Not all superheroes wear capes and fly. Chris Cosentino wears chef's whites and pedals a bike.
Before culinary celebrity found him, Cosentino spent eight years professionally racing mountain bikes. Now the chef of St. Helena's Acacia House, a Top Chef Masters winner and James Beard–nominated cookbook author—not to mention co-author of the Marvel title Wolverine: In the Flesh—wields his passion for cycling for good.
For several years, Cosentino has been a member of Chefs Cycle, an annual charity bike ride that raises funds and awareness for the organization No Kid Hungry, which aims to feed the millions of children who go to school with empty bellies each day. It's a mission Cosentino has only become more passionate about since the pandemic began. "It went from one in seven kids to one in four kids going to school hungry. We need to push that needle," he says.
The annual bike ride enlists high-profile chefs to participate in a three-day, 300-mile bike ride. In 2021, 318 of them joined from around the country, raising almost a million dollars, the equivalent of 10 million meals.
"As a chef, our goal in life is to give people taste memories, so it's really hard for us as culinarians and hospitality individuals to look at the world through the lens of a kid whose taste memory is hunger," Cosentino explains. "If we can help provide one of these kids with a meal every day, that's going to give them a better chance to learn. It's a really really powerful thing."
Cosentino leveled up his charitable work in 2017 with the founding of CampoVelo, a series of weekend culinary and cycling events in Northern California that are open to all foodies and cyclists.
"We bring chefs that are participants in Chefs Cycle to CampoVelo. There are cooking demonstrations, the chefs help create snacks for the rest stops on the ride, and we do a charity dinner," he says. Funds from the events—this year three are planned, including the first women's only weekend—go to a handful of nonprofits, including No Kid Hungry and World Bicycle Relief, an organization that donates sturdy "buffalo" bikes to impoverished families living in "areas of the world where people may have to walk two miles to get water or to go to school," says Cosentino.
The chef doesn't just advocate for food security and sustainable food systems a few times a year. He walks the walk in the kitchen too, carefully vetting his food sources as local, sustainable, and humanely raised. "Know your rancher," he says. "Know where your meat comes from, know how the animal is treated." At home, he gets his food directly from small ranchers and farmers through Cream Co. Meats and a variety of local CSAs.
"I don't know what I'm getting all the time and I know for some folks that's a little daunting. The term chef, for me, means teacher and my goal as a chef is to teach the next generation to follow through with those things, and also teach the community at large that [eating sustainably] is attainable at home just as well as it is in a restaurant."
Although many Americans are squeamish about offal—the entrails, organs, and skeletal cuts of an animal—Cosentino argues that they, too, are an aspect of food sustainability and security. Using each and every part of an animal doesn't just honor the individual that gave its life, it leads to less food waste and provides an important source of nutrients and flavor.
"There's an old saying about pigs," he says. "You can eat everything but the oink. But if I could catch that, I'd eat it too." His 2017 cookbook, Offal Good: Cooking from the Heart with Guts, explores his conviction and details how to put everything from intestines to hooves to work in the kitchen. "I like to compare it to giving a painter who's only ever had black and white primary colors," he says.
The holidays are one of the easiest times of year to integrate offal into a meal. In fact, says Cosentino, you've already got everything you need right on the table for an incredible gravy: turkey giblets. And there are a variety of other easy dishes that will entice and delight family and friends including chopped liver, beef heart tartare, and sweet breads pan-roasted with sage and brown butter.
Cosentino doesn't yet know what will appear on his own table for Thanksgiving but he does know who will be seated around it: his wife of 21 years, Tatiana, his son Easton, and a close friend of the family who moved to the Bay Area from Japan years ago. "It's really about spending time in the kitchen and with my family," he says. "It's not always a big thing, but it's always about enjoying our time together."
One possibility is crown roast pork, a masterful centerpiece for a holiday table. "When you think about pork and the holidays it's usually ham, but I'm half-English and it's a very English thing," he explains. To prepare the pork, he brines it for 12 hours and then roasts it until golden brown, and completes the job by perching tiny homemade chef's hats on each bone.
Alongside the crown roast, Cosentino prepares a salad of charred onions and persimmons (he prefers fuyu) with dandelion greens and a sherry vinaigrette. To complement the tannins in the persimmons, the bitterness of the dandelion greens and the sweetness of the pork, the chef recommends a light white wine like gruner veltiner. He's especially fond of those made by Raft Wines. "They do a whole slew of interesting, esoteric wines that work so well with food," he says.
