An amazing culture of team work: Chatting with Chris Flint, Chef de Cuisine at Eleven Madison Park

Want to start an enormous war of words amongst food nerds anywhere? Declare a restaurant “the best”, sit back with your fernet and watch the forks fly. All things told, though, there are restaurants across the globe that do stand out for cuisine, hospitality and overall dining experience. Eleven Madison Park is one of those restaurants. Check out my interview with Chef de Cuisine Chris Flint.

Want to start an enormous war of words amongst food nerds anywhere? Declare a restaurant “the best”, sit back with your fernet, and watch the forks fly. All things told, though, there are restaurants across the globe that do stand out for cuisine, hospitality, and overall dining experience. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants (sponsored by San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna) strives to highlight such restaurants.

This year’s list thrust Eleven Madison Park in NYC to the forefront of American gastronomy (again), ranking the Daniel Humm and Will Guidara restaurant #4 in the world (highest in the U.S., a bump up from the #5 ranking in 2013). Anyone who knows the work and effort required to run a successful restaurant, let alone one of this stature, understands just how important the entire team there is. An integral part of the EMP team? Chef de Cuisine Chris Flint.

Continue reading “An amazing culture of team work: Chatting with Chris Flint, Chef de Cuisine at Eleven Madison Park”

Gracious Grub NYC: Raising funds and awareness for Food Bank for New York City June 17 – 27

The first ever Gracious Grub NYC is a series of seven unique food and drinks events to help raise funds and awareness for Food Bank for New York City. From June 17 to June 27, local food and drinks talent will cook up high quality events around the city with ticket proceeds donated to Food Bank NYC.

The first ever Gracious Grub NYC is a series of seven unique food and drinks events to help raise funds and awareness for Food Bank for New York City. From June 17 to June 27, local food and drinks talent will cook up high quality events around the city with ticket proceeds donated to Food Bank NYC.

Schedule of Events:

Monday, June 17: Homemade Pasta workshop with Taste Buds Kitchen. Learn to knead, roll, and cut pasta to make fettucini and to shape and fill perfect raviolis. Get inside tips and tricks on a delicious pasta dough recipe, and how to make shapes you love to eat. To top it off, learn to make delicious fresh tomato & basil sauce! 7 pm – 9 pm. Cost: $65/person

Tuesday, June 18 and Thursday, June 27: Sex on the Table aphrodisiac cooking class with Chef Fed. Learn to work with unique aphrodisiacs that not only seduce your palate but also your nose, eyes, ears, hands, and most importantly, your mind. Prepare and savour a three-course meal using spring and summer flavours, BYOB. 6:30 pm-9:30 pm. Cost: $99/person

Wednesday, June 19: Brewshop 101: Homebrewing Essentials with Douglas Amport and John La Polla from Bitter & Esters-the city’s first do-it-yourself brewery! Learn all the basics to get you up and running while brewing a batch of beer. You’ll learn about extract brewing, malts, grains, yeasts and how to avoid or troubleshoot the most common problems. 6:30pm-8:30pm. Cost: $55/person

Saturday, June 22: Outdoor Tapas and Dessert Class with Healthy Lifestye Chef Juan Pablo Chavez. Learn tasty recipes for healthy and vegan tapas appetizers and desserts that you can make at your next party. 6 pm – 8 pm. Cost: $40/person

Sunday, June 23: Food Styling and Photography Workshop with Julia Cawley, featuring Chef Fed. Attend this intensive workshop to learn the fundamentals of food plating, styling, and photography. 9:30 am – 4:30 pm. Cost: $350/person

Monday, June 24: NYC Chinatown Dumpling Tour with Mark. Explore the history of Chinatown, learn all about Chinese cuisine, and feast on a variety of Chinese dumplings. 6 pm – 9 pm. Cost: $30/person

Locations: Various locations around the city. Each event at a different venue. Check out the Gracious Grub NYC website for full details.

 

Chatting with Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park about ‘I Love NY: Ingredients and Recipes’

The newest addition to my shelf is a cookbook called I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes, written by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park in NYC. This well written cookbook provides an intimate look at those putting the work in to the ingredients which make their way in to big city kitchens every day.

My wife complains about two things when I cook. First, that I basically take over the kitchen, stealing all the kitchen towels, which drives her absolutely bonkers. Second, that I’m a slave to recipes.

She’s right.

I steal all the kitchen towels, usually with one tucked in to a belt loop, and others on the counter within my reach at all times. As for my recipe slavery, what can I say? I don’t feel comfortable enough in my own culinary skin to improvise just yet. So, I look to cookbooks, and those in the know to direct me along the way. 

The newest addition to my shelf (and to the shelf of one lucky person next month [stay tuned!]) is a cookbook called I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes, written by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park in NYC. This well written cookbook provides an intimate look at those putting the work in to the ingredients which make their way in to big city kitchens every day. I checked in with Chef Humm about I Love New York. We touched on the inspiration for writing the cookbook, his favorite ingredients, and some of his favorite stories that he discovered in the process.

