Chef Ross Kaplan at Bocanova
Jack London Square, 55 Webster Street, Oakland

Chef de cuisine: Ross Kaplan

Age: 33

Hometown: Columbia, Maryland

Experience: Kaplan, an East Coast native, started out at Union Square Café in Manhattan, under the tutelage of renowned chef Michael Romano. When he came to the West Coast, he worked at Café Cacao in Berkeley and then MarketBar in San Francisco. Rick Hackett, the chef at MarketBar, recruited Kaplan to help him launch Bocanova, which opened in September 2009.

Global inspiration: At Bocanova, the menu draws inspiration from the Americas, with influences as varied as Brazil, Costa Rica and indigenous cultures. It's been fun to use that as a basis for ideas. The restaurant's Bay Area location is important, too, because it allows the "California produce and food to speak for themselves."

Early inspiration: "When I was younger, I used to watch a lot of cooking shows on PBS. And in my family, we used to eat a lot of family dinners on the weekend."

What is your biggest challenge? "I really enjoy teaching. Maybe it's because my parents were teachers. It's a pleasure and one of my bigger challenges.


You have to invest in the people you're working with. But it's always a challenge to teach people and have them absorb the information you need them to know."

What is your favorite restaurant? "I like going to Pacific Catch in San Francisco and getting a poke bowl" - raw tuna salad.

Guilty food pleasure: "I love pizza. What can I say? Pizza is always a great stand-by."

If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing? "I've always loved music.
Yucatan seafood stew
So I see myself as a radio personality. I'm not actually a musician, but I do love music."

Culinary philosophy: "Make it delicious. I've also always taken the position that what you cook is ingested into somebody's body and becomes a part of them."

Yucatan seafood stew

Serves 8-10

4 white onions, diced
3 serrano chiles, minced
30 garlic cloves, pan roasted and chopped
1/2 cup white wine
16 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons lime zest lime juice to taste
6 cups fish stock
2 cups tomato sauce
3 pounds white fish
2 pounds shellfish

White onion, habanero chile, cilantro - all minced; lime juice

For stew base:
- Sauté onions in olive oil until soft.
- Add chiles and garlic; cook for about five minutes. Deglaze pan with wine.
- Add tomatoes and reduce to a thick paste. Add oregano, zest and juice.
- Add stock and tomato sauce; simmer 10 minutes. Season to taste.

Add fish and shellfish and simmer until fish is opaque and shells have opened.

To serve:
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with minced white onion, habanero chile, lime juice and cilantro. Serve with grilled bread on the side.