Chef/Owner Alex Stupak; Empellon Cocina, Empellon Taqueria
I do think food should be beautiful, but I don't take references from music or art or other things only because other people do it, and when I hear it, I don't like it. I don't like the way it reads in the press. I have a friend who is freakishly talented and that's what he does. So I respect it—don't get me wrong, I respect it—but he will tell you, "I saw this painting and those colors made me do this dish". He backs into a dish that way. Again, fine. I don't do that. I didn't do that with pastry.
And now with this way of cooking the idea is "how do you make it look Mexican / beautiful?" Because I think Mexico has a very interesting aesthetic, but I think a lot of people would agree with me that Mexican cooking just doesn't look good—it doesn't strive to be beautiful. So how do you makes something beautiful without stripping it of its soul? I guess that's kinda my inspiration right now. And sometimes we don't make it beautiful. Sometimes we just serve the dish.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Alex Stupak
Chef Anthony Ricco; Spice Market
During a rough day I'll just bury myself in the wok. There's so much information coming at you that nothing else matters at that point. When you have to cook 300 fried rice orders a night, there's nothing you can do for those three or four hours but cook—personal issues, home problems...nothing else matters. I'm free. Fee from paperwork, all the other chef shit I have to deal with on a daily basis. It just shuts up. It's great when it's busy for lunch and there's only one person on a station and I pull them out of the shits. You can quote that too—"the shits"—it's an industry term. Sorry.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Anthony Ricco
Chef/Owner April Bloomfield, The Jon Dory, The Breslin, The Spotted Pig
Be open—things change. It's good to be aware of an ingredient from the moment you buy it, to the moment you prep, cook and eat it. Because things are just not "the same." A tomato in one part of the season isn't the same as another tomato in another season. So just learn to trust your own palate, and keep training your palate to know how to work with something to make it delicious.
Read the full interview: We Chat With April Bloomfield
Chef/Owner Dale Talde; Talde, Pork Slope
My parents came here, just like a lot of parents did, in the late sixties / early seventies. Their role coming to America was to survive and to do better for their children—our role is to thrive. We're already surviving, they've already laid it down for us. Now it's up to you—whoever you are in whatever you're doing—to thrive and be recognized. I'm not doing this to be recognized, but to be recognized is an honor. I'm just trying to do the best job I can do for this community, and this neighborhood, and if people recognize it, that's cool. When you realize how much your parents have sacrificed for you, it's not hard to bust your ass.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Dale Talde
Chef/Owner Daniel Holzman, The Meatball Shops
How does it feel to have your career, right now, focused primarily around a little ball of meat? Well, I was really nervous that I would feel pigeonholed and kind of not creatively stimulated, but it's just not the case. There haven't been any dull moments when I've kind of felt depressed, like, "geeze, you know, I really wish I could make something flat."
Very well put. I mean, can I make a payard!?
Ha, I'm sure you could. I can make a hell of a payard, girl, you have no idea.
I believe you. [With attitude and a nondescript accent] "Girl, I'll make a payard that will blow your f'ing mind!"
Speaking of accents and, um, stuff, most people associate meatballs with Italy or maybe, Sweden, but you're not Italian. No, I'm a Jew from New York. And, like, half a Jew really because I'm a Jew by culture and by association, not by religion. But it's as Jewish as it gets—I get guilted by my mom and all that.
I grew up Catholic and I got the same thing. Yeah, they have guilt-mom syndrome too there big time. And they make you eat a lot. I've noticed that, in the same way. Catholics and Jews...you know Jesus was a Jew before he was Catholic, so...
[Gazing off to my photographer, Brent] He's got a good-looking pair of boots on. [To Brent] What kind of boots are those?
Brent: These are Cole Haan.
They're a good-looking pair of boots.
Brent: Thank you.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Daniel Holzman
Mastermind Dave Arnold; Booker and Dax Bar
Thing is, nothing about those 90 minutes was boring. And when I crave a—yes—perfect cocktail, I immediately think of Booker and Dax. If it takes a little liquid nitrogen or a flaming hot poker to make that happen, I'll just accept their presence as the new normal in the back of the bar. Here's what about two minutes with Dave can be:
I think, you know, one of the things that people still don't realize is that these techniques aren't things that only Wylie [Dufresne] is doing, or Grant [Achatz] is doing, or even, you know, what we're doing here at the bar. I think this bar is a good case and point. We have our drinks. But we're not trying to make things that are, you know, crazy or weird. We're using all the techniques that we can to make all these drinks better. Which is why we don't have any weird garnishes. It's always been my point that using these new techniques doesn't mean you're making something wacky.
