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Food Fight

The French Laundry and Benu alum Brandon Rosen tosses his toque in the ring on TV’s Top Chef competition.

Brandon Rosen

When it comes to high-end food, San Mateo’s Brandon Rosen has a lot in common with Bay Area entrepreneurs. The 30-year-old private chef has burned things, thrown them out and started from scratch. “You’re constantly reinventing your own ideas,” says the veteran of high-end eateries such as New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Napa Valley’s The French Laundry and San Francisco’s Benu. “Part of being a chef is failing on a regular basis.” Rosen, seen here at the bar at Quattro restaurant, adds: “That’s why dishes take so long to be amazing. There are so many layers of textures and balance.”

Experience (and toque) in hand, Rosen tried out for Top Chef, the Bravo reality cooking show, and made the cut. He competes in the show’s 16th season, which debuted in December and is set in Kentucky, with a finale in Macau in early March. From Michigan, the self-taught chef, whose parents ran a chocolate factory in his youth, describes his cooking style as progressive. He tends toward vegan with sustainable ingredients and mild proteins, and uses technique to elevate the experience. “Classic French fine dining food is fat, butter, dairy and heavy,” he says. “I make dishes similar to those at Eleven Madison Park, but instead of cream, I’ll use a pureed tofu cashew cream with the same body and lusciousness—and half the calories.” It’s something Silicon Valley’s young, forward-thinking executives appreciate, he says. “Everyone’s really pushing, not only for saving the planet and preserving the environment,” he says, “but also supporting a healthy diet and progress.” Was the competition—which allotted chefs from 30 minutes to three hours to come up with original dishes—even more pressure-filled than pleasing diners in Michelin-starred restaurants? Yes and no, he says, noting that “at The French Laundry, the menu changes every day,” but elsewhere, “a dish that goes in a tasting menu could be developed over weeks or a month—the refinement is a significant part of what makes fine dining what it is.” But even elite chefs crave simple things once in a while. “Nothing,” he confides, “beats a good burger.”

 

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco 

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