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Flavor Profile: Gusto's George Morrone

Photo by Michael Schindler

The legendary restaurateur, cookbook author, and chef (formerly of Aqua, Fifth Floor, and Cliff House) — also known as mentor to Michael Mina— returns from a yearlong hiatus to helm the stoves at the new San Carlos restaurant Gusto.

40 Questions for George Morrone: 

Why San Carlos?

After seven pop-up dinners at Locanda Positano, I felt a chemistry with [owner] Enzo Rosano. We complement each other well, and, most importantly, we have fun each and every time we work together. The timing was perfect.

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


Actually, that is a very good question. I’m the first generation son of immigrant parents — my path is chosen, so, either dry cleaning or the allure of the bakery next door. What would you choose?  


Favorite ingredient:

It's a no-brainer: SALT! If you as a chef truly understand your craft, season appropriately.

Most overrated ingredient:


Pork belly. Enough already! 
 

Tricks of the trade:


Demi glace.

Dream soundtrack while cooking?

Sympathy for the Devil, The Rolling Stones, and Stuck in the Middle With You, Stealer’s Wheel. 

What do you make for yourself to eat at home?


Whole roasted chicken with horseradish mash and Portobello stuffing, or linguine and clams. 

Greatest indulgence:


Premier cru wines.

What motivates you?


Making a difference in my profession: passing the torch, seeing and mentoring a young, eager cook to excel and make a difference.

What would you request for your last meal?

My mother’s homemade gnocchi, and my good friend John Ngai's ribs and salmon belly. 
 

Food trend you’re on board with:


Trends are just that—trends. They come, they go. I feel longevity and success in my profession begins and ends with solid technique, execution, fundamentals, and consistency.

Food trend that needs to die:

Foam. Dirt. Serving eggs at dinner. 

What is your motto?

"QUIET." Finish strong. 
 

Which living culinary person do you most admire?


Alain Ducasse. 

Favorite food as a kid:


Anything my nana cooked on three-day Italian Christmas affairs. Hamburger Thursdays at Our Lady Queen of Peace.
 

What most influences your food?


Travel, culture, weather.

Who do you most admire?


I admire people who make a difference and influence the world.
 

Favorite midnight snack:


Vanilla Haagen Daaz. 

Whom do you most like to cook for?


My closest friends that I've been breaking bread with my whole life.


What’s in your refrigerator?

Hot sauces, Asian condiments, leftover takeout, and Dr. Pepper. 

Where do you go for a good drink and what do you order?


Hog and Rocks—a Negroni, with bourbon instead of gin. 

Don’t-tell-anyone junk food:

Cheez-Its, Cheetos, and Yoohoo.

Go-to takeout or delivery:

Yamo in the Mission. These little Vietnamese ladies work in a two-inch space and scream at you like the Soup Nazi.

What Bay Area restaurants are on your list to try?

No offense, I haven't been yet: Coqueta, State Bird Provisions, and 1760. 

Favorite pairing:

Anything with foie gras. And the right people for a perfect dinner party.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Worms in South Africa. Deep-fried cockroaches in Thailand. Guinea pig in Lima.

Culinary habit you’d most like to kick:


Duck fat fries. 

If you weren't a chef, you'd be….?

A food and travel writer. Or a pro hockey player.

Happiest food moment: 


Having dinner with the late Jean Louis Pallidan and Alain Ducasse in Paris. Then, being personally invited by Alain Ducasse to have lunch at his chefs table the next day, followed by a four-hour dinner at Pierre Garnier. An eight-hour food orgy. 

Customer pet peeves: 

No show, no call. Cheap diners ... someone who brings in three bottles of wine, then bitches about the corkage fee. 

Favorite culinary journey:

The most memorable ones are the ones that my daughter has been with me, most recently our trip through Peru. I don’t know very many 16-year-old Berkeley girls who will throw down some guinea pig two ways. I pushed her to the rest with a big plate of llama! I am a very lucky dad!

Describe your kitchen persona in one word: 

Perfection.

Favorite SF neighborhood: 

My home, the Mission. This neighborhood has some of the best things happening culinarily in the country, and while my list here is long, I’m always at Hog and Rocks, Southpaw, Foreign Cinema, and Delfina. 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Why grow up?

How far would you travel for a killer meal? Where to?

I wouldn’t have to go far: my kitchen at home with friends. Those are always some of the most memorable times.

Strangest customer request?

Someone wanted each course Vitamixed. After surgery, they could only eat through a straw.

What's the first meal you made that you were proud of? 

Pancakes. (I was little.)

Greatest professional moment:

Being invited to cook for Julia Child on her 80th birthday.

Any dietary restrictions?

No undersalted, shitty food.

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This article was published in 7x7's March issue. Click here to subscribe.