One of my favorite things I'd say teaching is, "yes, Wylie is very known for using a lot of these things, but every single four-star restaurant's kitchen in this city is using them." Even Le Bernardin for years—the most conservative of those four-stars—and Daniel, and Jean-Georges when Johnny [Iuzzini] was there, they were using a lot of that stuff. A lot of that stuff trickled in from the pastry departments; Michael Laiskonis at Le Bernardin was using this stuff before they were using it in the main kitchen. A lot of these techniques were used in every single one of those kitchens.
Do you find that pastry chefs have sort of spearheaded the use of these techniques? Well, pastry chefs in general do a lot more work with a lot of things like gelées and foams. In general, yes, but I don't know why frankly. There's a lot of trite BS that, "well, pastry chefs are used to measuring already". I think you would find if you did a random sampling of high-end pastry chefs versus high-end chefs that the pastry chefs were fairly early adopters of a lot of this stuff. On the low-temp side a lot of savory side chefs started using low temp and sous vide because it really helped them do a lot of work, so that was kind of really quickly adopted by a large amount of people. Does that make sense? I feel like this is so fucking dry!!
Read the full interview: We Chat With... Dave Arnold
Owner Doug Quint; Big Gay Ice Cream
Bobby Flay was supposed to come to the truck for one of his morning shows and we set the whole thing up and he never showed. And we found out the producers didn't feel that "middle America was ready for Big Gay Ice Cream." So we kinda had the suspicion that we were going to be limited by our name—which like we said was okay. But then Rachael Ray's producers started talking to me and I said point blank, "are you playing with me, because a couple of times national programs have approached us and then basically wimped out." And they said, "well, we're a syndicated show, we put out whatever content we want, and then the network has to air it or not. We're going to shove you down their throats." And I thought, "oh my god, people are actually really behind this."
Read the full interview: We Chat With... Doug Quint
Chef/Owner Einat Admony: Balaboosta, Taim
I get a lot of questions about how it is to be a woman in this industry. I can tell you most of the places I've worked at, the first position they put me at is garde manger—not the meat station, even though I had the experience. In the beginning that would make me angry.
But I realized I was strong and pushy enough. So in two weeks I would go to the chef and say, "look, you know I'm good. You see my food is fast and perfect. I'm loyal. I am moral. I come early to work, I come on my day off to learn." Then I would move to any station I wanted. So as a woman they would treat me a little bit differently until they realized I could kick ass. I like to work with women—I love it. There's something different about it when there are women working in the kitchen.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Einat Admony
Chef Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin
We feel we are lucky to be a high-end restaurant because we live with our passion—we are happy and feel lucky to work in this environment. We don't wait for a catastrophe to arrive to be involved with the community. We do it on a daily basis. And then when Sandy destroyed New Jersey and our coast here, obviously, we didn't feel good about that. Everybody has a sense of compassion here. So we helped a little bit more than we do usually but, again, for us it's a daily thought—to help, especially people who are hungry. I'm the co-chair on the board of City Harvest because I feel I can't be successful and feed lucky people and have people who are not even homeless who are hungry. So we don't want to procrastinate. So our main focus is City Harvest, in feeding people who are hungry.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Eric Ripert
Chef Floyd Cardoz, North End Grill
It's the way [an ingredient] looks, the way it tastes. It could be a bunch of different things—I could see a tomato today and get totally excited about it, and see the same tomato tomorrow and not have anything to do with it. I never pre-determine any dish. I'll be talking to my fish purveyor and say, "bring it in." "What are you going to do with it?" "I have no idea, just bring it in." And when I look at it, it triggers things in me. It could be how it feels outside, the way the sun is shining or the way the heat is coming off the grill. The way someone ate or did not eat a dish. It could be a bunch of stimuli. I don't know what it is that does it.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Floyd Cardoz
Chef/Owner Gabrielle Hamilton; Prune
Here's the thing—you just put your head down and do your job. I do. I just do my job. And define for myself what my work is, what's important to me, and who I am. I tend to really ignore everything—positive or negative—assigned to me. It's an incredible distraction and drain to get caught up in other people's subjective take on you. Frequently I'm disrupting people's assumptions about me when we meet—I'm not a blustering bad-ass anymore with unfiltered cigarettes and dropping the F-bomb every five minutes—because I have nothing to really defend or fake anymore. My strength is really clear to me.
