Chef’s Interviews

Chef Paul Liebrandt

by Mari on October 1, 2014

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Paul Liebrandt’s cuisine seamlessly melds classical tradition with a contemporary, graphic style. During his teenage years, Leibrandt worked under Marco Pierre White, Pierre Gagnaire, and Jean-George Vongerichten before travelling to New York to work as Chef de Cuisine at Bouley Bakery. In 2000 he joined Atlas as the Executive Chef, becoming director of Papillon. In 2008, he opened his own restaurant Corton, which quickly garnered critical acclaim, receiving two Michelin stars and three stars from the New York Times. In 2013 he turned his attention to other projects, including his new Williamsburg restaurant The Elm and plans for his signature restaurant Paul Liebrandt.

What made you want to be a chef?
My father wanted me to go into the British army when I was 15 years old. I got all the way to the point of signing a six year contract, and I said to myself “I’ll be so old… By the end I’ll be twenty one years old. I want to cook instead.” I don’t know why, because no one in my family is in the food business, I just felt that I wanted to do.

Do you have a mentor or chef who particularly inspired you?
I was inspired by Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. There is a very interesting, thoughtful, and creative approach to the entire style of the cuisine. There is rhythm to it, and it is much more than just ingredients or technique. There is a beauty to it.

What do you think of the recent popularity of Japanese food and knives?
I adore Japanese cuisine. I love the focus and reverence for ingredients. Whether it be a bowl of ramen noodles or kaiseki, there is a level of understanding and craftsmanship. When you eat it, you can respect it like the person respected the product. I like that, it is very hard to find these days. In terms of knives, I only use Japanese knives. They are the best.

What was your first Japanese knife?
My first Japanese knife was a Masamoto 11 inch slicer.

What is your goal for your profession?
To just do the best I can everyday and make people happy.

What’s your philosophy towards hospitality?
Hospitality has relaxed on a worldwide basis, but some things never change. Customers come in no matter what the style of your restaurant and have a good time. They want to enjoy themselves and have value for money. No matter what trends come and go, these things will never change. My job is to make sure that we never change. We want people to enjoy themselves. We want them to forget whatever is happening in their lives, to focus on having a great experience, and to relax.

What is your advice for aspiring chefs?
Be true to who you are. It’s very hard to be focused in this business with people pulling you, but be focused on who you are. Steady the course and don’t give up.

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Chef Seamus Mullen

by Mari on September 24, 2014

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Seamus Mullen is an award-winning New York chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. He is known for his innovative approach to modern Spanish cuisine, and for being one of the leading chefs in the country. His first solo restaurant, Tertulia, has been highly acclaimed by top food critics and was a finalist for one of the industry’s highest honors, the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant. He has recently released his first cookbook “Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better,” which discusses 18 key ingredients that improved his quality of life.

What made you want to be a chef?
I had loved cooking ever since I was a kid. When I was 21 years old and didn’t know what I wanted to do, my grandmother said to me, “You should cook. It is what makes you happiest and it is a beautiful thing to feed other people.” Then it finally clicked and my career path became very clear. Since that decision I haven’t thought about doing anything else.

Do you have a mentor or chef who particularly inspired you?
I have a lot of mentors, the first person being my grandmother, who taught me how to cook. But I have learned from so many different people along the line and have so many people that I look up to. The most influential in my own cooking is the owner chef of Alkimia in Barcelona, Jordi Vilà.

What about cooking keeps you in this industry?
One of the things I love about cooking is that its the perfect marriage of art and science. I don’t think of us chefs as artists at all, I think of us as artisans. We’re more like craftsmen. You need to understand the principles of cooking which is the science aspect, but you have to be able to interpret, to react, and to create which is the artistic side of it. As a cook it is really important to always get better at what you do. It’s a part of why I’m so fascinated with Japanese culture. There is a sense of integrity and desire to improve regardless of what you are doing. There are signs throughout the kitchen here that say, “The best way out is through,” “taste taste taste,” and “Is this dish as good as it could be?” It is good to always remind ourselves that we want to strive to make each dish better than the last dish and strive for excellence.

What is one of your favorite things about the hospitality industry?
One of the wonderful things in our industry is that we are very supportive of each other. You would think that we would be very competitive, but there have been so many chefs who have been generous about sharing their knowledge and their experience. We always learn from each other.

What do you think of the importance of having cooking experience in foreign countries?
I remember a quote from what Chef Michael White, the owner chef of Altamarea Group, in regards to the all of the Italian restaurants opening up. He said “go to Italy, work for seven years, wash your clothes in a bucket, sleep in a room with twenty other cooks, and then come back here. Pay your dues and really work.” I understand that not everybody could do that, but regardless of what country you are cooking in, it gives you a new perspective on how you cook. Certainly, for me cooking in Spain has taught taught me discipline, hard work, respect for ingredients, and tradition, which is what is hard about this country. Because we are a very young country, instead of having one tradition we have many different traditions, but they tend to not be as deeply rooted as other cuisines. Spain, France, Italy, Japan and China have very old cuisines. Learning from very old cuisines and immersing yourself in it from the outside is an invaluable experience.

What do your knives mean to you?
The best advice I could give is to buy the best quality knife that you can afford, because if you take care of your knife, it will take care of you. I see kids in culinary school and they get these big kits with all of these different knives, but you only need a few.

What is your most nostalgic dish?
The first dish I ever cooked was taught to me by my grandmother when I was 6 years old. It was a trout in browned butter with capers and lemons, and that still is a very nostalgic dish. Another dish my grandmother always cooked was braised chicken. She would take chicken legs and braise them in white wine with artichokes, carrots, and celery. That is still my favorite comfort food.

What’s your philosophy towards hospitality?
It starts with respect. Have respect for the ingredients, the process, the guests, the team, and the experience. Try to be humble, but also try to be excellent. Try not to say no and to accommodate people. There will always be times when you have difficult guests and it may not be necessarily rewarding, but you will have other guests that are very rewarding to make up for it. Always treat guests with reverence, because they are here for you to take care of them. Remember that people have a choice to dine in many many restaurants and they made a decision to come into your restaurant.

What is your goal for your profession?
To improve as a cook and grow my business by opening new restaurants and creating new opportunities for the guys in the kitchen and the front of the house. I want them to be challenged and to be successful.

What is your advice for aspiring chefs?
Work with as many chefs as you can and when you have time off go stage in other kitchens. Even if you are a line cook in a restaurant, start thinking about how you would cook if you were in your own restaurant, then start writing dishes and menus. If there is something you don’t know how to do because you are not in charge of that particular station, come in early and ask if you can help. Take every opportunity at work as a chance to learn and get better.

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Chef Marc Forgione

by Mari on September 17, 2014

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Marc Forgione joined his culinary legend father Larry Forgione in the industry at the young age of 16. When asked why he decided to immerse himself in the culinary industry he explains, “Most kids don’t want to do what dad did when they grow up. I wanted to do something different and I tried to do many different things, but I always came back to cooking.” Since the beginning of his culinary journey, he has built on the foundation of his father’s teachings to discover his own identity as a chef and was honored with being the youngest American born chef owener to receive a Michelin star for three consecutive years.

What made you want to be a chef?
I learned how to cook at a very young age and it just came natural to me. One day when I was cooking dinner for a bunch of my friends at home, and I realized cooking was making me happy. It was like a light went off. Well, if this is what makes me happy and people enjoy what I cook, this may be it. But then to actually say “I want to be a chef” and make my own restaurant… I had another “light went off” moment in France. I worked with Michel Guérard at a 3 star Michelin restaurant in the middle of nowhere. I had a lot of alone time, because I didn’t speak French when I first got there. Just seeing the products, the way they do things, and with all of the alone time I had, I just sat and wrote in a book the whole time. That was when I really started to form my ideas for this restaurant.

Do you have a mentor or chef who particularly inspired you?
I have had a lot of mentors, I had a unique training. I worked with many different chefs with many different styles. I had my father who was American, Patricia Yeo who was Chinese, Chef Kazuo who was Japanese, Petter Maffei who was Italian, Michel Guerard and Laron Torde who were both French… they all inspired me in different ways and with different things. It is why I cook the way I do now, which is what I like to call “New York cuisine” since it has a little influence from everybody.

What do you think of the importance of having cooking experience in foreign countries?
Going back to my influences and global influences, it is the same when I travel. I love tasting different foods from different places. One of my signature dishes here, the chili lobster, is from one of my travels to Singapore and tasting the chili crab. Whenever I travel I take little bits and pieces of the country with me.

What do you think of the recent popularity of Japanese food and knives?
I think the recent popularity of Japanese food is because food is coming to a full circle where people are going back to real, pure and clean ingredients. To me Japanese cuisine is simple things done in a very simple way, but with the utmost care. I think that is why it has become so popular. Japanese knives are made the same way– with a respect for simplicity.

Do you have any advice for chefs who are thinking about buying their first Japanese knife?
I would go into Korin. They let you take the knives out and hold them to really get a feel for them. Talk to the people there and get some advice, let them know what you’re going to be doing with the knife, then go from there. Understand that it’s a different style of knife, so you have to get all of the information you possibly can.

What is your goal for your profession?
To continue to feed people to the best of my ability. To evolve, stay humble, and have fun.

What is your advice for aspiring chefs?
Be patient. There is so much instant gratification nowadays and wanting to take over the world as fast as you can, but be humble and listen to what people are telling you. Understand that it is okay to work before you get to where you want to be.

What is your philosophy towards hospitality?
Hospitality should be fun and thoughtful. Treat customers like family, but understand that people are coming out to have a good time. Relax, have fun, and make sure every little thing is taken care of for them.

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Chef Atsushi Kono

September 10, 2014

Atsushi Kono is the executive chef of Torishin restaurant in New York. Torishin specializes in a Japanese grilling style called yakitori, and is the second yakitori restaurant in the United States to earn a coveted Michelin Star. Kono has been active collaborator for a Japanese non-profit organization’s educational programs and fund raising events as a [...]

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Chef Nils Noren

September 3, 2014

  Nils Noren is both a world renowned chef and culinary educator. After graduating from culinary school in his hometown of Gävle, Sweden, he spent many years working at some of the most esteemed restaurants in Stockholm before moving to Aquavit in New York. In 2006, he was appointed Vice President of Culinary Arts and [...]

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Chef Danny Bowien

August 27, 2014

Danny Bowien began his career with a brief stint at culinary school in San Francisco, but remained torn between cooking and music until he discovered the art of slicing fish. The young Bowien negotiated a deal with Mike Selvera of Bar Crudo, slicing fish for free in the mornings before working night shifts at Slow [...]

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Chef Dale Talde

August 20, 2014

Dale Talde’s love of being around food and food culture developed thanks to his large Filipino family, who frequently had dinner parties and gatherings where everyone would bring a dish to share. Today, he is the executive chef of Talde and Pork Slope in Brooklyn, and a two-time contestant on Bravo’s Emmy Award-winning culinary show, [...]

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Chef Jet Tila

August 13, 2014

Jet Tila was born into a restaurant family, with his parents opening some of the first Thai restaurants in Los Angeles. In his twenties, Tila attended Le Cordon Bleu to build a foundation of French technique to complement his background in Asian cooking. The combination has proved explosive – Tila has become a much desired [...]

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Chef Chika Tillman

August 6, 2014

  Chika Tillman was born in Tokyo and trained at the French Culinary Institute. She has assisted as opening staff at Gramercy Tavern, Danny Meyer, the Ritz-Carlton, and Seeger’s. In 2003 she opened ChikaLicious Dessert Bar with her husband, Don Tillman. Her delicate Japanese sensibilities and emphasis on the purity of ingredients quickly won her [...]

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Chef Armando Monterroso

July 30, 2014

Armando Monterroso is the executive chef of Gaylord Hotel in Opryland Tennessee. His first taste of the New York restaurant experience began over 10 years ago, when he worked under top New York City chefs, including Laurent Gras, Marcus Samuelsson, and Rocco DiSpirito. What made you want to be a chef? It’s funny, I always [...]

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