How did you get involved in these dinners? "I know [Marvel writer and editor] C.B. Cebulski and I wrote my own comic book called Wolverine: In the Flesh [in 2013]. Marvel is owned by Disneyland, and they are opening a Disneyland in Shanghai, so Marvel wants to make sure people embrace the characters. There is also this colla-borative effort with food, bringing together people who are passionate about food with comics."
So is Wolverine your favourite superhero? "I've always loved Wolverine. It's because he's an unknown, the head of the black sheep, and didn't really know much about himself. Whenever he spoke, he was powerful. He had a whole aura about him, the ability to regenerate, healing powers and his bones are unbreakable. As a chef you learn to love him more because he has knives built into his hands. How cool is that?"
Where did your love of food come from? "I grew up in Rhode Island [in the United States] and we had an herb garden, a vegetable garden and fish in front of the house. My mother's side is English, the Eastons, who [were among the first to settle on] Aquidneck Island, and my father's side is Italian, from Naples. So I had these two distinct cultures growing up and food was a major part. I made tomato pie with my [Italian] great-grandmother; it was actually focaccia without cheese on it, and [when she made pasta] I'd crank the pasta machine. With my [maternal] grandmother, we went clamming, mussel picking, caught blue fish and made traditional chowders. Her family had a company called Easton's Newport Breakfast Sausage, but the company folded during the second world war due to the spice rationing."
Did your love of offal start when you were young? "My great-grandmother made tripe with tomato, mint and chillies and it was so good. But the smell of the tripe during that first boil was horrific. We all know what beef and pork taste like. But when you start getting into the offal cuts, it's like telling a painter they can start using colour. Offal has more minerality, depth and flavour and it's very heavy with umami, and the tastes linger with you. There's culture of texture. In the United States, it's crispy. For Hong Kong, it is gelatinous, but you're not squeamish about soft or jiggly. The texture of liver and tripe can be tender and delicious but it has a squeak to it when you eat it.
"At Cockscomb, I think about how to put the familiar with the unfamiliar. We do a beef heart tartare at the restaurant and it sells like gangbusters. We do pig skin spaghetti with carbonara or puttanesca sauce. The whole animal ethic has become big in the US. But I'm not doing anything different - I'm just riding on the backs of thousands and thousands of grandmothers before me. I'm cooking peasant food and I'm proud of it. There's a reason why it's delicious - because it takes time and energy to make."
At the MAD food symposium last year, you talked about the perils of being on reality television. Was that to help you come to terms with it, or was that a warning to others? "It was a chance for me to get a monkey off my back and let the truth be known. It's not all the glitz and glamour that everyone seems to think it is. There's a generation of younger people who just want to be famous on TV, but it has its repercussions. I made a mistake - I was sick for five years [Cosentino suffered alkaline burns to his digestive system from overconsumption of chillies]. Anything that is a detriment to your health is a mistake in my opinion."
What do you do when you're not in the kitchen? "I was a professional cyclist for eight years - ultra endurance cycling. When I'm not in the kitchen I'm on the bike or spending time with my wife and 10-year-old boy. He's getting more interested in cooking and he's even created a dish that's on our menu. One day I asked him what he wanted to eat and he asked me why it's called a hamburger when there's no ham in it. I started explaining hamburgers come from Hamburg, which is related to beef but it didn't make sense to him. That night I thought about what he said. Now we have a hamburger on the menu using pork used for prosciutto, brining the hind leg and the shoulder. And then I grind it and make a burger patty out of it. It's the ultimate umami burger, with dijon mustard, caramelised onions, gruyere cheese and lettuce on a special bun, with no ketchup. For every hamburger sold he gets 25 cents that goes into his college fund. He regularly asks how many we've sold and even asks for a printout. He's a smart kid."