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Foodie Journal: Obviously fresh, local ingredients can serve as
inspiration for a dish. What is it about what you’ve been able to find in NY
that made you decide you wanted to release an entire cookbook based on local
New York product?
Daniel Humm: I’ve always
looked to seasonal ingredients and flavors as a source of inspiration for my
food, but when I took the time to explore where these ingredients were coming
from, I was amazed. In visiting farms and farmers all over New York, I found
that this region has some of the lushest agriculture I had ever seen. Not only
that, the people that were cultivating this land had such inspiring stories and
a dedication to this craft that is simply unmatched. Once I had seen just a few
of these farms and once I had met just a few of these farmers, I realized that
there was plenty more to explore. People so often think of New York as a
concrete jungle, a metropolis of skyscrapers and taxis and bright lights, but
New York is also home to ice cold waters brimming with spectacular seafood and
rolling hills of fruit trees and deep black soil ideal for growing root
vegetables. In writing this book, we wanted to show this New York.

FJ: Of all the ingredients you’ve discovered, are
there any that you enjoyed working with in particular? 
DH: I love the
ingredients that people may not be so used to working with, like sunchokes and
salsify. But I’m also very partial to carrots and oysters. It’s hard to pick
just one!

FJ: One of my favorite parts of the food world is
the stories and the history that come along with it. You obviously had a
glimpse in to that by reaching out to the farms in New York. Do you have a
favorite story that you happened to come across in the process?
DH: There are so
many stories that I gathered during this process, both ones about the history
of New York foods and agriculture and also more personal ones from the farmers
themselves. One of my favorites is about the history of oysters in New York. In
talking to Mike Osinski of the Widow’s Hole Oyster Company, I learned that
oysters have long been a significant part of New York’s history. At one point,
Ellis Island was even called Oyster Island. But overfishing and pollution
obliterated New York’s plentiful supply, so much so that when the famed Grand
Central Oyster Bar opened, they didn’t even serve New York oysters. Thanks to
people like Mike, there’s been a resurgence in oyster farming in New York, one
that we’ve come to embrace at Eleven Madison Park where every meal begins with
an oyster.

FJ: Eleven Madison Park is known to be true fine
dining destination — To get to that level clearly means that the chefs and
cooks know a lot of technique, and have had a lot of training. Can you talk a
little about how you managed to simplify the recipes so that they’d be
approachable for cooks of any skill level?
DH: For this
cookbook, we wanted to develop recipes that were specifically designed with the
home cook in mind, recipes that would require no special equipment or
hard-to-find ingredients, recipes that truly highlighted the seasons and the
bounty of the region.

FJ: If you had to pick one recipe from “I Love
NY: Ingredients and Recipes” to cook, what would it be?
DH: 
That’s a tough
one—I truly love all of them. But if I had to pick just one, it would be Milk
and Honey. It’s a flavor combination that is truly nostalgic for me and one
that we’ve worked with at both Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad. It’s truly a
wonderful, comforting dish.

Daniel Humm is executive chef of Eleven Madison Park, a three-Michelin star restaurant that was ranked 5th best restaurant in the world by The Diners Club® World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy in 2013, located at 11 Madison Avenue in New York City. The cookbook I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes is available for purchase on Amazon.

Just simplicity: An interview with Chef Anthony Sasso of Casa Mono NYC

Despite being only about 4 hours from New York City, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ventured over to the Big Apple, a situation I plan to rectify over the coming years. During our last visit, we relied on a couple of friends to guide us along the way. It was a delicious day, which  concluded with a visit to Casa Mono, part of the fleet of restaurants from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Just a smattering of the deliciousness can be viewed here, here, and also here.

What caught me by surprise was the simplicity of the dishes. Nothing was overdone, each element on the plate contributing to the balance of well composed plates of food. One of the behind the scenes minds responsible for these dishes, and I mean “behind the scenes” quite figuratively as Casa Mono has a very open kitchen, is chef de cuisine Anthony Sasso. I had the opportunity to speak with Anthony, and we touched on how he got his start, some of his culinary travels, and his favorite food memory.

Anthony Sasso
Anthony Sasso

Foodie Journal: Can you tell me a little bit about when you discovered you had a love for food, and then in turn decided that you wanted to make a career out of cooking?
Anthony Sasso: I think I’m in a different boat than a lot of people.  I guess when they answer that question it’s always like,  “Oh, growing up I had so much food around, so much great food.  My mom’s a great cook.”  I kind of had it the other way where my parents aren’t great cooks, so we fended for ourselves a lot. We’d always try out things after getting home from school. I was forced to learn a lot on my own, and I’ve kind of carried that through my whole career.  I did go to culinary school, and got all the basic and technical training, but I think I did take a lot on myself by just study something, reading about it, tasting around and then just try to do it on my own. Do it my own way or something. It’s translated into a lot of the dishes at Casa Mono, where they’re fun, and they have the sense of humor of someone that maybe doesn’t take things so seriously. It’s just a fun way of doing things, like you would if you were just hanging with your friends in the kitchen and getting things done that way.  I can’t give thanks to my mother, grandmother, or father. They just did not put amazing food on the table each night.
FJ: I’ve actually talked to a couple of chefs now who have the same reaction!
AS: Good to know! We grew up where it was convenience is how you ate.  Whether you went out to eat or did take-out or whatever, but yes, I don’t have this huge glossary of great dishes that I now serve because it’s something I grew up on. It’s kind of funny where we end up.

