Simon was born in Wisconsin and that may be why he brings such respect for what the Southern California earth provides. From local olives and avocados to all-natural beef and small farm produce, Simon's focus on local, sustainable products ensures a truly organic experience for Saltbox diners.
Presently, Simon is participating in the Kimpton "Behind the Apron" series, sharing ideas and inspirations about infusion cooking for the month of March. "I always have enjoyed the cultural and historical aspects of cooking, and infusions are a great example of that. As a technique for drawing out flavors, or vitamins, nutrients, even caffeine people have used infusion as a way to make their lives better and more enjoyable for a very long time."
- Q: What does infusion mean to you?
- A: It's a culinary alchemistic word that literally means "to pour over." Yet it carries into our emotion and lives in more than just food. You can infuse energy and hope and desire into people. Cooking wise, it's a way to preserve things ... a way to add flavor.
- Q: What kinds of things do you infuse?
- A: Oil. It's easy and you can easily capture seasonal flavors. Also, vanilla beans. You infuse that flavor into cream and fat into ice cream. Braising is a form of infusing, too. We do a nice slow-cooked short rib.
- Q: What's important in order to create an infusion right?
- A: You have to consider the ratios. By that I mean infuse the right amount of an ingredient into the right amount of a liquid. In the case of herbs, for example, it's about making sure you have enough flavor in the oil to make it distinct. Timing is also crucial: If it doesn't go long enough there's not enough pop. If it goes for too long, then the flavor is too much.
- Q: How do you think up what things or flavors to infuse?
- A: Necessity is always the mother of invention. I find a lot of things by accident or by need ... to preserve something or to keep it. I also look at natural existing flavor combinations, like orange and star anise, and start at things from their roots and work from there. It's one of those great revelations that you have as a cook when you finally say, "I've figured out how to do this."
- Q: What, if any, special tools do you use or need to infuse?
- A: All you really need is the ability to heat something up in a container. And in some cases, you don't even need that. Remember, the word means "to pour over," so you need a container, a vessel for pouring that particular flavor or alcohol, and some kind of fat or oil to infuse something into.
- Q: What's the most unique or interesting infusion you've created?
- A: Tobacco leaves in ice cream. It was a fun because it's not what you'd expect. I got the leaves from a local farm. When eaten infused in ice cream, you get some heat in the back and cold and sweet in the front. And, a little buzz from the tobacco.
- Q: What are some seasonal infusions that have worked well for elevating the flavors in a dish?
- A: In the wintertime, it's citrus, which is easy to use in infusions. Anything to isolate flavor from grapefruit, or find a balance between orange and lime is fun. Blood orange is another great one; I use it a lot with my crudos, raw fish and hamachi.
- Q: What do you find most interesting about creating infusions?
- A: I love the cultural history of food and cuisine. I love to be a part of something that's so old and has been done so many times that it's a staple... a right hand to cooking. I enjoy interpreting things that are time-honored and traditional. As a technique, I love the versatility ... being flexible in many ways to introduce and preserve flavor.
Featured Recipe from Chef Dolinky
In the spirit of Infusions, Simon is serving something special for March:
Venezuelan Chocolate and Hazelnut Terrine
Rosemary tangerines and tobacco ice cream
Saltbox | 1047 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 | Phone: (619) 515-3003 | www.saltboxrestaurant.com