By Marissa La Brecque — Rob Larman has a righteous restlessness. It is a common affliction among cooks, a profession that demands both creativity and ferocious repetition, leading to frequent changes of venue. Chef Larman’s case is exacerbated by a strain of entrepreneurialism.
Last fall, Larman opened Sonoma’s Cochon Volant BBQ Smoke House, which serves California cooking that happens to be Southern-style barbecue. The two cuisines share a similar ethos: utilizing a few good ingredients, whose flavors are expertly coaxed into expression.
“I don’t cut the fat off the brisket,” he says proudly.
If you look closely at the Bay Area’s as-yet-unwritten Historica Culinaria, you will see Larman again and again, in different chapters. He was the opening chef at Kuleto’s in San Francisco, when it had an Italian tapas concept. He later helmed the kitchen at Sausalito’s Casa Madrona, and then opened the excellent Bistro La Poste, also in the town of Sonoma.
Between the fine-dining gigs, Larman created Rob’s Rib Shack, where the template of sumptuous street food was forged. He has refined the model at Cochon Volant, whose name translates to “flying pig,” a title heralded by the enormous forged iron pig sporting wings that sits atop the entrance to the restaurant. The smell of Cochon Volant’s namesake meat being smoked over wood will confirm you are at the correct spot, located in Sonoma’s Agua Caliente neighborhood, a community that is becoming a sort of haute hawker food destination, with current neighbors El Molino Central and a forthcoming Neopolitan pizza joint and noodle house.
“I’m not a barbecue nerd, but I really appreciate the culture around it,” Larman says. California has yet to create a barbecue religiosity to rival the Sunday-after-church smoked meat feasts of North Carolina, Texas or Kansas City, but Larman is serving up the goods to rival any of these bastions of barbecue culture. His brisket’s fuchsia smoke ring testifies to his skill, and the smoked sweet potato may just be the start of another chapter of the future Historica: The California School of BBQ.
RL: When I was 15, I did Steak Dianne and Cherries Jubilee for my parents’ anniversary, and managed not to burn down the apartment.
What was your favorite food as a kid?
I had Shabu Shabu at 13 in Tokyo with Kobe Beef, which was pretty wonderful.
What food do you wish you loved?
Not big on chicken feet.
What food do you love unreasonably much?
What is the most difficult cooking technique to do well?
A perfect omelet. I never order them, except in France.
What are you exploring in your kitchen now?
Pickles and an espresso BBQ sauce
What non-culinary influence inspires you?
Modern art and design
What is your idea of a very healthy meal?
Very fresh grilled fish and greens
What is your favorite ingredient?
What is your favorite hangover meal?
Very spicy Chinese
What restaurant in the world are you most dying to try?
I’m sorry I missed El Bulli, but I would love to try Pujol in Mexico City.
Whom do you most like to cook for?
My wife, Lizzy
If you could do one other job, what would it be?
Cooking is all about making people happy and that’s good enough for me.
What is your favorite midnight snack?
What most satisfies your sweet tooth?
Chocolate and ice cream
What would you eat at your last meal, if you could plan such a thing?
I had an amazing meal at Les Crayères in Reims for my 40th—chilled seafood consommé, perfectly clear with perfect oysters, clams and Beluga eggs floating in it. And a pigeon breast en croute with a glass of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Echezeaux. I could do a repeat on that and die happy.
What’s your favorite place to go (and what is your favorite thing to order)
… for a splurge meal?
Cala in San Francisco for a roasted sweet potato with bone marrow and mezcal
… for breakfast?
The Girl and the Fig for bagels and lox
… for pastry?
Bordeaux for canelés
… for a late night/after work meal?
The local taco truck, La Bamba
… for a cup of coffee?
Sunflower Café on the Sonoma Square
… for a greasy spoon meal?
The Fremont Diner for biscuits and gravy
… for groceries?
Sonoma Market, of course
… for kitchen equipment?
E. Dehellerin in Paris
… for ice cream?
Sweet Scoops in Sonoma
… for chocolate?
And lastly but not leastly … what is your favorite local wine or beer for the season?
Bedrock Wine Co.’s “Ode to Lulu” Rosé and Sonoma Springs’ “Uncle Jack’s” Kolsch.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATALIE GANTZ & CODY GANTZ
This piece first appeared in Edible Marin and Wine Country Magazine. Special thanks to Gibson Thomas.