Tag Archives: Professional Chef Connection

Ali Bouzari – An Interview With the Food Biochemist, Chef, and Innovator

Ali Bouzari

Ali Bouzari (left)

If you knew that a 20-something food Biochemist was influencing your menu at The French Laundry (should you be so lucky to snag a table) would that raise your eyebrows? Elite culinary establishments such as The French Laundry, Benu of San Francisco, The Restaurant at Meadowood, and the world’s premier culinary college, The Culinary Institute of America, are experiencing the influence of  Ali Bouzari, food scientist, chef, innovator and thought leader.  Ali is one of the instructors and creators of the culinary science curriculum at the CIA, a PhD student in biochemistry at UC Davis, and a Culinary Science and Menu and Research and Development Consultant for some of the most prominent dining establishments in California.  

Ali gives a Ted Talk at UC Davis on May 4, 2014. (Starting at 3:13:00)

As Harold Import Co. grows in the food service and supply industry, we are delighted to have the opportunity to connect with passionate, trend setting culinary professionals like Ali, who in turn push us to critique and improve our own creative processes and raise the bar in all that we do for our Customers. 

The Interview – Getting to Know Ali Bouzari

Nicole Herman., of HIC: Ali, I want to first thank you for taking the time to share with us. I think our readers are really going to enjoy learning about you and your unique approach to all things culinary.

Nicole: When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?

Ali Bouzari: The best way to answer is to say when I first started to cook in restaurants, which I did in high school. My choices were to wait tables, be a host, or cook.  I started cooking in an orthodox Jewish catering company where I learned more than basic knife skills – I learned how to make Jewish delights and how to prepare kosher food. We did bar mitzvahs, parties, and sometimes 500 person events. I realized I really enjoyed this, and learned that if you can cater a Passover dinner, you can pretty much do anything

Nicole: Who or what has been the most influential factor in your life, personally and professionally?

Ali: Personally, the reason food has been on my radar is because of my dad. He was an excellent cook. His family is from Iran and the culture there is obsessed with food, it’s an all consuming part of life, and it’s really fun.  There is a joyous attitude toward food, they don’t take it seriously. I grew up with crazy Iranian dudes eating great food and making it fun, and it was refreshing to focus on. Professionally, I’ve had people help me along the way – My professor at UC Davis, my boss at the Culinary Institute of America, they were amazing facilitators. Chefs that have driven me – one is Thomas Keller. At the first fine dining gig I had as a line cook, my chef gave me a copy of The French Laundry cookbook. He said, “check this out, this is why we do everything that we do.” I learned good habits from this book, and I imprinted on French laundry culture.

Ali Bouzari

Ali Bouzari

While I was in Spain for a year in undergrad, it was right after the peak of the Spanish avant-garde movement. I saw Ferran Adria of elBulli talk once, and it was crazy eye opening. This was my first time realizing that having a meal taste and smell really good was not the only important thing. Emotion and nostalgia can enter in too… and unless it tastes good, it doesn’t matter. The creativity was inspiring. Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking written in early 1980’s set a lot in motion. I read it in undergrad when I was cooking part time and studying biochemistry. I found that with this knowledge I could cook better than I thought I should be able to. I would look under the hood of what I was working on. Then I Googled books on the science of food and kept finding Harold McGee’s book. I read it cover to cover. To this day, I start with this book when researching. My guidance to students at the CIA – If you read this cover to cover, you will be a better cook than your peers, it teaches you the rules of the game.

Nicole: What is your favorite meal to make? And To eat?

Ali: Most meaningful – An old Persian standby, the shish kabob, basmati rice with saffron, and traditional accompaniments. The shish kabob is made of ground beef, sumac, black pepper, onions and shallots. It’s formed onto a skewer that hangs horizontally. The trick is to get the right ratio of fat and protein, it must cling to skewer and not fall into the fire.  It needs to brown well. I like this because it feels very old world, and I made this with my dad for our friends growing up.

Nicole: You’ve been called both a scientist and a chef. Do you identify with one more than the other? 

Ali: No. My whole career is predicated on the belief that I am not ever going to be the world’s greatest chef or scientist, but I can do both together pretty well, and that enables me to do some cool stuff. I try to keep one foot in the culinary world and keep those skills as honed as possible. If I walk into The French Laundry to teach them anything, I owe it to the team there to know what’s going on to the point that I could at least hack it being a prep cook. Scientists need to learn to respect chefs more, too. As an educator and scientist, I think it is easier to understand the food if you’ve touched it, keeping your cook side very current.

Nicole: What is your cooking philosophy?

