Born in England and raised in Southern California, chef Gypsy Gifford may not be the most likely candidate to cook Asian cuisine at Rain, 100 W. 82nd St., but she is not new to the flavors and ingredients of the region. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Gifford was Chef de Cuisine at Bao 111, where she expanded her knowledge and interest in Asian cuisine, specifically Vietnamese. However, it was during a recent “pilgrimage” to Thailand where Gifford cemented her love for Asian food. Traveling from region to region, Chef Gifford browsed open air markets and dined in homes and restaurants.
Any tips for entertaining at home?
Let yourself relax; make simple food that tastes delicious. And always have a sous chef, a friend or spouse to help you with the details and the dishes.
Where is your favorite place to eat in the city?
Le Miu, Avenue B and 7th Street, for great late night sashimi.
What do you cook for yourself at home?
English muffins, toasted with raspberry jam.
Which ingredients should everyone have in the kitchen?
What tool should everyone have in the kitchen?
A mandolin. It’s only $20 in Chinatown.
Any tips for getting a good dinner reservation?
I like to eat at off hours. I don’t usually try to get reservations at 8 p.m. Why fight to be included with the masses? Go at 6:30 when the kitchen is relaxed and you can get more attentive service.
What is the best meal you’ve ever had? The worst?
Best meal was a Phuket-style dinner served at an outdoor restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The food was perfect, the company was a group of new local friends. The kitchen was outdoors, and at the end of the meal poisonous frogs came hopping through to eat the early evening insects.
The worst was when I had lunch at a very reputable downtown restaurant (I’m not going to say the name). We were told that the menu was designed to be ordered for sharing; then when we made our selections, we were told that one of them wasn’t very good for sharing.
Then some food was burnt; then, my friend took the lemon out of her Diet Coke and put it on the table — the waiter kept moving it around the table to make room for all the other food, the rice, anything — but he just wouldn’t take it away. Then there was nowhere to put the heads from the head-on prawns, so we used the empty dish from the amuse sauce. Then the waiter put an underliner under the bowl of discarded shrimp heads.
Do you have any memorable stories from the kitchen?
As a line cook, I once broke my foot in the middle of service on a Friday night; at the end of the night the sous chef handed me a bag of ice and said, “Be ready for Saturday night service tomorrow!” My foot didn’t fit into my clogs; I worked in some loosely tied sneakers … at some point adrenaline took over and I just stopped feeling any pain (actually thought it was healed and maybe I’d over reacted). You have to be just this side of crazy to make it in this business.
Gifford’s Hamachi Tartare
Serves 4 (or great as an
hors d’oeuvre on a taro chip)
12 ounces fresh hamachi filet (available at Lobster place in Chelsea Market); cut to medium dice
2 tbsp black tobiko (also at Lobster Place)
2 tbsp minced chives
2 tbsp minced cilantro
3 tbsp light olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 small jalapeno (shaved thin on a Japanese mandolin)
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Mix together everything but the lime juice, salt, pepper and jalapeno. Make sure the fish is nicely coated with the oil, then add the lime juice, salt and pepper (adding the lime juice last will keep the fish from “cooking”). Shape the tartare into round disks on the center of a plate. Lay shaved jalapeno on top. Serve with taro chips.