Eric Gower is a San Francisco-based personal chef and cookbook author. He is also has a blog over at Yahoo! Food. Here he shares his approach to cooking, ingredients as well as shopping and dining around town.
1. How did living in Japan influence your cooking?
Japanese aesthetics, eating sequence, using chopsticks, caring about eating on great ceramics, eating seasonally .... all have been hugely influential. Each of those could get a multipage response, but if I had to break it down I'd say:
use good plates and bowls -- it's remarkable what a difference it makes
think about presentation, both on the plate and at the table -- use great materials and keep things exceedingly simple
lots of small courses are good! It's fun to make meals composed of small amounts of many different things
it's now become common sense, but eating what's in season makes a great deal of sense -- whatever your local farmers' market has the most of, buy in great quantity, and think of different things to do with your bounty.
2. How does your latest book The Breakaway Cook differ from your last book, The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen?
The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen focused on Japanese ingredients and my unorthodox "spins" on them. I used common Japanese ingredients like miso, green tea, umeboshi, shiitake, shiso, among others, and combined them in very simple ways with common staples like seasonal vegetables, meats and fish, pasta, and eggs. It is in no way a "Japanese" cookbook yet every recipe in it uses classic Japanese ingredients, all written with the home cook who has little experience with Japanese ingredients in mind. The recipes are vibrant and fresh, and tend to use quite a bit of fresh herbs, citrus, nuts, and fruit as key components of dishes, along with the Japanese ingredients and fresh produce.
The new book, The Breakaway Cook, uses a similar methodology--that is, common fresh produce and meats "woken up" with the judicious use of herbs, spices, citrus, fresh ginger, vinegars, and good oils--but instead of concentration only on Japanese ingredients I've opened it up to include key ingredients from a few other great culinary traditions, notably India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia).
The idea is to produce easy, delicious food at home by rethinking the quintessential flavors of countries with rich culinary traditions. We do this by capturing/applying those flavors to everyday staples without necessarily doing it a traditional or "authentic" manner. We simply don't worry that much about keeping anything authentic; the only thing we're concerned about it is making and eating insanely great food, using whatever methods and ingredients that get us there.