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The California Questionnaire: Joe Sasto

The California Questionnaire: Joe Sasto

The “Top Chef” star and pasta specialist has traveled up and down the state and has many delicious recommendations to share

Joe Sasto’s culinary passions have taken him all over the Golden State. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Davis, working a variety of cooking gigs during his undergraduate years. He helped open a restaurant in Ukiah, working as a line cook and learning the ins and outs of the restaurant business. And then he made a serious splash in San Francisco, working at a string of high-end restaurants including  the now-defunct RN74, pasta temple Cotogna, three-Michelin-star Quince, and Lazy Bear.

Two high-profile runs on Bravo TV’s Top Chef helped establish “Mustache Joe” as a culinary star, and you can see him in person at events like the Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience. He’s also writing a cookbook, developing a high-end customizable pasta and pizza tool line, and operating an exclusive focaccia pop-up in San Francisco called Luna Focacceria. Here are some of Sasto’s California favorites.

Where do you live?  I spend my time in between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I love them equally.

Why there? There is such beauty to all of California—the produce, the land, the terroir, the people, the different cultures, and, of course, let's not forget about the food. Each city is so different, so diverse, and so rich with life. The ocean is such a beautiful, meditative space for me, as well. I'm so grateful to spend my time in between these two incredible cities.

Who or what is your greatest California love? The food, of course! As well as the produce. There is nothing like the produce in California. I spent most of my restaurant career working in three- and two-Michelin-starred restaurants, creating relationships with farmers, learning about the land, and going to the farmers’ markets three times a week. There is so much complexity to the produce, as well as the food—both are my greatest California loves. California is one of the only places you can have a fine-dining Michelin-starred meal and walk outside and have an even more delicious meal from a street vendor under a pop-up tent.

What is the biggest misperception about Californians? Perhaps that all of us surf... ha! Joking, of course. That's a tough question. Honestly, I find people I meet from all over the world really love those who live in California.

What is the stereotype that most holds true? This is a tough question as well. I may be biased, but I think that we are very chill, kind, and love nature. I've never met a Californian that doesn't like avocados.

What is your favorite Golden State splurge? I would say seasonal tasting menus, some of my favorites are Lazy Bear, Kali, and Californios. I also enjoy trips up to wine country.

Time for a road trip—where are you going? I definitely am going to Lake Tahoe any time of the year, it is so beautiful. In the spring, what most call a "superbloom" happens—you can see flowers blooming everywhere, and the trees and grass are this vibrant green color. In the summer, the lake is this beautiful, Caribbean-esque color, and is so clear. All you want to do is take out a boat on the water, or sit on the beach, with the sun beaming down on you.

In autumn, the trees are absolutely incredible—the changing of the year is one of my favorite seasons.

In winter, skiing and snowboarding with the absolute best snow—need I say more?!

If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? For me it would be indulging in a Southern California taco crawl. People often forget how close California is to Mexico. There are so many influences and crossovers between the two cuisines and cultures. You can spend an entire day bouncing from pop-up taco stand to taco truck and not even scratch the surface of what is available. When I’m in L.A. I always stop by a few of my favorite taco spots: El Ruso, Tire Shop Taqueria, and Mariscos Jalisco.

Where would you go for the ultimate shopping spree in California? Any specialty knife and kitchen store: Bernal Cutlery in San Francisco or Japanese Knife Imports in L.A.

Best California song? “California Love”! I love it, it's absolutely genius. It touches on all the diversity and love that we all have for and that makes up California.

How would your California dream day unfold? I would wake up in the morning and grab a specialty coffee from my favorite local coffee shop, and a pastry from my favorite bakery, Breadbelly. Head to Golden Gate Park to forage for some edible plants and flowers, then head to the farmers’ market to pick up some produce and maybe even snack on some momos or a porchetta sandwich. I'd go on a hike near the water, looking at the ocean along the cliffs, maybe even head for a run on the beach. I would then cook my friends a special meal, laughing, talking, and enjoying that California sunshine. Then, since this is my dream day, I'd hire a private jet and bring them to L.A. for the ultimate taco crawl. Maybe up to wine country, or to Tahoe, if we had time. I'd then fall asleep, looking at the stars, from a glamping site near one of my other favorite places in California, Big Sur.

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