Ones to Watch 2014: Josh Charles and John Fausz
Why Watch Them: Every day is a meeting of inquiring minds.
When Josh Charles was 16, his mother gave him a copy of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook for Christmas. The gift would irrevocably change his life. Since then, he’s worked in about as many kitchens as he is years old. Yet when he stepped into the fine-dining restaurant Elaia, just over a year ago, he was willing to take a position he considered “the very bottom of the line.” A mere five months later, his name appeared at the bottom of Elaia’s menu, along with his new title of chef de cuisine.
John Fausz was only a teenager when he tasted a Jever Pilsener while traveling in Germany. “Before that I think I’d had all of two Bud Lights in my life – when I tasted it, I just about panicked by all the flavors I was experiencing.” Although beer and spirits became his passion, before coming to Olio, Fausz had no managerial experience and only a couple of years behind the stick. But he was an obsessive learner, and according to Andrey Ivanov, wine director at Olio and general manager at both Elaia and Olio, “He was my first hire and the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Their jobs are entirely different; Fausz is formally titled Beer and Booze General and bar manager, and for Charles, it’s all about the food. Their work areas are separate, connected by a long hallway and stairwell. But their caffeine addiction constantly brings them together. Charles prefers the drip coffee from Olio, and Fausz will only drink the espresso from Elaia. While their particular tastes make for a lot of running up and down the stairs, it’s in these brief exchanges that grounds for greatness percolate.
Here, the creative forces behind Elaia and Olio share what they learn from each other.
Charles: I’m not nearly as experienced with wine as the rest of the guys. They like to play a game with me. I’ll walk into the room as they are all sitting there tasting, and they say “Josh, taste this.” One of the reasons I love being here is that they are always teaching me.
Fausz: I love it when you come behind the bar. I like getting a chef’s perspective on it because he has an entirely different set of training. It’s really fun to try what I’m excited about on Josh. I’m just like “Taste this. What do you think? Is this as compelling as I think it is?”
Charles: Oftentimes, when I’m creating a new dish, and he’s walking by, I’ll be like, “Hey come here, you gotta taste this.” And he’ll tell me exactly what he thinks. From there, I’ll adjust and go on.
Fausz: He’s always coming down to the bar and talking about a certain flavor profile he needs for a dish, whether it be an ingredient, or something to actually add to a dish or a pairing. We each have a nice flavor bank in our minds to draw from.
Charles: Completely opposite flavor banks is the key here.
Fausz: But complementary.
Charles: We’re always trying to align it.
Fausz: That’s what makes it really, really fun.
Charles: Fausz has got a list of alcohols that I’ve never even tasted that he’s slowly, day by day, letting me try, to get me to just know what it is and give me the background and know why it tastes like it does.
Fausz: Taste this Tunisian fig eau-de-vie. Guess what it is.
Charles: Then I’ve got ingredients that he’s never tasted such as celtuce we got in from one of our farmers. It’s an Asian green primarily grown for its stalk. It’s something I saw out in San Francisco, and we don’t have here. The second I had it, I was running down, “Look! Look! Celtuce!”
Fausz: The thing that gets us really excited is a cocktail dinner – something that incorporates a lot of food elements into the cocktails and booze elements into the food in such a way that is really pretty adventurous.
Charles: Fausz has an obsession with vermouth. We’re gonna have to do vermouth in one way or another. The idea can be anything from putting foie gras and vermouth on the same plate, maybe a terrine of it with a gelée of vermouth and then maybe deconstructing the elements of vermouth.
Fausz: There’s so much to play with, especially with a lot of heirloom ingredients and Slow Food-classified ingredients from Italy, like keynote peels, things like that. It’s really fun to try and tease out certain flavors. It’s still in such a nebulous formation right now.
Charles: We have a lot of fine-tuning to do, but we will get there.
Fausz: We each have our notebooks we write food combos down in.
Can I see them?
Charles: No. Then you’ll know our secrets.
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