I met someone last night who said, "so, I think I have a book in me, too. Did you just worry about it and say, 'fuck it, I'm just going to write this book anyway?'" And I was like, "no, no, no. I kept those voices of self-doubt and loathing with me the entire time I wrote the book, and I listened to them and what I ended up doing was reading each page and making sure I was writing in a way that would quiet those voices. But I didn't ignore them or just write fly-in-the-face of them. You have to listen to the harsh voices. It's nice if you can tell it to yourself before someone can tell it to you. Then it doesn't hurt as much.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Gabrielle Hamilton
Restaurateur Gabriel Stulman; Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey's Grocery, Fedora, Perla, and Chez Sardine
I learned is that it's so important—even if you're too busy to make that person's drink right now—to acknowledge them. I don't know if you've ever experienced when you've gone into a place where the bartender is clearly in the weeds and you're one or two deep from everyone at the bar, and you're signaling for the bartender and they don't even acknowledge you. I worked at a busy place and I was taught, "I don't care if you can't make their drink right away. What I do care is that you look up and say, 'hey Jacqueline, I'm really busy, but I'll be with you in a minute. I've gotta make these six other drinks, but I see you there.'" And I found that's a mile in hospitality. And I know that from the receiving end. That's all I'm looking for. I just want you to say that you see me, you know that I'm there, I'm on your radar.
Whenever you finally get to that person, give that person your attention. Stop. They waited for you now, you stop and wait and listen to them. Give them eye contact. "What do you want? You got me. I hear other people talking to me right now, but we're locked in on this transaction, this order, this correspondence, this conversation."
Read the full interview: We Chat With Gabriel Stulman
Chef/Owner George Mendes; Aldea
My first awakening was with Chef Alain Ducasse—he had a refined style of cooking, but everything on the plate was so pure and simple. If I took what was on the plate and put it on a paper plate, and removed all the luxury around it, I could see the honesty and authenticity and respect for tradition that was on the plate. The honest flavors. And that's what had a big impact on me—the honesty in it.
And I think that carries over into what I do at Aldea today because I am representing the flavors of Portugal—sometimes it's an exact replica of a classic dish, sometimes it's the inspiration of a classic dish. I'll have an older Portuguese couple come in and say, "wow, this is definitely not what I've had in Portugal, but I can taste it." At the end of the day, that's what I'm trying to do here—respect the flavors of Portugal but translate it through my own lens and in a kind of modern New York sensibility.
Read the full interview: We Chat With George Mendes
Editor-in-Chief James Oseland; Saveur Magazine
It makes sense that James heads up Saveur. Our entire discussion was peppered by his fascination with food and culture, and how his path in life was set down by those two things. In this initial response—though unclear to him at the time—it seems that path was laid rather early:
I was a product—honestly, there's no other way to slice or dice this—of a pretty bland, almost kind of horrifyingly typical American childhood. My dad was an office product salesman. When he was around—which was frankly not very much—he would duplicate these great dishes he had eaten on his work travels. So really at my dad's side was where I got fascinated by how this thing that we must do every single day could be this very wonderful and glorious and exciting and interesting thing. It made my very bland, dull world interesting. It seemed like the small international section of the supermarket and the dishes that my dad used to make replicating these fabulous continental classics that he'd eaten on the road were a portal into something else, into another world. It was essentially an escape. When I was 8 or 9 years old I was inspired by a Julia Child episode where she was making Cesar Salad and I had an aha! moment of, "I can do that!" And I did. From there on it was my default—my fundamental comfort zone. There is nothing that settles and satisfies me at the same time more than the act of cooking in my own kitchen.
Read the entire interview: We Chat With James Oseland
Chef/Owner Jehangir Mehta; Graffiti, Mehtaphor
One day I was working the lunch service and I got a call from another restaurant just down the street saying, "would you like to come head up pastry with us?" I had to say, "You know what, I'm so happy that I just won't leave. The point is not the money; you might give me $10,000 more. But I love it here." It was everything: it was a fun environment, very unique. And I think if your boss really likes you and is about protecting his group... Jean-Georges was the best boss I could ever imagine. He was the worst person to teach you anything; you literally had to grab things by just looking and looking. But that's just what he was; he was a boss and chef and not a good teacher. It was more, "You wanna learn? You stay sixteen hours instead of your usual nine or ten." I had no problem putting in those hours—I was young, and when you work with the best you gain confidence just because of the persona of how the place sounds. I knew how lucky I was to be there.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Jehangir Mehta
Chef/Owner Marc Murphy; Landmarc and Ditch Plains
I've always loved to eat and seriously at one point thought, "if I can keep learning how to cook, I can eat. At least if I'm flipping burgers I can eat one now and then." Because the idea of being hungry was very upsetting to me. When I moved to New York City 20 years ago there were more homeless people on the street, you know?! I was like, "damn, it would suck not to be able to eat." So that was one of my inspirations; not to be homeless and to be able to eat. I would probably be okay with being homeless—I would be really unhappy being hungry. Otherwise I probably would have gone into building houses, so I wouldn't worry bout where I lived.
