World Chefs: Kapur reaches for fresh culinary expressions

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Ravi Kapur believes the time is ripe for chefs to take cooking to the next level and to go beyond using seasonally, locally-grown meats and vegetables.

Ravi Kapur is seen in an undated handout photo. REUTERS/Todd Parsons/Handout

Kapur, the head chef at the modern American restaurant Prospect in San Francisco, says what will set chefs apart is their creativity and making dishes that are all their own.

The 33-year-old Hawaiian native, who is a partner at Prospect with Nancy Oakes whom he worked with at the Michelin-star Boulevard, spoke to Reuters about his new restaurant, the future of cooking and being his own boss.

Q: Has your Hawaiian background influenced your cooking?

A: “The influence of the gathering around the table and dining together is very important. Cooking together is also important. Being exposed to a variety of Asian cuisines from a young age has allowed my palette to be sensitive to those things and understand where they come from. I do have a lot of dishes with Asian components in them.”

Q: What is it like being an executive chef and co-owner at a restaurant for the first time?

A: “It’s a lot of pressure, I won’t lie, to feed 250 people a night. You are trying to satisfy as many people as you can. When you have a 40-seat restaurant, you have a much higher chance of doing that. You are training your crew to embrace your vision and uphold your standards. It’s definitely the hardest undertaking I’ve taken on.”

Q: What is on the menu right now that reflects your culinary point of view?

A: “I think everything is a personal expression. It’s what cooking is. It’s all part of a story we are trying to tell. What is the reason to put something on the menu if it’s not personal.”

Q: So what is the story you are telling at Prospect?

A: “I think the movement right now is just trying to find our own regional cuisine. For long time, everyone wants to know what kind of food is it? And that question usually means is it Italian? Is it French? Is it Japanese?

“As cooks today, I think you need new words. I think we need a new vocabulary. I think everyone is trying to use the same vocabulary. There are different definitions to everybody. What is Italian food to you? To one person, it’s eggplant parmesan. To the other person, it’s hand-made artisanal pasta. To another person, it ‘s risotto. To another, it’s meatball. To another, it’s pizza.

“So we can’t be using the same language as we have been this whole time. So I’m hoping that the food is personal and they are not coming from recipes. They are dishes that are inspired, grounded in these ingredients and techniques and how do we cook them in a contemporary San Francisco sensibility.”

Q: How do you see chefs can distinguish themselves now?

A: “The playing field as far as access to ingredients has been leveled. Now it’s in the chef’s hands in what sets him apart. It’s not creating a meal that you could basically shop at the farmers market and you make it for yourself. So that’s the challenge and what sets chefs apart at this point. It’s an interesting time.”

Garlic roasted quail, local almond and fig salad, preserved lemon, tabouleh (Serves 4)

Roasted garlic vinaigrette

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup julienne fresh garlic

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

Marcona almond relish

1/2 cup roasted California marcona almonds, slivered

2 tablespoons finely diced preserved lemon

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil


1 tablespoon date syrup

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

6 fresh black mission figs


10 cloves confit garlic

1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper

1/2 tsp salt

4 semi-boneless quail, thigh bone removed and wing tips tucked under, rinsed and dried

Grape seed oil


1 tsp olive oil

1 cup cooked bulgur wheat

1 tablespoon chiffonade fresh parsley

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette: Warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil a small saute pan. Add the julienne garlic and cook until soft. Remove from heat and cool in a small bowl. When cool, whisk in the mustard, salt and white balsamic. Slowly whisk in the remaining olive oil and set aside.

Marcona Almond Relish: In a small bowl mix the almonds and preserved lemon together and season with salt and pepper. Mix with 1 tablespoon olive oil and reserve.

Figs: Whisk the date syrup and olive oil together season with salt and pepper and add figs. Toss gently and set aside. Figs should marinate for 15 minutes.

Quail: Gently mash the garlic cloves with the back of a knife and sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper and salt. Season the inside of the quail with salt and pepper. Open up the cavities of the birds and stuff with the mashed garlic mixture. Reshape the quail by plumping each breast and pushing the legs in toward the breast. Season the outside with salt.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat a thin film of grape seed oil in a large oven-proof non-stick skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the quail breast-side down and saute for about 2 minutes until golden brown. Turn over and baste the breast of the quail with the hot oil, continuing to cook for about a minute before placing the skillet in the oven to cook for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest in pan.

Tabouleh: In a small pan warm a teaspoon of olive oil and add the tabouleh. When warm, add a few tablespoons of the roasted garlic vinaigrette and reserve the rest for another use.

To Serve: Place a line of the tabouleh down the center of a dinner plate. Place a quail in the center and place the marinated figs on either side, two halves on one side and one on the other. Generously sprinkle the almond and preserved lemon relish over the figs and on top of the quail.

Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney