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.

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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.

 

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.

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”.