Mark Liberman: "I Don't Want People to Be Eating a Plate of Jellies"
|AQ's duck with beets.|
SFoodie: How'd you end up in San Francisco?
Liberman: I had been living in Vegas for three years and was done with Vegas. So I took a job as chef de cuisine at La Folie after that - that was in 2007, early 2008. I was there another year. When I came back from living in Florida, I was training for the  Bocuse d'Or competition. That's when Matt and I decided to open a restaurant. It took us a while to find a space, and I didn't want to take a job anywhere, so I did kitchen butchery, renting spaces out and doing small classes. I'd teach whole animal butchery: pigs, chickens, lamb, as well as charcuterie stuff.
I've heard the space you moved into wasn't a restaurant before that.
Yeah, it was a start-up office with a few desks, sporadically placed, and a few bikes leaned up against the wall. Pretty bare.
Did that allow you to design the kitchen the way you wanted?
Well, we're a new restaurant. Some places can spend $80,000 on a kitchen, but that wasn't the case with us. I was able to design it, but it was limited.
Is the open line we see from the dining room the extent of it?
No, there's a prep kitchen downstairs.
What has AQ then allowed you to do that you didn't get to at, say, La Folie?
Obviously, La Folie is very formal, fine dining, with very French-inspired cuisine. We're more California driven and casual. The cooking is still rooted in a lot of classic technique, but I do a lot of modern things. Also, La Folie is a special-occasion restaurant, while we're trying to make AQ a little more approachable for everyday guests.
We buy whole [plucked] ducks and hang them for 7-8 days. They haven't been cryovaced before I get them, just wrapped in parchment. It gets a fun texture, and then we just pan-roast it. The beet veil is made with beet juice and agar agar [a gelling agent], adn then for the beet soil we use the pulp from the juicer and then dry it out.
It's really a combination of old-school and new school techniques. I don't want people to be eating a plate of jellies. I want it to look like food, be like food. There's definitely a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, but when they get the dish, I want it to look like a piece of fish with potatoes and vegetables.