Foodie Talk: Peter Chastain
The longtime chef of Prima Ristorante discusses his perfect meal, great cooking advice, and naked chefs in the kitchen.
This Tuesday in our new weekly foodie profile series, we chat with Peter Chastain from Walnut Creek's Prima Ristorante. The Berkeley-native cut his cooking chops in San Francisco during the same era as such legendary chefs as Jeremiah Tower, Mario Batali, and Michael Mina, and has been dishing out deceptively simple, rustic Italian fare at his perennial Diablo Food Award–winning restaurant since 1999.
1. What inspired you to become a chef?
My family kitchen and table when I was young, good first experiences in restaurant kitchens starting when I was 12, and lucky encounters and experiences with very professional chefs/employers just out of high school and as a young adult.
2. Describe your perfect meal?
It's more about the pace and the company than the menu, I think: family, friends, lack of pretense or particular occasion—we'd take our sweet time. If it were today (early October), we might eat:
1st: Heirloom tomatoes with burrata, anchovies, black pepper, extra virgin oil, and sweet batard bread from Acme.
2nd: Orrechiette with summer squash, garlic, hot pepper, mint, and pecorino romano.
3rd: Rabbit braised with chanterelles and buttered corona beans.
4th: Figs and Parmigiano Reggiano.
5th: Pistachio gelato...
And we'd drink Falanghina, Sangiovese, Passito di Pantelleria, coffee, and grappa.
3. What’s your go-to restaurant (other than your own)?
Ajanta in Berkeley. Hawker Fare in Oakland. Dopo in Piedmont.
4. Is your food philosophy more Anthony Bourdain or Alice Waters?
Alice Waters, if I have to choose. (Does Bourdain have a philosophy?) I'd rather not choose to line-up behind someone, though. Sound bites are tough, but I've been cooking and studying culinary history for 40 years. "Food philosophy" in this context seems like more of a branding or marketing effort than something thought about with substance.
5. What’s the best cooking advice you ever received?
Keep it simple: God gave us food, the devil gave us cooks.
6. What’s one tip you could give diners about ordering at a restaurant?
Don't be a critic; be a guest. Set your dial to "enjoy" and order things you think you'll like—not things you think you should like.
7. What’s the weirdest custom order you’ve ever gotten?
Someone once asked me to purée calves' liver in a blender for them.
8. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen happen in the kitchen?
I saw a guy, when fired on the spot and told to turn in his uniform, take it all off and walk out naked. The strangest thing about it was how natural he made it feel.
9. What do you drink at home: Wine or beer?
Mostly wine. The occasional beer...
10. What’s on your playlist when you cook?
Jazz, blues, opera...
Prima Ristorante, 1522 North Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-7780, primaristorante.com. Foodie Talk appears every Tuesday on Diablomag.com. Return next week to get to know another East Bay chef.