I remember coming home from school in junior high and watching this show called Great Chefs, Great Cities. I watched it every day. When one of my guidance counselors in high school told me about a program that allowed me to leave school two days a week to work in the kitchen of the Catamaran Hotel, I was sold. After high school they hired me as a cook and after several years there, I went to culinary school in San Francisco (California Culinary Academy). I worked at some high-end restaurants in San Francisco and from there I did an externship in St. Croix.
Then 9/11 happened. All the airlines stopped flying to the Caribbean and I came back to the States to find a job. My former boss at the Catamaran hooked me up with a restaurant that hadn’t even been built yet: A.R. Valentien. I learned so much from executive chef Jeff Jackson, who I believe brought the local food movement to San Diego. I learned to do things the long way and take time with the food, not to handle the food too much, and allow the ingredients themselves to be a showcase. As much care as the farmers put into their crops, that’s how much care we wanted to put into our food. I want to always keep that mentality about food: to bring care and attention into the work I do every day.
My big passion is fish. I love fish. And I love Asian cuisine — I often tell people I was Asian in a past life. When I’m cooking or going out to eat, I eat Chinese, Thai, or Japanese food. Each is so different. Chinese is fatty and rich while Thai is green and fresh. For friends or myself, one of my favorite things to cook is crispy chicken thighs. I serve them with roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach. They’re simple but amazing.
- 12 chicken thighs, skin on
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
HOW TO DO IT
If the chicken thighs are not deboned, use a sharp knife to slice through the joint where the thigh and drumstick meet. The cartilage at this joint is extremely soft, so your knife should feel little resistance. After the drumstick is removed, grab the now partially disconnected bone and pull it up and away from the thigh so you can slice underneath the remaining bone to remove it from the thigh meat.
Next, place the thighs in a large bowl and generously rub the meat completely with olive oil. Generously season with salt and pepper. In a large frying pan, over high heat, add 1–2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil starts to lightly smoke, add the chicken thighs, skin side down. After one minute, lower the heat to medium. The idea is to cook the chicken about 90% on the skin side. You will need to check periodically to make sure the thighs are not burning. If you are getting too much color, just lower the heat. Once the chicken is almost done, turn it over skin side up and cook another minute, then turn the flame off. There will be enough heat in the pan to complete the cooking process while you get the rest of the meal ready. At this point, the skin should be crispy and a deep golden color.
Serve with roasted fingerling potatoes and spinach sautéed with sliced garlic and chili flakes.