FJ: You ended up going to culinary school.  Where did you attend?
AS: I went to ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) here in New York City.  Mostly because it worked with the schedule that I had then.  I graduated from college in the Bronx, got a job that I wasn’t too happy with doing every single day. As soon as I could, and as soon as I found a school that catered to my schedule and needs, I just signed up for it right away. The great thing about culinary school is that you don’t really have to apply.  You just sign up, and if you can come up with the funds or the loans, you’re in. I went on the weekends for six months.  It was one of the best kitchen experiences ever because they’re just throwing ingredients at you, and you either love it or you’re not into it.  I knew right away that when we spent four hours sipping different olive oils, vinegars and spices, and it kind of just opened our eyes to a lot of stuff.  I knew that school, from that point on, was going to get better every single day.  It was a lot of fun.

FJ: From there, what was your first real exposure to working in restaurants?
AS: I kind of grew up working in restaurants, but I would say my first real exposure to good food was moving here. Towards the end of school they tell you to do as much as you can to get into any kitchen, no matter what the capacity. I just went to all the places, and chefs that were being recognized at that time.  My first job was with Rocco DiSpirito but I got a lot of time in the kitchens of Bobby Flay, Wylie Dufresne and Mario Batali. The first place that actually put me on schedule was Union Pacific for Rocco DiSpirito, and that was a great time to be in that kitchen. He had the same outlook as I do now where you’re using a lot of ingredients, and a lot of different cuisines, but building a personality for yourself with flavor. Trying to put an element of surprise in every single dish.  Working a dish to the point where you know everything looks appealing and appetizing on the menu. It was just a fun, time and I really enjoyed being part of that camaraderie during that time.

FJ: Having worked with Rocco, Bobby, Wylie, and now with Mario, do you think its helpful for young chefs who really want to be successful to try to learn from those that are at the top of their game?
AS: Doesn’t hurt! It’s kind of like you seek out the restaurants that are doing something special, or the chefs that are doing something new and inventive. If nothing else, they’re at least pushing themselves every single day. It’s not static, and they push their cooks. Everyone around you has the same philosophy. Thinking about what Casa Mono is now, it’s kind of fun. Ten years ago there weren’t a lot of open kitchens, there weren’t a lot of sushi counters, or small plate restaurants. There weren’t a lot of places that were playing with tripe, sweetbreads, calves brains, or veal tongue. So you pick up a lot from the chefs that are confident enough to at least try working with with the harder ingredients. I like to think I learned to be like that just from the time spent with the chefs that I worked for.

FJ: You recently did a trip to Portugal and Spain. Can you talk about some of the differences that you see at the moment between European style cooking and what people typically see as American style cooking?
SA: Europe’s built this huge basis on cooking where they not only don’t waste anything, but they’re truly enthusiastic to eat food.  I think here people are excited to go out to a restaurant for many other reasons besides what’s on the menu and what’s on the plate.  It’s different in Europe. Like, in Spain, and I noticed it in Portugal too, half their dishes have blood sausage, or these really foreign ingredients that are a challenge to any chef. Over there, every diner wants to eat something like that. I hadn’t been to Europe in a while, so this last trip just reaffirmed that whole fact that maybe Europeans might have chicken livers in their refrigerators because they actually eat that stuff, whereas here in America, you can only get that at a restaurant. In Europe, I think it’s built into their DNA a lot more.  There’s always fresh bread, there’s always at least a half full bottle of wine.  There’s always something good in the refrigerator to play with, and it just makes the job a lot easier for chefs. Here at Casa Mono, we try to get people to focus, even for just a couple of hours, just on the food they’re enjoying, and little else.  We try to captivate diners here, and try to get them to trust us, our food, and just go for it!

FJ: Pretty much everybody I talk to that loves food, has a favorite food memory; do you have one you wouldn’t mind sharing?
SA: I remember one day I walked in to Bar Jamon, which is our wine bar right next door, and the first thing I saw on the menu was pan con tomate, which is as simple as it sounds. Just toasted bread, garlic, tomato, olive oil.  I used to have that all the time! I remembered having it every single day, every single meal, at home, on the beach, or at a restaurant. That became the base for sandwiches.  There was never a normal piece of bread again after that. To see that on a New York City menu, something so simple, so basic. It surprised me! If you weren’t Catalan, it’s most likely you never had this, unless you had bruschetta at an Italian restaurant, which is not even comparable to it.  I think that’s what put me on to the idea that quality ingredients can make anything good.  It just says so much about Spain. It wasn’t about technique, or anything like that. It was just simplicity, something good, and something simple, and anyone who’s a dummy can make it at home or wherever.  I think that might be probably the closest thing to a food memory for me. It just clicked.

Casa Mono is located at 52 Irving Place in New York City. You can call 212.253.2773 for reservations, though I’d recommend getting there a little earlier so you can enjoy a glass of wine at Bar Jamon!

Annual Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) Junior Benefit Raises $30,000 at ‘A Taste of Fall’

At the end of October I wrote about a great benefit called “A Taste of Fall” that was being held November 12th at Marcus Samuelsson’s Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem. The benefit was the 4th annual Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) Junior Benefit, with proceeds going to support this great program which provides culinary career opportunities and scholarships to at-risk high school students. It’s a phenomenal program, and I was thrilled to hear that the benefit raised $30,000. Congratulations to everyone involved!

