The farm-to-table trend is nothing new in New York, but chef John Cordova tells us he was new to the locavore cooking style when he started manning the kitchen at Home, a cozy establishment on Cornelia Street. Home prides itself on the familiar flavors of comfort food, but Cordova’s meals are served with a bit of flair. Read on to learn how he does it.
When did you get passionate about the current farm-to-table movement?
Fairly recently. Home is the first restaurant that I have worked at that has had such a strong history of trying to put as little distance as possible between itself and the people that provide its food. For me, I think trying to cook this way has been a natural progression. I’ve worked at some of the best restaurants in the city, and they all put a high value on the products that they use. For some of them, it makes sense to fly fish in from Japan or produce from South America. At Home we try not to do that. There are plenty of great fish in our local waters and abundant produce grown close by. It may be a little more challenging to source, but in the long run it’s worth it for us.
When you cook, how do you balance the expectations people have for comfort food with your own personal flourishes?
I don’t, really. I like to think that if I like it, the customer will too. Luckily for me this is mostly true.
What’s your favorite dish to cook on the menu?
As for entrees, I really like our trout dish. The trout itself is grilled and the skin gets a little crisp and smoky. The clam vinaigrette is salty and vinegary, with hints of shallot and fresh herbs. And the broccoli is tossed in olive oil and roasted; the florets get just a bit crisp and the flavor is sharpened.
Do you like to cook when you’re not working?
I enjoy cooking and at home it doesn’t seem like work, although I do miss the dishwasher. I usually make something simple with few ingredients: some roasted meat that has been marinated, whatever vegetable looked best at the store and mashed potatoes with lemon and olive oil. I also make a lot of mashed avocado or pureed vegetables with olive oil for my 6-month-old daughter. Luckily, she and the 2-year-old are good eaters.
What’s a dish that signifies the concept of “home” to you?
Home cooking is simple, pure cooking — flavorful and satisfying. For me, and I think for a lot of chefs, it’s roasted chicken. Everyone seems to do it differently. At my house we use the beer can method: It’s so simple and always comes out good. I just sit a well-seasoned chicken on a half-full can of beer, place it in a baking dish and roast at 400 for about 45 minutes to an hour. Then I let it rest for 30 to 40 minutes. The outside is always crispy, the inside is always moist. I either put potatoes and vegetables in the pan to cook with the chicken, or I pour the pan juices over some whole wheat pasta with an egg yolk, parmesan and black pepper, like a carbonara.