When talking to Banks White, executive chef at FIVE in the Hotel Shattuck Plaza in Berkeley, his easygoing nature and demeanor quickly shows through. Born and raised in Texas, White has sharpened his skills at some of the top restaurants around the country, including Northern California. And those skills are on full display in his dishes and menu.
“When we first opened, we were thought of as more casual and comfort food driven,” White said. “But slowly and surely, I have tried to step things up and give guests more of a fine dining experience. It’s about working on the finer touches and putting a bit more finesse on the plate.”
Even with those finer touches, Chef White doesn’t forget about his roots. Dishes throughout the menu have clues to his past and upbringing in Texas. “One of the favorites on the menu is the cornbread, which is a recipe from my grandmother. The housemade biscuits and pimento cheese have been featured prominently as well,” he said. “Those are items that will probably never come off the menu. It’s nice when someone comes in and compliments me on one of those dishes or tells me they remind them of food they had growing up. That’s a great compliment.”
Some of the dishes stay on the menu season after season, but White believes in making small changes 2-3 times within each season, talking to local growers directly so he can stock the kitchen with the freshest produce. He said he’s excited to work with a lot of different produce this winter including apples, kohlrabi, hard winter squashes, brussels sprouts and chicories.
And as for that stigma of hotel restaurants? “I think there is this belief that hotel restaurants don’t have fresh food, that all their ingredients are frozen, that there is no creativity in the dishes,” White said. “I’m fortunate because this is a small, family-owned, boutique hotel and the owners told me from day one, treat FIVE like a stand-alone restaurant. So I have and they’ve allowed me the freedom to create a diverse menu.”
With more and more restaurants opening up in the East Bay, especially in downtown Berkeley, White said he can’t rest on his laurels and will continue to push forward, all while maintaining relationships and partnerships within the community.
Here is the recipe for one of his more popular dishes, the Butterscotch Pudding:
4 c cream
16 ea egg yolks
¼ c brown sugar
10 ½ oz butterscotch chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
In a large bowl add the butterscotch chips and set aside. In a medium size pot bring the cream to a simmer. Combine egg yolks with brown sugar, set aside. Once the cream has come to a simmer remove it from the heat. Pour half of the cream into the yolk and sugar mixture, whisk to combine. Pour the mixture back into the pot. Over medium heat and using a candy thermometer, cook the mixture to 190F degrees and constantly stirring with a silicone spatula.
Once the mixture reaches 190F degrees, immediately pour over the butterscotch chips and whisk until the chips are melted and fully incorporated. While it’s still hot, pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a pitcher. Portion into individual cups and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours or until set.
Keep refrigerated until it’s time to serve. The pudding will last up to one week in the refrigerator. Serve with whipped cream and peanut brittle.
FIVE is located in the Hotel Shattuck Plaza in Downtown Berkeley (2086 Allston Way).
Photo Credit: FIVE