chickpeas, soaked, with ceci beans that we grind with onion and herbs and make what's like a little cake that we then fry.

You end up with this sea urchin panna cotta, which is soft but tastes of sea urchin, and then you have this marscapone that's a little bit acidic but also creamy. The cucumbers are a little sweet and sour and well-seasoned, and then the dish is finished with amaranth greens. It's not exactly what you would expect from Italian food, but it's local product, it's prepared freshly, there's contrast of texture, there's contrast of flavor, acidity - even contrast of temperature on the same plate.

San Francisco seems to be a city in love with Italian food. What do you think of the proliferation of all the Italian restaurants in San Francisco?

I think that there are people who are really inspired by regional cooking, who want to go for being authentic, and I think there's nothing wrong with it. The most important thing in any restaurant is is the food good or not? Does it taste good? How you get there really doesn't matter.

SPQR's sea urchin panna cotta. - ALANNA HALE
  • Alanna Hale
  • SPQR's sea urchin panna cotta.

What's next for you?

We're doing a cookbook with Ten Speed Press that will be coming out next fall. It's sort of involving my Italian point of view with an American lens. There are going to be recipes and Shelly [Lindgren], the wine director both here and at A16, is doing a wine portion in the book focusing on Northern Italian wines.

Did you have recipes in your arsenal that you knew you wanted to use or were you generating new material for this book?

The book is sort of a snapshot in time. You never really realize what the process of writing a book is. I'm not old enough to have a big, long greatest hits; a cadre that has to be in there. New ideas come all the time. We work a lot with recipes in my kitchen, and every time we make a new dish it's written down with everything measured out in grams. It was good that I already worked that way. But now I'm transcribing grams into cups into ounces. I think the more guidance you have on a ratio the better something is going to turn out. It's hard to say "10 sea urchin roe." God doesn't create those things uniformly.

Alanna Hale is a writer and photographer whose work can be found at

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie.

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