Ali: A couple. In general, one of my favorite things as a home cook, and as a single college age guy, there are a lot of leftovers in my life. Great advice I heard –  Don’t just reheat food, recreate it. I might make basmati rice one night, then turn it into soup or fried rice the next night. This is a good culinary workout for the brain. My more over arching cooking philosophy – Pay attention to the rules of the game you’re playing. Know the basic behavior of the basic ingredients you’re working with.

Nicole: We tend to be creatures of habit, and revert to eating what we know and is quick, especially when life gets hectic. What advice would you give a home chef to help get them out of their cooking ruts, without needing to make an especially time consuming elaborate meal? 

Ali: Get in touch with age-old culinary mantra of “mise en place.” This is a French term chefs have all over their brain. It’s the idea that you should be prepared, given what comes your way in the kitchen. The real cooking happens during prep. If you have leftovers, you can just add prepped foods – I’d add things with a lot of flavor, like preserves, pickles, fermented things.  You can take something as simple as roast chicken, and add pickled onions or a little miso, or cherry relish that are already really flavorful, and make something amazing in a little amount of time.

Another philosophy – A chef told me once that at least every dish on his menu had at least one ingredient that took a lot of time to make, with complex deep flavors. If you can make this type of food in batches and keep it around, then you have a giant bar of great ingredients to pluck from  at your will. Start with a couple different pickles. Fermented beets, fennel,  even vinegar pickles. Roasted garlic, pesto, a nice stock. Then you have a wide palate of foods to pull from and create something wonderful, with out a lot of time.

Nicole – So, it’s all about the prep.

Ali – If you live in a place like California, subscribe to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, where you pay a local farm a lump amount, and they drop off fresh produce at your door, filled with what’s at peak freshness for that time of year. This is a great forcing function to learn how to cook a variety of things. (Kolrabi anyone?)

Nicole: What kitchen tool do you find indispensable, that might come as a surprise to people? 

Ali: 2 – One is kind of obvious – A spoon. The untold love story of the kitchen. A chef on their game will have 5-10 different spoons on hand that they will pet before they go to sleep. This reflects the dual nature of a chef: A knife, which is essential, represents how a chef has to do superhuman tasks under pressure, and the spoon represents how chefs have to be at the same time gentle, nurturing. A Knife is penetrating and aggressive. A spoon is supportive, gentle, finessing. I really like spoons. A lot of chefs really love the “Kunz” spoon, named after Gray Kunz of Lespinasse. Chef of the old guard, a perfectionist, a formidable presence in the kitchen, had these spoons designed for his staff. His cooks had a serial number identified spoon designed with balance, proportion, a perfect bowl at the end, wide enough to use as quasi spatula.

I also like a heat proof spatula. It needs to be rigid yet bendy. Every restaurant has a myth about how using spatulas saved some company a bazillion dollars, minimizing waste by getting every bit out of a container. I love spatulas for stirring things. There is no place for a wooden spoon for me. Every grandmother who stands by using a wooden spoon, just hasn’t used a great heat proof spatula yet.

Nicole: Do you have a dream or goal for the culinary world? 

Ali: Yes! The culinary world is unique in a lot of ways. It’s an industry based on a medium that is inherently dependent on scientific principles but has turned a blind eye to acknowledging the principles for fear of upsetting the tradition and artisanal nature, they are afraid science will do away with this. It’s like saying that by understanding how the English language works, you won’t be as good of a poet. You can learn the rules, and then break them. Learn the science, then do crazy stuff. The irritating thing about humans in artisanal fields is when they reject progress. People will say,  “I don’t want to do anything with science in the kitchen.” Too bad, science is always in the kitchen. Whether or not you want to acknowledge it is the question. This is not avant-garde stuff. There is so much chemistry and physics going on in the kitchen, if the average line cook understood the “why” of roasting a chicken vs. how, we’d all eat better and our culinary staff would be better equipped. I’d like to raise the scientific literacy of the culinary community.  Knowledge makes it better.


You can learn more about Ali Bouzari on The Culinary Institute of America‘s website and on UC Davis Magazine. Follow Ali on Twitter.

Interested in learning more about HIC? We’d love to speak with you. For Customer, wholesale, or press inquiries, please reach us here. Or, shoot us a note via Facebook.

Contributed by Nicole Herman of HIC, Harold Import Co.

Ethan Powell and Tobias Hogan – the Northwest Duo Behind EaT: An Oyster Bar & The Parish

As HIC, Harold Import Co. grows in the food service and restaurant supply industry, we see our products benefiting chefs across the country. Recently we spoke with two dynamic chefs that have been using unique smallwares to make their dishes stand out. Ethan Powell and Tobias Hogan opened EaT: An Oyster Bar, offering “A little bit of the dirty south right here in the Northwest” in 2008 and later The Parish, an upscale Cajun and Creole concept in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon, working direct with small family run farms to source their ingredients. They journey to estuaries from Northern California all the way up to South Western Canada to source oysters with flavor profiles unique to their habitat.

