P. David Stockhausen is the Chef Educator and Culinary Arts Program Manager at Pie Ranch in Pescadero, CA. He also leads a band called “Spurs”, has a wife and son and still finds time to shape surfboards and shred the wild gnar of Santa Cruz County. It doesn’t take very much time in the kitchen with David to feel his passion for all things food. Subtle Peach got him on the horn recently, to understand where that passion came from.
Subtle Peach: Hi David, thanks for taking the time to chat with the Subtle Peach!
P. David Stockhausen: My pleasure.
SP: What is your first food memory?
PDS: My food memories begin at my grandfather’s house. Grandpa was a vegetable farmer and grandma was a great cook - because she had raised 7 kids. Something was always bubbling, fermenting, stewing in the kitchen. I think I took it for granted, grandma made it look so easy, never wanted anyone's help. So the fascination started there. She used to make all of these things - so I was always curious. She would make this sour cream and dill dip, really easy recipe, and she would eat spring onions in it. Not crackers. Just onions and dill dip straight to the dome. So I was like experiencing these intense flavors, and it just seemed like that’s how it was done. Easy. I feel like I have never quite gotten those flavors like I did in that kitchen.
SP: Wow, just onions dipped in cream. Hardcore. So where else would you say you drew your inspiration?
PDS: Well, I was a latchkey kid, meaning that my parents worked a lot. And I was a hungry kid, always looking for something to eat. I would watch cooking shows - Julia Child, Frugal Kitchen, Yen Can Cook - I was real creative, and I would go and create something in the kitchen.
I remember I was in this phase that I wanted to fry things and sauté things. One morning, I was around 8 years old, I decided to make my family breakfast. I was like "I’m gonna make scrambled eggs" but I added SO much salt that people were trying to be nice but it was really just this horrid salt situation.
SP: Sounds like a valuable salt lesson.
PDS: My parents would always have barbecues and my parents got this nice piece of steak that needed a marinade and I was like “ooh ooh ooh, ive heard of this!” I would just go to the kitchen cupboard, grab multiple vinegars, grab almost anything that I could get my hands on - basically throwing the kitchen cupboard at it. It was probably gross.
SP: But it sounds like you learned through just trying. Any tips for people out there who are just getting into the world of cooking?
PDS: Early on in one’s cooking experience it is easy to fall for gimmicky experiences, like sauces, like buying them instead of just making them yourself. Have def been there, just fallen into the trap of dumping sauces all over things when I was just learning about cooking.
SP: What are you working on these days?
Now more of what I am trying to do is just learn techniques, continually learn new things and push my boundaries out of the comfort zone of what I know is definitely going to please people. That is tricky. There is a risk, once you are a food professional – “Do I serve people things that I know they are going to love, or do I push myself and make something new that I don’t know if they will like, treat them like guinea pigs?” I like to try and test myself.
SP: What new spices or flavors are you playing with?
Cumin is my spirit spice. Not that that is new…
I have also really been getting into paprika. I’m really fond of the variety of paprikas, the differences of spicey-nesses and smoky-nesses. (are those are words?) Something about just the chili pepper, and the varieties. They go both in that sweet and savory direction. Really good on meats, but also on vegetables. I think we all grew up with that ancient McCormick brown paprika on the shelf, but when you get your hands on the real stuff...
I have a friend from Hungary, he brought me some fresh stuff. Real Hungarian paprika is not smoked, the Spanish smoke it, but not the Hungarians. The real stuff sort of blew my mind.
We grew Hungarian wax peppers on the farm last year, so I have been experimenting in making my own paprika. Drying the peppers thoroughly and then pulverizing them, using a vitamix. Since I make lots of cheese on the farm, one thing that I have been working on is Liptaeur cheese. I think its spelled L-i-p-t-a-e-u-r. Basically it's a spreadable cheese, mostly includes some fresh farm milk, goat, sheep, cow. Different recipes include butter, they almost always include paprika, and then something pickled and then it’s served with dill. I saw it in the Bar Tartine Cookbook originally and then looked it up and found thousands of different recipes.
SP: Neat! Other spices?
PDS: Warming spices, have never liked them. Mace, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg - basically pumpkin pie spices. Those warming species always used to turn me off but I am now re-exploring my relationship with them and learning to just sprinkle them into different recipes. Clove and allspice add subtle undertone in soups and stocks. I have come to really appreciate them. Years ago I came to appreciate star anise in chicken stock. That with bay leaf really seems to make the soup taste whole.
SP: Lot’s of good stuff there. Now, tell me something about Pie Ranch - Food justice, still relevant? It seemed like a few years ago, it was very trendy and now, maybe not so much?
That may be true. Even though these political issues, and food politics, they have been around for long enough that they should be common knowledge, there are still so many people that have no idea. Unfortunately, many people’s exposure is through spending lots of money to eat well, and they are told that that is activism. The upshot is that the food trend has created a lot of saturation in the Bay Area for food justice issues. It just depends on where you fall on the spectrum of how clued in you are. I think that Pie Ranch acts as a bit of an equalizer. We are here for people that can afford to rent us and use us for there gatherings, events, weddings and such, but we do make sure that they get our message about food justice - that we are a place for people of all backgrounds and all cultures. It’s a great opportunity to expose themselves to what the issues are. It is not enough to just buy and eat good food, but it is something to expose your self to those issues and think about what we need to change to get everyone that access. To not just support with their forks but with their voices. Pie Ranch gives me an opportunity to do that.**
SP: Pie Ranch is definitely a special place. What cookbooks are you thumbing through these days?
PDS: Bar Tartine - it is inspiring for the food nerd, gets into powders, and preparations and fermentations. It’s real fun and outside the box.
David Tanis "One Good Dish" - Would recommend to anyone because it is just really straightforward and simple, but every dish is super tasty and even the most beginner cook can use it. Sort of the opposite of Bar Tartine.
Not new books, but just super solid.
SP: Cool, I just went to Bar Tartine a few weeks ago for the first time, and I hadn’t heard of “One Good Dish”. Any other nuggets before we sign off here?
PDS: Sure, one piece of my childhood. One reason why I love food. I feel like I spent my whole life trying to not be in food, and I just kept finding that it was easy - I would do it to make money while I looked for a job. I had a really complicated relationship with food. I over-ate, was a chubby little kid who was very aware of that. I struggled to gain a healthy relationship with food, I could have become food phobic, could have had this toxic relationship with food. Instead I really leaned into it because of that first grandma relationship. I learned more about it and how to feed people, and finally just gave in to it.
SP: David, thanks so much for your time today. I think that your stories of how you fell for food are probably not unlike many other burgeoning chefs and I can’t wait to make a trip down to the farm to taste that Liptauer cheese!