It’s finally here - the start of our Be The Chef Series where we’ll be transforming your kitchen into Atlanta’s hottest restaurants! We are starting with one our favorites – St. Cecilia. For the next three weeks you will be able to enjoy cooking just like their Chef De Cuisine, Craig Richards, in your kitchen!
We’ll be featuring a dish right off of the St. C menu: Charred Octopus with Sundried Tomato Pesto and a White Bean & Arugula Salad. This dish was featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Spring Dining Guide, calling it a “textural marvel.” Whether it’s your first time eating octopus, or you're a cephalopod fanatic, this dish is not to be missed!
We caught up with Chef Craig to find out more about the man behind the octopus…
G&G: Why did you become a chef?
Chef Craig: I was in graduate school for creative writing and started washing dishes in a restaurant for extra money. It eventually led to cooking. I always enjoyed cooking at home, but cooking in a restaurant was so different. I enjoyed the comaradery, pace and energy. I also like how you cook something and it’s immedieately enjoyed. There is an immediate interaction with guests. But if you write something, you never know who is going to read it.
G&G: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
Chef Craig: I guess I’d be writing or editing? I also really like architecture, but I am not good at math. This is kind of weird but I love furniture design too. I guess I just like creating things.
G&G: Tell us about the inspiration for St. C
Chef Craig: Well I can’t speak for Ford, but St Cecilia is the patron Saint of music. Ford is a guitar player and loves music so it came from that. We were talking 2 years ago about the concept and he said he just wanted to do simple, ingredient-driven, old world Italian seafood and pasta. That just happens to be how I cook. There’s nothing like it in town. There are Italian restaurants but none that are seafood driven with modern Italian food.
G&G: What is your favorite thing about working at St. C?
Chef Craig: I’d say it’s two things. First is the kitchen staff. Especially the ones that have been with us since we opened. Second is the space itself. It’s a beautiful space.
G&G: Tell us about the creation of the Octopus dish?
Chef Craig: I was doing a lot fo research on Sicilian food. The sundried tomato pesto is called Trapanese pesto which is a Sicilian pesto. The combination of octopus and beans is very common throughout Italy and it all just kind of came together. Octopus is really meaty and can stand its own with really strong flavors.
G&G: Tell us about how you cook the Octopus at the restaurant.
Chef Craig: The octopus legs are poached in a stock of mirepoix, au jus and red wine. It cooks in that liquid for about an hour then it’s cooled in the same liquid so it doesn't get tough. Octopus soaks up whatever is around it so it really holds the flavor. At this point it is fully cooked. Then we just sear it on the stove [which is what the G&G home chefs will be doing] to give it a crispy texture.
G&G: Why do you like using local ingredients?
Chef Craig: There are so many reasons. It’s better and fresher and nine out of ten times, the flavor is better. I love getting produce that hasn’t even been refrigerated yet. You can feel it’s still warm from the sun. There are also a lot of socio-economic reasons. You’re supporting local farmers, which I think has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. They are out there working really hard to make something really good. There is also less of a carbon footprint and it's more environmentally sound. Basically, there is no reason not to buy local. It makes sense on so many levels.
G&G: What is your favorite thing to cook at home?
Chef Craig: Nine times out of ten, I make pasta at home. I eat with my daughter a lot so I make something for both of us. All of my training has been in Italian cuisine. I guess I must have been Italian in a past life?
G&G: Advice time! What advice would you give to a home chef cooking this meal?
Chef Craig: Get the pan as hot as you can without setting off your fire alarm. This will get the octopus real crispy.
G&G: And what advice would you give to home chefs in general?
Chef Craig: I’d say do what you know, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Cooking is not a mystical science. Experiment!