HIC is thrilled to see Ethan and Tobias work with many of our products such as our Porcelain Oyster Plate to display their beautiful dishes and HIC Essentials Silicone Spatulas to appropriately taste and develop their sauces. We’re excited to see them grow and be a part of their experience. If you’re an oyster connoisseur, with an interest in an establishment that values supporting local producers, you just might want to put EaT: An Oyster Bar and The Parish on your bucket list.

Oysters Served by Ethan and Tobias at FEAST Portland, a Northwest Culinary Event. Porcelain Oyster Plater Made by HIC.

Oysters Served at FEAST Portland, a Northwest Culinary Event. Porcelain Oyster Plater Made by HIC.

The Interview – Getting to Know Ethan and Tobias

Nicole Herman, of HIC: Let me start by thanking you for taking the time to share with me. I think our readers are really going to enjoy meeting you and learning about your experience. Let’s start by learning more about you and how you became involved with cooking.

N: When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?

Tobias: When I was a kid, I used to cook meals for the family and I was always in the kitchen with my Great Grandmother and my Grandmother cooking instead of the den with the rest of the guys watching football. I guess it was always in me I just didn’t realize it until the late ’90’s.

Ethan: I used to cook for my family on Tuesday night in elementary school. It consisted of slice pickles, tomatoes and sliced Kraft cheddar for appetizers, beef stroganoff Hamburger Helper for entree, and angel food cake with Cool whip for dessert. I was 8. I guess about that time.

N: Who or what has been the most influential factor in your life, personally and professionally?

Tobias: I’m always thinking about Nona (Great Grandmother) and my Grandmother when I’m working on new recipes. Professionally my business partner Ethan is very influential.

Ethan Powell

Ethan Powell, Oyster Shucking

Ethan: Personally my parents have been the most influential in my life. They gave me every opportunity to do what I wanted to do in my youth. Professionally, Jels Mcauley I worked for in the NYC and in Portland, OR. I worked for him longer than anyone else in my career. He also gave me the opportunity to run the busiest kitchen in the busiest restaurant in Portland at Andina Restaurant. That was a wonderful learning experience.

N: What is your favorite meal to make and to eat?

Ethan: Ceviche for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Peruvian style and this is important. Take fresh Ono, fresh squeezed key lime juice, habanero, red onion, cilantro, really cold distilled water, and salt. Make the leche de tigre first and it marinates only for a few minutes. Serve with roasted yams and fresh corn.

Tobias: I really enjoy making fresh pasta and sauce when I can carve out the time I bake bread as well. It’s probably the meal that’s most soul satisfying for me and I find myself cooking for most big events in life.

N: Where were you raised? Does that have an impact on your cooking style today?

Ethan: I was raised in Texarkana, Arkansas. It borders Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. I do Southern food so yes it has an effect on my cooking style and my pallet.

Tobias: I grew up in Eugene, Oregon but I don’t feel like that has any impact on my cooking. I feel like the way my mother raised me has more impact on my cooking than where i was raised. She was very good about using raw ingredients in all of our cooking at home and we always had a garden so I’ve always used fresh ingredients because we didn’t have processed food in our household.

N: What is your cooking philosophy?

Tobias: Simple, don’t try to make things too complicated, let the ingredients show through.

Ethan: I believe in big, bold, and balanced flavor and utilization of the entire product. The insides of the animal taste the best.

N: I know that supporting local producers is important for you. Do you find that supporting local growers is catching on in and outside of Portland?

Ethan: I think the Portland area is the leader when it comes to local, organic, and sustainable. There are hundreds of small farms in the Portland metro area alone. I believe this is the direction the country is going. Some areas will be a little slower to catch on however.

Viridian Farms

A tour at the local Viridian Farms in Dayton, Oregon

Tobias: It certainly is important to us at the restaurant and in Portland overall. When my girlfriend and I are traveling through France and Spain we love to stop at rest stops along the motorways, that’s where you find a lot of cool stuff, regional products. That’s the way I feel we’re heading and it’s great. People are starting to take real pride in their regions around the country. We were just visiting some family in the mid-west and all we heard from the restaurants was about what farm this or that was coming from. I feel the local grower producer thing is really the new trend, and that’s amazing!

N: What do you see are the biggest challenges chefs face when trying to support local growers?

Tobias: Prices. It’s still very difficult to pay some of the prices these local growers are demanding. It’s one thing to load up at the farmer’s market and head home to cook dinner than it is to make something at the restaurant when you still have to make your margins to stay open. There’s price resistance from the consumer who is still getting pummeled by Applebee’s selling “local” or “organic” food for $11 an entree that’s big enough to take home an additional portion. These farmers are growing amazing product and they deserve to be paid for it but the consumer is putting huge pressures on the restaurant for pricing.