And it's just one of those things where the sense of accomplishment is so amazing, where you have five ingredients and you transform it into something. Like carbonara: a box of pasta, a slab of bacon, an egg, a wedge of Parmesan, and some black pepper. Beautiful ingredients, but fuck! Put them together right, that thing is rocking, you know what I mean? It really is cool. I love the idea.
And I also like the idea of doing something and having a finished product. I couldn't even imagine being one of those scientists who works on a problem for 20 years or their whole life. That's gotta be so nerve-wracking. I'm more of a craftsman in the sense that I'd make a chair and then the chair would be made. Or like you—you've got an article, you write it, it's done, you move onto the next thing. Food is instant gratification. Delicious instant gratification.
Read the full interview: We Chat With... Marc Murphy
Sommelier Paul Grieco; Hearth and Terroir
My contribution was certainly not immediate. Growing up I was a fan of 1980s Brit new wave and goth-esque music. So kind of because of that and getting into the punk scene and having a skewed brain anyway, I loved fighting the good fight for the person who wasn't being defended or promoted. I loved the underdog, I loved being a contrarian...all those things. Even then, the majority of the wines I saw were relatively conservative. I understand that, as a beverage director, you create a program that appeals to your guests. You should—we're in the hospitality business. But I define the hospitality business somewhat differently. And that's why I go the route that I do.
So, why Riesling? Because it is the underdog grape. Because it is the greatest grape on the planet that was once regarded as such by not just somms and wine people but by everyone on planet earth. It was the most valued white wine. It was the most expressive of the place in which it was grown. It appealed to monarchs, it appealed to potentates, it appealed to the common man. And then we lost that. We lost it for very good reasons, so I view it as much job to bring it back and put it on its lofty perch.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Paul Grieco
Chef/owner Seamus Mullen; Tertulia
One of the things about cooking in New York City is that New Yorkers have very sophisticated palates and relationships with and exposure to lots of different cuisines. In Spain there's a long-standing history with a specific cuisine—their cuisine—and a lot less exposure to other cuisines. So New Yorkers have an expectation to be transported to another place in a restaurant. It's more than just the food, it's the whole experience: it's the food, it's the music, it's the service—it's everything together that's taken into account.
For myself I sometimes find that very traditional dishes in Spain can be almost monochromatic in taste: they have one flavor and that flavor goes all the way through the dish, and it's very intense and bold. But there may not be peaks and valleys. So I like to capture that essence of the flavor, but then try as much as I can to create point and counterpoint: if something's really rich, having something acidic to balance it; if something's really spicy, have something mildly sweet to counteract that. To really create this balance of flavors. So that's something you'll see a lot here that is not so traditional in Spain. We try to capture the essence of the cuisine and the essence of the flavors and products, but present them in a way that's relevant for a New York diner in 2012.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Seamus Mullen
Pastry Chef Stephen Collucci; Colicchio and Sons
During the course of our interview, he leaked to me that he was proposing to his girlfriend on Christmas Eve, and he ended up asking for a copy of the unpublished draft to give to her, waiting until she read down to the news before popping the question—he's now working on their wedding cake.
What comes across most distinctively about Stephen in my mind, though, is his pure excitement over sweet things. A year ago already, I asked him what dessert was currently blowing his mind:
Christina Tosi's Cereal Milk Ice Cream. I had it two weeks ago for the first time and I guess I must have stopped speaking, because my friend was like, "what's wrong?" And I just said, "it's stupid." She's like, "what do you mean?" "It's stupid how good it is. It's dumb how good it is. It's just dumb." I haven't felt that way about dessert in a very long time. I can always tell when it's really good because I don't share it. My friend asked me for a taste, and I said "absolutely not! Go get your own!"
Read the full interview: We Chat With Stephen Collucci
Chef/Partner Jim Botsacos; Molyvos and Abboccato
It's easy: stop taking yourself so seriously. F*ing relax. My wife says I have OCD. Food teaches me to relax. It's changed me, in a way. Simple food is lovely. I was sitting down, thinking about all the different ways I could can tomatoes. And I thought—why am I complicating myself? What's the best thing? Take a can of tomatoes, open it up and do whatever you want to do with it. Rather than making a sauce—garlic, spices, canning it—just pack the tomatoes in their juice, and then you can do the hell what you want with them. Find the beauty in the simplicity of the food. Food's the answer.
Read the full interview: We Chat With Jim Botsacos