At A Taste of Fall C-CAP Junior Benefit
At A Taste of Fall C-CAP Junior Benefit
(L to R) Lester Walker, Susan Grausman, Richard Grausman, Marcus
Samuelsson, Deborah Grausman, Susan Robbins, Yvan Lemoine

C-CAP Junior Benefit Raises $30,000 at A Taste of Fall

New York, N.Y.—C-CAP-Careers through Culinary Arts Program reports that, with the efforts of its Junior Committee, led by Deborah Grausman, it raised more than $30,000 at the 4th Annual C-CAP Junior Benefit, A Taste of Fall, on November 12, at Ginny’s at Red Rooster.

C-CAP Graduate Chefs, working in top New York restaurants, prepared delectable bites for the exciting walk-around-tasting.  “Raising over $30,000 was only one of the accomplishments of the evening. The event also provided a learning experience for recent graduates, who assisted their fellow, more experienced alumni, to prep and serve these impressive dishes,” said C-CAP’s President, Susan Robbins.  “Proceeds from the event will benefit C-CAP’s programs and services that transform lives through the culinary arts.  More than 150 young philanthropists turned out to raise funds to support our talented at risk youth.”

Kelvin Fernandez, Executive Chef at Strand American Bistro, prepared Butternut Squash Soup; Executive Chef, Sean Quinn, of Chadwick’s Restaurant, served BBQ Pulled Pork “Cone-Ucopia;” Sous Chef, Cesar Gutierrez, of Lexington Brass, created a Miso Butternut Squash Puree with a Pumpkin Chip; Brandon Bryan, of Benoit, made a Cod Bradade; Lester Walker, owner of Ghetto Gastro, served up the “GG Soul Roll;” Pastry Cook, Santo Saitta, from Bar Boulud, offered a Pomme Caramel Confit; Stephanie Grajales, of The Ritz-Carlton Central Park’s Auden, whipped up a Pumpkin Cheesecake and Red Velvet Cake Pops; and Mehdi Chellaoui, from Chellaoui Chocolatier, treated us to truffles and hot chocolate, with chocolate donated by Chocolate Springs.  Lastly, Red
Rooster, provided an African lamb stew served in a hollowed-out, mini-bread bowl.

The evening was enhanced by C-CAP graduate, Food Network Star finalist, and featured mixologist, Yvan Lemoine, of Arlington Club, who created specialty cocktails, and a dynamic speaker—Chopped Champion—Lester Walker.  Beverage sponsors were Chopin Vodka, Charmer Sunbelt Group and Stone Brewing Company.  There was also superb music from the David Grausman Trio.

The 24 one-of-a-kind silent auction items included prime theater and opera tickets, paired with backstage tours, and numerous cooking, baking and wine classes.  Each attendee also received a Zagat Survey NYC Night Life Guide and Zabar’s and Harold Import Company provided gift bags for each chef.

Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Chef/Owner of Red Rooster and a C-CAP Board member, attended the event and said, “I am so proud of the C-CAP graduate chefs and  thrilled to donate the space to host the event. “

Careers through Culinary Arts Program Press Contact:
Joyce Appelman
PH: 516-482-1016
greatappel@aol.com

A life on a plate: A conversation with Chef George Mendes of Aldea Restaurant in NYC

One of the main reasons I started The Foodie Journal was to have the opportunity to better understand the mind of chefs. A common thread that I have found during my conversations has been how each chef works to ensure that their food speaks for them. What they put on the plates in their restaurants is a testament. A sampling, not just of delicious food, but of who they are as individuals. They put their life, who they are, on each plate.

For George Mendes, chef and owner of Aldea Restaurant in New York City, it’s no different. Chef Mendes was kind enough to give me some of his time a few weeks back. During our conversation we discussed where his love of good food began, how his restaurant has been a platform for him and for the cuisine of his childhood, and a couple of his favorite food memories.

George Mendes – Photo courtesy of Aldea Restaurant

Foodie Journal: When was it that you discovered that you had a love for food that would lead you to a career as a chef?
George Mendes: I think the seed was planted early on in my childhood, and in to my teenage years with my family cooking Portuguese food at home. Sundays, and the holidays, would always revolve around good cooking. Whether it was stews, roasted suckling pig, baby goat, or rice dishes, Sundays were a big food memory. Even during the week my mom would always cook something simple and fresh for my sister and I, and for my dad. So, I grew up eating really good home cooked food. While in high school I remember going on a field trip to the Culinary Institute of America in 1990. Now, I had no intention of enrolling in any college or university. My parents weren’t really pushing me to go to college, or anything like that. It was more about, “Do what you love. Make a good living, be happy with what you’re doing, and work hard.”  But, that day at the CIA, I was just walking around the campus and doing the tour, and I realized, “Hey, this is something I really like.” I knew I didn’t want to have a desk job. So that day really solidified for me that this was something I could do professionally.  The rest is history.

FJ: As you made your way through the CIA as a student, what ended up being your first real kitchen experience outside of the school?
GM: Well, part of your time at the CIA includes an externship to a restaurant of your choosing, so I got the opportunity to work at a classical French restaurant in Connecticut. It was the first real taste of working in a real restaurant kitchen. It was pretty high pressure, and my first real life situation with customers. It was an Inn, whichwas open during holidays, so I found myself working holidays like crazy.  It was my first chance to be part of a brigade. It was tough! I was very green, very inexperienced. But, it was the first opportunity to really polish up on basic cooking skills, and knife skills. And actually, after I graduated from the CIA, I was able to go back to that same restaurant and worked my way through the various stations in the kitchen.