Ethan: When using small farms you are working with really small businesses, some of these with only one employee, so they tend to be less efficient than some really large purveyors. They also work on smaller economies of scale so the prices tend to be higher. That being said you are almost always getting a better product. Some do delivery and some don’t which can sometimes be a logistical issue. However, supporting a local small business is a win-win in my book. (Pictures from a trip to Hama Hama Oysters on the Olympic Peninsula.)

N: What ingredients are you enjoying experimenting with right now?

Tobias: Right now Ethan just picked up these tiny Spaghetti squash from a farm in Forest Grove that are fantastic. We’re roasting them and scooping out the meat, and serving it back in the shell with an heirloom tomato sauce, it’s delicious.



Ethan: Chilies. We have been fermented chilies for hot sauce for a while now. They are all given to us by one of our farms. They ferment in salt and get really stinky for 2 months. Then we strain and bottle. When all is done you have a hot sauce with a delicious and unique flavor full of healthy pro-biotics. We give a third back to the farm and they sell them at a farmers market.

N: Are there unique tools that you rely on in the kitchen?

Tobias: Obviously we have a lot of tools in the kitchen but good spoons and tongs are so important and often overlooked. When you have a really good spoon that you can use for saucing a dish it makes a big difference in speed and accuracy.

Ethan and Tobias' Texas Pete Hot Sauce, Prepared for the FEAST Portland Food Festival. HIC Essentials Silicone Spatula Used to Prepare.

Ethan and Tobias’ Texas Pete Hot Sauce, Prepared for the FEAST Portland Food Festival. HIC Essentials Silicone Spatula Used to Prepare.

Ethan: Sharp chefs knife is a must. Also Japanese mandolin and spoons. Tongs are great also.

Oysters Spotted on a Trip Through France

Oysters Spotted on a Trip Through France

N: Are there any tasks that you haven’t found a perfect tool for? (If you could invent a perfect kitchen tool, what would it do for you?)

Ethan: An oyster opener. They come in all shapes and sizes so a uniform opener doesn’t exist

Tobias: Wow, that’s a good question. If I could invent the perfect kitchen tool I guess I’d sell it to Harold Import to market. We’re still working on that one; we haven’t found a task that good knife skills can’t handle yet. Tobias Hogan teaches us how to shuck an oyster.

N: Do you have favorite cookbooks or kitchen tool that you would recommend every home cook own and why?

Tobias: I would say that every home cook needs a good Mandolin, it can make things a lot easier. Also, a lot of people just have regular old knives, I think that everyone should invest in a couple of good knives at least, again it make things a lot easier. We have so many cookbooks at home it’s hard to recommend a good one for everyone, some of our favorites are French books we’ve picked up traveling. One of my girlfriends favorite is from the ’70’s and has an entire section on flaming foods, it’s awesome! We’re having a party in January where everyone coming has to cook something from the flaming section!

Ethan: Again a sharp knife and books that teach technique. If you are at home how do you learn technique without studying?

N: What was the last meal you ate? 

Tobias: As with many of my colleagues, the last meal I ate was on the couch last night at 10:30 p.m. I took home a new addition to the dinner menu at The Parish, Wild Boar Gumbo with Wild Boar Sausage. It was delicious!

Ethan: House made Chaurice ( a spicy fresh pork sausage) with oven roasted broccoli, kale, brown rice and some fermented hot sauce. It was goood!!!


You can enjoy locally sourced oysters and the Cajun and Creole creations of Ethan Powell and Tobias Hogan at EaT: An Oyster Bar, and The Parish, in Portland, Oregon. If you don’t live in the area, enjoy tuning in to their culinary adventures and local sourcing journeys on their Facebook page.

Ethan and Tobias’ approach and energy is so genuine, and their medium – the freshest Oysters, along side Cajun and Creole cooking – is close to my heart. Raised on the Gulf Coast, fire-roasted oysters on the half shell became my first semi-solid food. Dad would build a barbecue from a metal drum cut in half lengthwise, with wire covering the opening to make a surface to hold the shellfish, spreading buckets of shrimp, crab, and oysters, over the top. Neighborhood friends would gather with us to enjoy this feast; consuming fresh shellfish sitting at papered picnic tables, the sweet juices running down to our elbows.

Interested in learning more about HIC? We’d love to speak with you. For Customer, wholesale, or press inquiries, please reach us here. Or, shoot us a note via Facebook.

Contributed by Nicole Herman, of HIC, Harold Import Co.