I Chat With: Chef Alain Ducasse

Chef Alain Ducasse – photo Brent Herrig Photography

Um, there’s something about being in Chef Alain Ducasse’s presence, if only for a few seconds (which is pretty much all I had). It’s like seeing Jacques Pepin or Julia Child – they look pretty much exactly like you expect them to – a perfect cut-out of the icon you’ve seen on TV or book jackets. I don’t have  chef crushes. I don’t get starstruck. I do, however, extremely appreciate what some unique individuals have offered to the world.

I literally spoke to Chef Ducasse for a polite few seconds in a lush back room at Adour after Brent had gotten his shots. Our interview was done remotely, as Chef Ducasse is constantly shuttled from one event, class, restaurant, book tour or shoot to another. But I’m still wowed by the results of the interview, out on Serious Eats New York today.

Bon Appetite.

I Chat With… Some Really Awesome Chefs

In case I haven’t barreled you over the head about it enough, one of my favorite gigs is interviewing NYC-based chefs for Serious Eats NY. From the lauded and prestigious Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park to the oh-so-New-York Daniel Holzman of the Meatball Shops to the super-sweet pastry chef Stephen Collucci at Colicchio and Sons, I find so much inspiration and fun in these discussions!

So here are the past few weeks of interviews. You can also check out the whole series on my Words… page. If you have a few leisurely minutes of computer reading time ahead, I hope you enjoy seeing how we get food done in good ol’ NYC. Click on the images to be directed to the interviews.

Kenny Callagan of Blue Smoke, and this week’s Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (photo Joshua Bousel)

Alex Stupak, owner of Empellon Cocina and Empellon Taqueria (photo Brent Herrig)

Harold Dieterle, Owner of Perilla and Kin Shop (photo Brent Herrig)

Grasshopper Pie for Milk Bar Mondays!

The Baker Chick’s Grasshopper Pie

It’s a rainy day in NYC, and I’m in a melancholy mood. Last night I helped one of my favorite people in the entire world – the man who lives(d) upstairs from me, who I’ve spent several days a week with making good food and drinking excellent wine until far too late in the morning, whose chef position I’ve now taken over and whose shoes I’m frantically trying to fill – do the final cleaning on his now-empty apartment. I hugged and kissed him goodbye as he got into a truck to drive to Denver. We’ll see each other in August, but the  summer of working 14 hours a day in the Hamptons and then drinking wine on the beach beside his empty chair is going to make it feel like a long one.

I’ve got Nina singing “my man is gone now… ain’t no use in listenin’ for his tired footsteps, comin’ down the stairs”.

Despite housing 8 million people, New York City can be lonely when you’ve got a heavy heart. This man pulled so many good people into his home simply with generosity, a huge heart, and a love of good food and drink. Last night one of our makeshift family said, “it’s the end of an era”. So many of us have gathered at his apartment multiple times a week, and seemingly at random – we’ve woven in and out of each other’s lives, and know that our weekly meetings will now, most likely, be yearly ones. There were four apartments of friends in my building. Now there are three. In such a big city situations like ours, where you have keys to each other’s apartments, walk each other’s dogs, bring someone dinner while they work at their desk, and can paddle from an empty apartment to a full one in bare feet and sweatpants, is rare. Forging those connections without having known each other prior to moving into that building… exceptionally rare.

Sorry, it’s a rainy day, I’m waxing on and on.

Point being, I’m missing another incredible Milk Bar Mondays swap because a bunch of things got me to the point where I was grocery shopping like mad too last minute, and couldn’t find the gluten and dairy-free ingredients to adapt this week’s recipe. Which stinks, because it looks amazing. I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to fill my buddy’s big chef’s crocs, and spending as much time by his side watching how he cooks, clinking glasses and staying up far too late, not wanting to leave. I haven’t blogged my own recipe on this site in almost a month, and am barely keeping up with Easy Eats and my Serious Eats interviews! Life is insane, and lovely, and full of goodness. I just have to figure out how to juggle it all.