FJ: You mention the fact that at the time you were green, and that it was rough. What is it that you think drives chefs to do what they do? Especially considering that the work in a kitchen isn’t easy.
GM: You really need to thrive on pressure. Enjoy the adrenaline that’s needed to get through a tough four-hour dinner service, with the machine spitting out ticket after ticket. You’re trying to please customers, in pretty hot conditions. It really is a grind, and you really have to be… I think you have to be a little chemically unbalanced in your head. [LAUGHS] But, it’s a craft. That’s what I relate to the most, loving and enjoying and respecting the craft itself. With that comes both rewards and sacrifices. So, if you’re willing to make it through that training period, you can really learn to love it, and want to do it.

FJ: Now aside from having worked in the United States, you were able to do some stages abroad. Can you talk a little bit the experiences you had working in kitchens in Europe?
GM: Yeah, my first time over was in 1995. I was working at David Bouley’s restaurant in Tribeca, and he set me up for my first stage at Arpege in Paris. I was in awe of the quality of the ingredients, the cleanliness of the kitchen, and how everything was so methodical and disciplined. But, what really struck me more than anything really were the ingredients. Everyone talks about the butter and baguettes of Paris, and rightfully so. But, it’s goes beyond that. The vegetables, the fish, the meat of impeccable quality that was coming in from the farms was amazing. That was really new to me. At that time pretty much everything we were getting in the states was coming in boxes, and you didn’t really know much about the farmers or the people behind the product. So, in Paris, I remember the first time I saw someone walk in with a box of vegetables they had grown, and it really clicked with me. It was fortunately around that time that the locally sourced movement was starting to take hold, like with the Union Square Greenmarket. It wasn’t what it is now, but at least it was a start.
FJ: Right, and now it seems like you can find farmer’s markets pretty much anywhere you go in the U.S.
GM: Exactly. It’s a magnificent thing! Who knows what it will be like in 10 years? Maybe there will be no more grocery stores!  Hopefully there will just be farmer’s markets.

FJ: So when you decided to open Aldea, what was your aim in opening the restaurant?
GM: Well, it was launched as a Portuguese-inspired restaurant that brought together different eras of my career. It obviously started with my upbringing and my Portuguese background, but a lot of the cooking here is classical French technique and modern technique. I’ve kind of created my own style of food which I call refined rusticity, so its really honest flavors on a plate, but with a modern approach and a bit of avant gardism. When I opened Aldea, it was a platform for me to make a name for myself in New York City. It was a risk, because nobody knew who I was and people didn’t really know what Portuguese food was. So, it really was a big opportunity for myself, and for Portuguese cuisine in general.

FJ: My final question for you. What’s one of your favorite food memories that has really stuck with you through your career?
GM: Well, it has to be a tie for me. The first one was back in 1998. I ate at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in Monaco, which was the essence of the Mediteranean, and mediteranean flavors. There was this level of opulence and luxury dining at this restaurant. Sitting outside, feeling the breeze off the ocean while eating such flavorful food.  It really was just an amazing food memory.

The second one was the first time I ate at elBulli, and obviously having the chance to work there.

Aldea Restaurant is located at 31 West 17th Street in New York City’s Flatiron District. You can learn even more about Chef Mendes over at his website, georgemendesnyc.com.

Making a difference in the classroom, and beyond: Culinary instructor Aristotle Matsis

Who was your favorite high school teacher? I can remember a few, but my absolute favorite was my history teacher, Mr. Gallagher. Do you know why? He challenged me to think. To try. He shared stories about himself, and made an effort to relate to what I was going through in my life at the time. Mr. Gallagher made me care, quite simply, because he cared. For that, I owe him my sincere thanks.

We’ve all had teachers that really made an impression, an impact on us, forever changing us in to the people we would become. For several chefs, including some that Food Network fans would easily pick out in a “Where’s Yvan” book, Aristotle “Terry” Matsis is one such teacher. Before becoming a culinary instructor at Long Island High School in Queens, New York, Terry had established a career in the restaurant business. But, his path in to the culinary world began much earlier than that, and in a fashion familiar to many that now don chef’s whites. It started with fifty pounds of potatoes, and a stock pot of cold water.

Aristotle “Terry” Matsis – Photo courtesy of New York Daily News

Where it all began

Terry was all of 8 years old, and had stepped in to his father’s restaurant in New York City for the first time. His dad asked if he wanted something to eat. Having been accustomed  to eating traditional dishes from his parents home land of Greece, Terry responded as any 8-year-old, first generation American might.

“I want a hamburger and french fries.”

“Ok,” his father responded. “But, you’re going to have to peel the potatoes.”

With that, Terry made his way to the restaurant basement, along with his father. There, waiting for him, were fifty pounds of potatoes, and a stock pot of cold water. It’s a right of passage that many a cook and chef have traversed when first starting out, and for Terry it was no different. So, like those before him, he got his start peeling potatoes.

“It was my christening in to the restaurant business,” Terry recalls with a laugh. “I sat downstairs in that basement, kind of scared because I was all alone down there, peeling potatoes. About a half hour later, my father came back. All I had peeled in that time was two potatoes, and my dad just laughed. After that, he brought me back upstairs and I had my burger and french fries.”

