15 Minutes with Trick Dog's Chester Watson
How well can you get to know a chef in fifteen minutes?
Famed for its concept-heavy cocktail menu, Trick Dog’s greatest trick might be that the gimmicks never overpower the goods. Conceived by The Bon Vivants with the oft-stated goal of being “delicious, not precious,” the drinks and the grub are indeed solidly that. (And the minimal, vaguely industrial space it occupies smoothly counters any whiff of kitsch.)
Chef Chester Watson, most recently the executive sous-chef at Quince, has done time working for Alain Ducasse and Thomas Keller, and has taken that skill level and applied it to classic bar food like scotch eggs in a way that is approachable and interesting, but, most importantly, delicious.
Here, we talk headcheese, girly cocktails, and the one thing that’ll make him lose his appetite.
If your decision to become a chef could be traced to a single memory, what would it be?
My parents telling me that I had to go to school or get out of the house. That’s the real reason I became a chef – I didn’t want to go to school. You always read these stories of people watching their grandmother cook, but for me it was my parents saying: Go to school or get out. So I said, oh, culinary school, that should be easy.
You have a guest at home you want to impress. What’s the go-to meal?
Probably fresh pasta. To actually make the pasta in front of them, with them, straight from the roller into the water. It’s unique and there’s such a wow factor with it.
If somebody could only eat here once, what should they order?
Eat the entire menu. It’s not that big. I’ve seen little skinny girls eat through the whole menu.
Our brawn tacos are good: We take headcheese off the skull, season it with an Indonesian influence—fish sauce, ginger, cilantro—then we mold that, slice it, and sear it. It’s served on a corn tortilla, pickled daikon on top, more fish sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and togarashi. A lot of people see headcheese and go, no; but the ones that [try it] always come back for it… If you’re going into Trick Dog, you gotta have the trick dog with the thrice-cooked fries. I did all these versions of different burgers, different blends, searing them different ways, and finally it went on so long and we had Josh [Harris; of the Bon Vivants] here, who said he’d always wanted this rectangular burger served on a hot dog bun that he’d grown up with. I tried it and, one round, it came out perfect. So, the trick dog. For sure.
What about cocktails?
I don’t drink a lot of hard alcohol… but I like fruity, girl kinda drinks when I do, so the Eye of the Tiger, with mezcal, honey, mustard, apple, and lime.
What do you think is the best dining experience to be had in the Bay Area, other than here?
The French Laundry. I was there for six months and ate there three times; it’s just over the top. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to eat there unless it was comped, but it’s an incredible experience start to finish. The food, ambiance, especially the service, it’s so uninterrupted, so seamless; you could carry on a full conversation and not even realize what’s going on around you; all your needs are taken care of.
Back to Trick Dog. What’s the most outrageous thing that’s ever gone down here?
You know what happened that kinda grinds my gears? Last week, I wasn’t here, but Dominique Crenn, of Atelier Crenn, came in and ordered some food and then asked for the kitchen to choose a couple things for her, and my sous chef did, and she sent both of them back. I’ve never seen a chef do that in another restaurant… That’s extremely bad form. So I don’t mind putting that in print.
Well, consider it done… Let’s say you killed Scott [Baird, also of the Bon Vivants], and you’re on death row. Last meal?
Honestly, if I know I’m gonna die, I’m not gonna want to eat anything.
Fair enough. One ingredient you couldn’t live without?
Red Boat fish sauce.
Favorite food city?
San Francisco. We have more restaurants per capita than any other place in the country; you can get anything you want almost at all hours. And I love New Orleans, I love Southern cooking, I love oysters, I love po’boys, I love the simplicity of it, the history of it.
Nobody ever says that; I love New Orleans too.
It’s an amazing food city.
Agreed. Okay, fill in the blank: People might be surprised to see me eating ___.
Ha! Finally. Bacon: Awesome or overrated?
Overrated. It’s got its applications for sure, but it doesn’t need to be on everything, it doesn’t need to be all over the menu all the time. I don’t understand the fixation with bacon, especially these kinda Epic Meal Time people that have this insane obsession with bacon everything. I mean, it’s good but honestly, I prefer sausage.
Know someone who's ready for their 15 Minutes? Tweet Shannon at @Shannon_BKelley