So, until I do please check out Nicole’s recipe and links at Sweet Peony. And revel in the beauteousness of this Milk Bar Monday recipe.

Soon, I’ll be back in dusty baking style. Soon.


I Chat With: Chef Alex Stupak

“So if it takes me ten or fifteen or twenty years or I never get to it, at least I’m trying to do it. I’m trying to reach for something that’s very far away.”

There are many things that make me curious:

People – in general.

Food – in general.

People – hard-working and humble ones, particularly.

Food – that is nourishing, creative, and well-thought out, specifically.

In doing my research about Chef Alex Stupak I read some rather bracing things: some writers and NYC eaters seemed to take his leaving wd-5o – where he was a highly acclaimed pastry chef – far too personally and rather irately. In my opinion Stupak dealt with the drama with much patience and class, putting his head down and working his ass off to build a restaurant in a cuisine (Mexican) that he was still studying. Yes, his opinions may read as ego-driven. But I saw very little ego in this chef.

We live in a world in which accomplishment in one’s field often comes with a level of social responsibility – to comment, to tweet, to sit down with inquisitive people such as myself and answer questions that could easily remain in the kitchen. Our world is smaller than it used to be. It’s harder to hide behind an apron.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, only that I feel fortunate to get to sit with some of the most admirable chefs in the city, to satiate my curiosity on what makes them excited about the food I get to eat.

Go to Serious Eats NY for my interview with Chef Alex Stupak.

Next week: Chef Harold Dieterle

I Chat With: Dave Arnold of Booker and Dax

Dave Arnold, perfectly chilling a coupe with liquid nitrogen, photo Brent Herrig

When I was a sophomore in high school, I foolishly decided to skip biology and go straight into chemistry: why they let me do so is a mystery. All I knew was that, if I worked my ass off and passed, I wouldn’t have to take any more science classes in high school. I’m good with words, not numbers. And so for that long year I scraped my way by and ended up with a C+, an uncommon grade in my book. But I passed.

Fast forward about 14 years and I’m watching Dave Arnold spin molasses in a centrifuge and hold up some sorta refractometer thing to his eye to check the separation level of blah blah blah. I am so curious about the science behind food, but it’s gotta be slowed way down for me to be able to understand it at such a level. Yes Dave insists what he’s doing is not science, “really, it’s just cooking”.

Right, Dave.

What follows the spinning centrifuge is the most fun interview I’ve done to date. And when I sip on one of Booker and Dax’s most simple cocktails – a classic Manhattan served in a perfectly-chilled bottle alongside the coupe – I don’t care about all that science stuff, anyway. Which is partially what Dave intended.

Head to Serious Eats NY for the interview. And then get to Booker and Dax for something scrumptious.

I Chat With: Chef Jehangir Mehta of Graffiti and Mehtaphor

Chef Jehangir Mehta at Mehtaphor, Photo Brent Herrig

Over some red wine and chicken satay, I chatted with Chef Jehangir Mehta about his passions, the state of Indian food and chefs in NYC, and the difference between an allergy and a fad. For a chef with so much on his plate – he’s been on the Food Network for several Iron Chef incarnations, has two restaurants, two kids, a book, a catering company and a smathering of classes – Chef Mehta is extremely focused and enthusiastic during our time together.

As Brent and I leave the restaurant, we turn a corner to be met with Chef coming out a side door – he had offered to let us sample an appetizer we had been talking about, and we had left without trying it. I went back inside to a raw oyster sprinkled with Pop Rocks and grapefruit granita. As this crazy explosion of flavors, sound and sensation took over every crevice of my mouth, I couldn’t help by smile and laugh, while Chef Mehta described how he wanted to bring back that childlike excitement of a day on the beach and the thrill of thunderous, crashing waves.

Well done, Chef, well done.

This meeting was one for my column We Chat With… on Serious Eats NY. The series has sat me down at a table across from some of NYC’s most celebrated chefs and creators.

For the full interview, head over to Serious Eats NY.


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