From the kitchen to the classroom

Those potatoes would lead to working in his family’s restaurant through his teen years, supporting his brother’s restaurant ventures, and eventually to the opening of Terry’s own restaurant in New York City. He had a passion for it, but with the birth of Terry’s daughter, he found his priorities were quite different. “I had a short coming. No one else had the key to my restaurant. Just me. I’d open, I’d close. I’d open, I’d close. So it was kind of self-defeating, working 14 or 16 hour days. Trying to find a balance of my work life and my family life was really difficult, especially considering how much I wanted to be there for my daughter as she was growing up.”

Terry found the answer to the problem by looking back at his early days as a restauranteur. Early on, he reached out to the culinary program at Park West High School and started bringing on teenagers to work in his kitchen. What they lacked in experience, they made up for in drive. Their lack of experience would also bring with it an additional bonus. It meant not having to break any bad habits they might have picked up somewhere else. It suddenly clicked. “I started to think about teaching as an option,” Terry told me. “I knew some of the instructors at Park West. Most of them were culinary or restaurant ex-patriots, and they seemed happy with what they were doing. So, once I figured out that I could start teaching high school, I went and got my license. With that done, I started teaching, and never looked back.”

Becoming a culinary instructor afforded Terry the time to be with his daughter, but it also would let him have a very significant impact elsewhere. An impact on his community, and on the industry he loves.

A teacher’s impact on his students

One of the easiest aspects of the transition from running a restaurant to teaching high school students was the carry over of work ethic. A lazy person can not head up a kitchen or a classroom. From the get go, Terry was able to lead his classes by example. Understanding how important work ethic is in the culinary industry also would ensure Terry would “tell it like it is”. He did not coddle his students. They needed to understand that while the culinary world is fabulous, and you can make a good living doing it, you needed to have the drive to be successful. In Terry’s own words:

“I have to sleep at night. I can’t misguide anyone. It is hard work. Maybe the hardest work these kids will ever have to do. I let them know that right away, almost as a bit of a test. If they can get past it after seeing how difficult it can be, then you know that they are the right type of person to handle it.”

It was an approach that didn’t fall on deaf ears. One of Terry’s former students, Thiago Silva, now the pastry chef at Catch in New York City talked to me about how it helped to prepare him for his future career. “Mr. Matsis had a big impact on me through his hard work and dedication, and the passion for what he does. He let us know the reality of what this industry is. He never sugar coated anything for us. He always made sure we knew how much hard work, and dedication we needed in order to succeed in this field, and he demonstrated this first hand. Countless times he would stay late and help us practice for competitions, or he would come in early and start setting us up. I’m sure he also ended up spending his own money to help buy us the materials we needed as well.”

It wasn’t enough to just “tell it like it is”, though. Terry made sure that, even in the classroom, students were treated as if they were in a professional kitchen. Thiago goes on to say, “I remember one of my first semesters with Mr. Matsis. He gave me a failing grade. I was furious! How do I fail cooking? So, I approached him to see why he failed me. He told me I had been late to class everyday, and was absent too many times. He said that if he was my boss in a restaurant, I would be gone. This opened my eyes, big time.” It’s a sentiment fellow alum Yvan Lemoine, a recent competitor on Food Network’s Next Food Network Star echoed, “Mr. Matsis was a bit of a ballbuster. He practiced tough love, which sometimes is essential in shaping kids in school. But, what he lacked in finesse he made up for in training.” For Yvan, however, it wasn’t just the true-to-life teaching method that stuck with him. “In order to teach about something, you must first feel a passion for it yourself. While other kids were making cookies, Matsis was teaching us to make coq au vin. What kid in high school is making coq au vin? That kind of direction and exposure to classical dishes, and techniques is what really got me excited about getting into the food industry.”

How about beyond the classroom? Terry Matsis has gone, and still goes, the extra mile for his students, helping many of them get externships at some of the best restaurants in New York City. With the support of the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), a program for preparing underserved students for careers in the culinary world, he has also been able to help his students get scholarship to the country’s best culinary schools. A former student, Chef Kelvin Fernandez, Executive Chef of The Strand Bistro in New York City, will always remember the support Terry was able to give him as he made a push for a scholarship opportunity to the Culinary Institute of America. “If it wasn’t for Mr. Matsis I wouldn’t of done as great as I did in the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) competition, where I was able to win a $20,000 matching scholarship to the CIA. I remember the long nights of practice, and the weekends spent with Mr. Matsis there every step of the way. I will never forget him telling me how proud of me he was. I’ll remember that for a long time!”

Making a culinary difference in the classroom, and beyond

Aristotle Matsis has made a difference in the classroom, and beyond. He has made an impact in a very real way. Ask his students. Ask the diners who have eaten at the myriad of restaurants many of his former students run or work at. Because of one man’s choice to leave the restaurant business in favor of the classroom, the world is a different and, quite possibly, better place. That deserves recognition, as does the hard work of all instructors, culinary or other. I unfortunately can’t express my thanks to my favorite teacher, so at the very least I can thank someone else’s. Thank you, Mr. Matsis. Thank you for making an impact. For making a difference. Thank you for being a teacher.

A Taste of Fall: The 4th Annual C-CAP Junior Benefit, November 12th at Ginny’s in NYC

It’s hard to turn down dinner and live music, isn’t it? Now add to that the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing that you’re contributing to a program that helps a lot of young people. Pretty much impossible to say no to, right? If you’re inclined, I have the perfect event for you.

The Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) is holding their Annual C-CAP Junior Benefit on Monday, November 12th at Marcus Samuelsson’s Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem. The menu is going to be prepared by some of New York City’s up-and-coming chefs, all of whom benefited from the C-CAP program. It’s a great event that is sure to be a blast. Check out the following release for all the information, and be sure to get your tickets today!


A TASTE OF FALL

The 4th Annual C-CAP Junior Benefit
Monday, November 12, 2012, 6:30-9:00 PM
Marcus Samuelsson’s Ginny’s at Red Rooster

October 16, 2012, New York, NY—Young professionals, ages 21-45, will not want to miss this extraordinary event.  Guests will enjoy a walk-around tasting at one of New York’s hottest venues— Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson‘s Ginny’s at Red Rooster (310 Lenox Avenue) in Harlem.

A Taste of Fall will feature savory and sweet signature dishes prepared by up-and-coming C-CAP graduate chefs who are cooking in top restaurants in New York.  The illustrious restaurants and chefs participating include:

Brandon Bryan, Benoit
Mehdi Chellaoui, Chellaoui Chocolatier/Dörk Chocolate
Kelvin Fernandez, Strand American Bistro
Cesar Gutierrez, Lexington Brass
Sean Quinn, Chadwick’s Restaurant
Santo Saitta, Bar Boulud
Lester Walker, Ghetto Gastro

Ginny’s at Red Rooster, located in the heart of Harlem, has graciously donated the space, and its food will be featured at the event.  The evening will include superb wines donated by Charmer Sunbelt Group, craft beer from Stone Brewing Company, cocktails sponsored by Chopin Vodka, an exciting silent auction and live music by the David Grausman Trio.

Proceeds from the event will benefit Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), a pioneer and national leader in providing culinary career opportunities and scholarships to at-risk high school students. As a national nonprofit, C-CAP manages the largest independent culinary scholarship program in the United States. Since 1990, students have been awarded $37 million in scholarships, and classrooms have received donations of $2.8 million worth of supplies and equipment.

Tickets are $150 per person, payable in advance.  Tickets go on sale October 12, 2012 and are expected to sell out.  ID’s will be checked at the door.  To purchase tickets by credit card: http://atof.brownpapertickets.com

For more information about A Taste of Fall including sponsorships please visit http://www.ccapinc.org or call Amy Wickstein at (212) 974-7111. 

Dietro l’uomo barbuto (Behind the bearded man): An interview with Chef Jonathan Waxman

‘Barbuto’, the Italian word for ‘bearded’, serves as both a proper noun and an adjective. Well, at least it does within the context of this particular interview! Barbuto is the name of one of New York City’s best restaurants, serving up Italian inspired dishes that might make your nonna a little jealous. It is also the culinary home of chef and owner Jonathan Waxman, ‘barbuto’ adequately describing the man as well, though many who know him or know of him would likely prefer to use the phrase ‘master chef’.

Having learned his craft in France, Chef Jonathan cut his teeth in the kitchens of some of California’s most well known restaurants. While well versed in French, and California cuisine, he is, at his core, an Italian chef. For an easy example of it, look no further than his signature Pollo al Forno (get a glimpse of this dish on the Simon Schuster YouTube channel).

During my interview with Chef Jonathan we discuss how he ended up in the food industry (need being the ultimate motivator!), the hard work required of both musicians and chefs, and one of his favorite food memories.

Jonathan Waxman – Photo by Jeff Prehn

Foodie Journal: Passion and love for food seems to be a must for any successful chef. When did you discover that you really had a love for food?
Jonathan Waxman: I think that’s always a hard question, and was there an epiphany? No. Were there many bright moments, yes. I was raised by food loving parents who were not daunted by anything. We were exposed to Cantonese, Hunan, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, French and a plethora of others. In this fashion I discovered how much I enjoyed food.

FJ: How did you get your start in the industry?
JW: Honestly, my journey to the chef world was mandated by fate. I was in Hawaii playing in a rock & roll band that broke up, leaving me stranded, with no cash. I was told by the locals that I could either sell drugs or work in a restaurant, I chose the latter. So I was introduced to the industry in a very back handed way.

FJ: In doing a bit of research about you and you’re career, I came across an article in the Times from 2002 that said “whoever said chefs in the 80’s were like rock-and-roll stars had Jonathan in mind.” Is that something you embrace? Being a rock-star chef?
JW: Music and food have a lot of similarities. They both broker many hours of practice, practice and more practice. They both are part entertainment, part craft and they both have a lot of fans. I would say a chef doesn’t perform for 50,000 at one time, but over a year, yes.

FJ: It was around the late 80s and into the 90s that there was a real shift in how people perceived chefs and the food world, so much so that now everyone is aware of celebrity chefs. Do you feel that the attention has helped the industry or hurt it at all?
JW: When I was in school in Paris in the 1970’s, the chef movement there was well under way. It crossed the ocean in the 80’s but TV has pushed it to a logarithmic height. In some ways this is good and other ways it isn’t. It’s not as healthy an environment, mainly because some newbies think that stardom is an easy ride.

FJ: Your personal website, and the Barbuto site talk about the charities you’ve supported and continue to support. How important do you think it is for chefs, and everyone really, to give back to the community?
JW: I can only speak from a personal perspective. I enjoy giving back. I was blessed in my career, and now I have the ability to raise awareness and money for good causes, which I think is important.

