Q&A With Chef Chris Tzorin of oak

Chef Chris Tzorin

Q: Eating as a family and cooking as a family can really be its own tradition. How have the traditions of your upbringing influenced your craft?

Chef Chris Tzorin, oak: My mom had me helping her in the kitchen as early as I can remember. She taught me how to make more traditional Mexican cuisine with bold flavors – mole, enchiladas, tamales … At the age of 13, I started helping my dad out at his restaurant where I learned about fine California coastal cuisine. Both styles have helped shape the way I cook at home and have influenced the menu at oak. These experiences motivated me to pursue cooking as a career and mentor other young chefs just as my parents did for me.

Q: Sunday dinner can be defined by the marrying of food and the marrying of family. What dishes tie things together for you? What are the staples that bring everyone to your table?

CT: For Sunday dinners I like to make hearty, shared plates or dishes that are easy to share. Fried chicken, haricots verts and almonds, or a big thing of homemade mac n’ cheese are all staples in my family.

Q: Twenty years ago, the Food Network looked very different. Do you think that the rise in food-culture and food-social media brought more families to the table on Sunday or apart?

CT: I think today’s food culture has helped bring more families to the table. The Food Network has played a significant role in expanding people’s knowledge about food and creativity in the kitchen. The people that watch Food Network and keep up with food culture tend to be more adventurous with new ingredients and more excited to try new things. Lately, I’ve been watching kid cooking shows such as Master Kids Chef and Man vs. Child on Food Network with my family. That brings us all together and helps get them as excited as I am about cooking.

Q: How do your choices for Sunday dinner differ from the dishes on special occasions and holidays?

CT: For me, Sundays are a time for comfort food and fun/experimentation in the kitchen. I like to do “mash-ups” where I combine two different dishes to make one delicious meal. Some of my favorites are Lasagna Enchiladas and Puff Pastry Mashed Potatoes with truffle oil. Holidays require a finer feel to the food and the recipes I choose are tried and true family recipes like my mom’s tamales or my dad’s prime rib or local lobster.

Q: How does Sunday dinner differ from season to season? And what are your favorite seasons when it comes to the produce available?

CT: Sunday dinners in the warmer months are lighter and more flavorful, there are a lot more options when it comes to fresh produce that is available. Summer is my favorite season for produce. During cooler months I cook more hearty dishes with warm flavors – beef stew with rice is one of my favorite dishes to prepare in the winter.

Q: If you had a time machine and got to witness how family and friends made Sunday dinner 50 years ago, what do you think we’d see? How has it changed?

CT: I think a lot of people had more respect for Sunday dinner 50 years ago. People treated it like an event where they actually set aside time to sit down and interact with each other and not rush the meal. These days people’s schedules seem to be busier, and there are a lot more distractions. You have to make a conscious effort to make Sunday dinner a priority, or it won’t happen.


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