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Networking: John Ash
Author, chef, culinary instructor, John Ash & Co., Santa Rosa, Calif.
By James Wright
December 03, 2013
Known in some circles as the “father of wine country cuisine,” John Ash is living the good life. The founder of John Ash & Co. restaurant in Santa Rosa, Calif., is relishing his role as a traveling culinary teacher as well as an adjunct instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. Ash has developed a rather simplistic view on gastronomy, despite how fussy and complicated fine dining can seem. “It’s just wine. It’s just food,” he says. “I try to demystify all that wine geek talk — and it’s the same with food. We tend to get carried away with it. It’s fun to know about it, but it’s not sacrament.”
These days, Ash, 71, enjoys traveling and consulting for various companies and groups like the Monterey Bay Aquarium — he helped found the annual Cooking for Solutions event — and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. He’s also a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author. While the latest of his four books, released this fall, is simply for the birds (“Culinary Birds: The Ultimate Poultry Cookbook,” published by The Perseus Books Group), Ash really knows his fish, too. On his engaging blog (chefjohnash.com), he shares seafood recipes and easy preparation solutions for the chef that resides in all of us. Arctic char and black cod are just two species Ash loves to work with and talk about.
Americans continue to decrease their seafood consumption. How can that be reversed?
One of the issues around seafood is price. When you see Copper River salmon at $30 a pound, or more, it becomes prohibitive. The focus should not be on high-end items, but the fishes that are affordable, delicious and easy to cook. Trout is on the [Seafood Watch] green list; [same with] tilapia and catfish. People sometimes have a funny idea about catfish, and warmwater fish in general, that it tastes muddy. But those [fish] are quite affordable. And they’re beautiful blank canvases to flavor any way you want. Not just for chefs, but retailers too. I talk to a lot of hotels and they usually say they have to have salmon and tuna on their menus. No you don’t.
There’s a lot of nuance with seafood, isn’t there?
Yeah, there is. Having said that, everyone wants the quick answer. And it’s not just fish; it’s everything. My latest book is all about birds. We’ve been hit all over with information about how conventional poultry is grown and harvested. And yet with a lot of people it goes in one ear and out the other. You remind them, then they’re horrified, but it doesn’t seem to change their feelings. It’s an old saw about Americans: It’s all about price. In other cultures, it’s not as important; they’ll spend more of their budget buying good foods. It’s the dollar-meal mentality in this country, it’s really too bad. Seafood is expensive, but you really do get a lot out of it.
Why did you choose Arctic char for Cooking for Solutions this year?
I didn’t choose it. The aquarium assigns them to you. But I love Arctic char. It’s one of those fishes that doesn’t get enough attention. When wild salmon season is done it’s a great alternative for the home cook and the professional because it’s available all year round and it’s sustainably farmed inland.
I can’t believe black cod isn’t on more menus. Is it still a secret?
I’m with you. It’s the most amazing fish. For people who fell in love with Chilean sea bass, it’s the perfect substitute, if not better. You can’t overcook it. That makes it perfect for the home cook who might be intimidated by fish. The less you do to it, the better.