Q&A: Bocanova’s Rick Hackett

Oakland, CA – In the September issue of Diablo Magazine, reporter Ethan Fletcher caught up with Rick Hackett, co-owner with wife Meredith Melville, of Bocanova, Jack London Square’s latest upscale restaurant to open.

Tell me a little about the “Pan American cuisine” concept for the restaurant?
I wanted to draw inspiration mainly from South America, Latin America, and Mexico, but I wanted to include North America and California, but to heighten the spice level a little bit. Not real spicy, I can’t eat real spicy food, but this is a different kind of spice from these peppers that just give you some heat in your mouth.
I really wanted to reacquaint people with how the new world ingredients really influenced cuisine.
Can you give an example?
The tomato, potatoes, that’s from Peru, corn is from the Americas. European cuisines have really taken ownership of those ingredients. You’ve got the spicy peppers and sweet peppers, they all started here.
Is that where your expertise lies?
Not exactly, but for the last ten years, in the kitchens that I run, it’s been all Latino cooks. So when they cook for staff meal or family meal, you can see their influence. I’m classically trained, so when I teach them technique then they apply that to their old recipes and what they’re familiar with, it comes out with a little bit more sophistication and it comes out really well. At Market Bar, I have a Peruvian soux chef, cooks form El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, a lot of Mexicans, it’s very varied.
It seems like there is a lot of momentum when it comes to South and Central American cuisine?
I think there’s a lot of interest there. It might not come true, but I said as many as 15 years ago that Mexican food should be elevated to one of the higher cuisines because if you get beyond the burritos and tacos and street food, it’s a pretty complex cuisine, the different moles, the salsas, the ceviches, it’s pretty varied. Then when you get down to Argentina it’s basically steak, meat on the grill, which we’ll have too.
Why the move to Jack London Square?
Jack London Market right here. I believe in what they’re doing, they’ve had a vision and they’ve stuck to it. My one concern in doing this, is I didn’t want them to sell out if they couldn’t lease the spaces and I didn’t want all of a sudden to be stuck next to a chain restaurant. They’re committed. I know the chef going in there and I know the person who is going in next to me, and they’re all quality people. I’m already buying from the butcher who’s going into the market.
I think what they’re trying to do is create this concentration of market, restaurants, and food vendors, wine and cheese shops, that want to be local, sustainable, and organic. I think at one point they used the term food mecca and I bought into that and I think it can really work here. I live in Oakland, and I think what turned me around was when they opened up the Whole Foods (near Lake Merritt), that told me that the people in Oakland are rally hungry for this and just look at all the great new restaurants opening up. I think Oakland is going to blossom, plus it’s cheaper to do business here.
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For more information about Bocanova, please visit www.bocanova.com.