Recipe: Chris Cosentino's Crown Roast Pork with Persimmon, Dandelion + Pomegranate
Chef Cosentino tops his crown roast pork with charred onions, persimmons, dandelion greens, and mini paper chef hats that he makes by hand.
(Marc Fiorito, Gamma Nine Photography)
Serves 6 to 8
1 rack of pork, 8 bone
4 fuyu persimmons
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 yellow onion, cut into 1-inch rings
1/2 lb baby dandelion greens, mixed red and green
Black pepper, fresh ground (The Spice Hunter)
Turkey brine (follow recipe on the bag) (The Spice Hunter)
1 whole yellow onion, peeled
2 sheets white parchment paper (for chef toques see how to make them below)
For the sherry vinaigrette:
2 shallots, fine brunoise
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup pure olive oil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Black pepper, fresh ground
For the pork:
If you can get your butcher to prep the rack of pork for you, that's ideal. If not, there are instructional videos on YouTube that will help make the written instructions clearer.
Working between the first two bones, run your knife down the first bone, across the small space between the bones, and then up along the next bone. Repeat on all bones until all the meat from between the bones is removed. To clean, or "French" each bone, run a sharp knife along each bone, scraping the cartilage away until it is clean. Alternately, you can tie butcher's twine around the base of the bone, wrap the twine around your hand over a towel, and pull sharply to remove the remaining meat and cartilage.
Lay the rack on the cutting board with the bones curved up. Cut a one-inch deep slit into the meat in between each bone on the rack. This will allow you to curve the rack into a crown. Stand the rack up on your board with the bones facing toward you. Curve the ends of the rack around the loin, forming a round "crown." Using butcher's twine, tie around the crown at the base of the roast, the bottom of the bones and the top of the meat, right where the bones are clean (bottom, middle, and top). Using your hands, mold the crown until you form a perfect circle.
Place the rack in the brine for 12 hours, remove and let equalize in the refrigerator overnight.
After brining is complete, preheat oven to 450 degrees with a rack on the lowest rung. Let the crown come to temp for at least an hour, then spray the bones with pan spray and cover with aluminum foil so they don't get too dark or burn. Take a long piece of foil, fold it in half, and place over the top of the bones around the crown. Peel a large yellow onion and place in the center of the crown, this will help it keep its crown shape when roasting, it will also be delicious.
Place a flat roasting rack in the center of a baking dish. Scatter the rosemary on the rack and place the crown roast on top. Place on the bottom rack of the oven so the bones don't get close to the burners on the top. Bake at 450 degrees until golden all around, about 20 minutes, rotating halfway through.
Lower the heat to 325 degrees. Continue to cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 135 degrees (about 50 minutes). Remove and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. This will carry over the pork 15 degrees to take it to an internal temp of 150 degrees.
For the salad:
While the meat is resting, peel the persimmons and cut three of them into sixths. Sear the persimmons in a sauté pan over medium high heat to get a nice char; remove them from the pan.
In the same pan, sear the yellow onion rings, charring hard. Flip them after 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the onions after 5 additional minutes.
Take the remaining persimmon and shave with a mandolin or peeler into rings. In a mixing bowl, add the dandelion greens, pomegranate seeds, charred persimmons, shaved persimmons, and freshly charred onions. Season with salt and pepper. Dress with the sherry vinaigrette (recipe below).
For the sherry vinaigrette:
Place brunoise shallots in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for five minutes. Add vinegar and let macerate for 10 minutes. Whisk in the pure olive oil, then finish with EVOO. Season to taste.
To make the paper chef hats for crown roast bones:
Cut an 8 1/2-by-11 sheet of white paper in half lengthwise. Fold each half again, in half lengthwise. Lay one piece of folded paper on top of the other, folded sides together. Holding them both together, cut strips on the folded side of the paper, approximately 2/3 of the way to the unfolded edges. Cut the strips to the same width as best as you can.
Unfold each piece of paper and fold the opposite way. Fluff the cut edges to add fullness. Wrap one hat around each bone. You won't need the whole length to go around the bone, but continue wrapping it even when it overlaps. This will add more fullness to the hats. Fasten the bootie around the bone with a piece of double-stick tape.
Put it all together:
Remove the onion from the center of the pork and set aside. Place the crown of pork on a large plate or platter, remove the strings carefully. Place the dressed salad in the center of the crown if it cascades out, that's OK. Top each bone with a frilly hat and serve.
Thank you to our partners at The Spice Hunter.
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For more festive dishes with global flavors prepared by top California chefs, go to 7x7.com/holiday-recipes.