FJ: I know it can be tough to pick just one, but is there a particular food memory or experience that you’ve had that really stands out to you that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
JW: My meal at the Troisgros restaurant in Roanne in 1976 was earth shattering. It opened a door to a world where chefs could be creative and have excitement. It was a triumph of sheer magic, and a celebration of the bounty of France. Mostly, it was a demonstration of how French culinary art was progressing and they were at the forefront.

Barbuto is located at 775 Washington Street New York, NY. You can check out some of Chef Jonathan’s amazing recipes in his latest cookbook “Italian, My Way”.

Meatless Mondays: My conversation with founder Sid Lerner

“I’ll start on Monday.”

It’s one of my favorite sayings. For my wife, not so much! It’s just how it is, though. Whenever we plan to make a change in our lives we traditionally plan to do so on Mondays. That is what Sid Lerner thought as well!

Sid is the founder and chairman of Meatless Mondays and the Monday Campaigns, a non-profit organization dedicated to the idea of “starting anew” on Mondays. Meatless Monday is simple to understand: Keep meat out of your diet, for all three meals, on Monday. You, and not to mention the environment, can benefit from it!

I had a chance to speak with Sid last month. During our conversation we discussed how Meatless Mondays came to be, what the reception has been from those in the food industry, and one of Sid’s own personal food memories.

Meatless Mondays Founder Sid Lerner – Photo by Allison Aubrey

Foodie Journal: So how did you get your start with the idea of Meatless Monday? How did Meatless Monday come to exist?
Sid Lerner: Well, I was semi-retired and doing some pro bono consulting. I was at a conference about 9 years ago at Johns Hopkins. At the time obesity wasn’t the headline. Cholesterol was, as were saturated fat, heart disease, cancer, etc. So the question was raised as to how much meat we were eating, you know? How much is too much? The FDA and USDA were saying about 15% of our diet would be the recommended amount. Well, we’re eating about twice the meat per capita than we should be, about double what we were eating in the 40’s and the 50’s when I was growing up. That was a major contributor to a lot of the growing health issues we had been seeing. So for the past 9 years it was something we started to talk about. Trying to cut down on the amount of meat that people consume. We did the math and found that cutting down to get to that 15% recommendation meant cutting out 3 meals worth of meat each week. Just one day a week! So if we cut out meat for just one day a week we’d get closer to where we needed to be.

I remember from my childhood during World War II President Roosevelt instituted a conservation program called “Meatless Monday”. We did some research and found that it was something he had taken from Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover during World War I, when it was also instituted as a conservation program. We really liked the name, and we decided to use it to start a new campaign to cut back on meat one day a week. So we built a non-profit organization around the idea and called it the Monday Campaigns. It was the perfect day because so many people look at Monday as a fresh start, you know? “Well I screwed up last week, how can I do right this week?” [LAUGHS] But we’ve had some great success with it. We have 23 countries that have picked it up around the world.

FJ: What are some of the benefits that come from being involved with Meatless Mondays?
SL: Well, we started out primarily to try to cut back on one of the major sources of saturated fats which is animal products. Also thinking about the environmental issues that come from raising these animals, greenhouse gases and what not. So while initially we got a lot of interest from people who were interested in better health, over the past few years we’ve had additional support come from people interested in helping the environment. So It’s beneficial in many different ways.

FJ: What kind of reaction have you had from those in the food industry?
SL: It’s been great! A great response. We just sent out flyers and emails to more chefs and restaurants about the program. A good showing of how this works well for restaurants, we have Dovetail in New York City with Chef John Fraser who did an interview on NPR about it, and he said that Meatless Monday has been great for them. Every Monday night as a result has become kind of like an event because of it. And, it’s interesting as a restauranteur cause you end up seeing a very different demographic in the restaurant that you might not see on a Tuesday or a Saturday.We also have Jason Weiner at the Almond Restaurants, and he’s commented on how it’s expanding their clientele, challenging their cooks and helping them to support local growers.

Also we have wonderful Mario Batali who was one of the first to get on board, and he’s the prince of pork! His fourteen restaurants all participate in Meatless Monday which is pretty incredible. He’s also on the TV show “The Chew” on ABC and they gave us a full hour on their show a couple of months ago about Meatless Monday which was great.

But, simply put, Meatless Mondays is a win-win-win. It’s a win for the diners, it’s a win for the restaurants and growers, and a win for the planet. In retrospect I have no idea why it took me so long to get on board!

FJ: So, I have a personal question for you. Do you have a particular food memory that you enjoy remembering or thinking back on that you’d like to share?
SL: Oh sure! People sometimes think that just because we promote this idea of Meatless Monday, and trying to be healthy that we don’t enjoy food. That couldn’t be further from the truth! For me, though, it’s a very simple memory. My mother came from Hungary, and she had all different kinds of dishes that she would make. One of my favorites was in the winter time when she’s take out maybe a day-old rye bread that had been well toasted and she’d put butter on it and just rub it with garlic cloves until the garlic would just disappear. Would be so much garlic we could practically go outside and breath the snow away! [LAUGHS] I’m a major garlic fan. I love it!

The Meatless Mondays campaign is actively supported by nearly 200 restaurants nation-wide and approximately 170 school systems. They will be celebrating their 10th year in 2013. You can find out more about Meatless Mondays by visiting http://www.mondaycampaigns.org/meatless-monday/