Q&A with Chef Deborah Scarborough, Black Cat Bistro
Why did you become a chef?
I loved the art of creating dishes and making people happy with food.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I draw from life experiences and travels and then source beautiful ingredients, letting the seasons shine. My goal is to make delicious, innovative food that surprises people a bit, but is comforting.
Who were your earliest cooking influences and how did they influence you?
Like most chefs, I learned from family members. My mother taught me so very much. Food was very important in our family. My father taught me about game and fish. My grandmother on my mother’s side taught me about clean flavors as she was a purist. And my grandmother on my father’s side was an amazing southern cook.
What cultures/regions influence your cooking and why?
This changes for me all the time. I like to experiment with bold flavors from different parts of the world. I like to use unique spice combinations to enrich and brighten a dish. It’s fun for a meal to take you on a sort of journey. I just created a new dish using some Middle-Eastern spice combinations.
In cooking what inspires you?
Beautiful ingredients. I also always keep the diners in mind. I ask myself, “What would the people truly enjoy?”
What do you do to give each dish a personal flair?
Each dish has to come from the heart and feel unique.
What is your favorite style of food to create and why?
I go through phases of favorites. But the most consistent thing would be simplicity. Because then the flavors shine through.
What is your favorite secret ingredient to use and why?
I searched for many years to find a kosher flake sea salt and finally found one about six years ago. I love the way it enhances the flavors of everything it touches and the way it melts into proteins when they are cooking. Another favorite would be farm fresh eggs. They make a huge difference in everything they go in. Those dark yellow yolks are richer and more flavorful than the average supermarket egg.
Why use locally grown ingredients, and how does using locally grown ingredients provide a better dining experience for your guests?
I was raised on a farm/ranch. I was very much used to having wonderful tree and vine ripened produce and beautiful proteins. If we didn’t grow it, a neighbor certainly did. I didn’t know that certain ways of growing produce could actually take away from the flavor until I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school at USC. I remember buying things at the grocery store and trying to eat them (i.e., tomatoes!) and they tasted mealy and, well, awful. No wonder so many people don’t like eating their vegetables! Needless to say, when things don’t have to be shipped, they can be grown how nature intended and picked when ripe. Of course, there are many other reasons to eat locally, such as leaving a smaller carbon imprint and supporting our wonderful farmers and ranchers. But locally grown flavor won me over before I knew those other reasons existed.
What’s the best tip you can offer a budding or at home chef?
Always taste everything as you are cooking it and continue to adjust seasonings. Don’t be shy with salt! Salt brings out flavor! Sea salt. And get yourself some nice knives and a good sharpener. Sharp knives equal happy cook.