Hiding in plain sight on a cozy block in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, the James Beard House is the headquarters of the James Beard Foundation, which is perhaps best known for bestowing the annual James Beard Awards on the best chefs and restaurants in the country. But the non-profit actually offers “a variety of events and programs designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and foster a deeper understanding of our culinary culture,” according to their website, “with educational initiatives, food industry awards, an annual national food conference, Leadership Awards program, culinary scholarships, and publications,” and their base of operations is the famed James Beard House. Here are five things you may not have known about this legendary building.
James Beard Actually Lived There
The organization’s namesake, James Beard, hosted the very first television food program (in 1946), was an early champion of local products and markets, wrote several cookbooks, and nurtured a generation of American chefs and cookbook authors. Today, the James Beard House hosts near-nightly events and dinners, and it’s where he actually lived.
Buying the House was Julia Child’s Idea
After Beard passed away in 1986, Peter Kump, a former student of Beard and the founder of the Institute of Culinary Education, began the James Beard Foundation. At the suggestion of Julia Child, Kump purchased the brownstone as a gathering place where the public and press could experience meals cooked by some of the country’s leading chefs.
Some Amazing Chefs Have Cooked There
While it may have a reputation as a showcase for up-and-coming chefs, some incredibly notable chefs have cooked in the restaurant’s kitchen, including Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Jacques Pepin, Charlie Trotter, and Nobu Matsuhisa.
There are Mirrors in Odd Places
The restroom in the dining room (which was converted from the original library) is noted for its wall-to-wall mirrors. Also, there’s a mirror on the ceiling of the loft dining area, which was Beard’s bedroom.
All Guests Walk Through the Kitchen
After guests enter the building, they need to walk right through the kitchen in order to reach the cocktail area and backyard before heading upstairs to dinner. This is a great way for guests to connect with their meal, and also have a chance to see the chef(s) in action.
"This key Viet ingredient is simply nearly burnt sugar it&rsquos not at all the caramel sauce for topping ice cream. Vietnamese caramel sauce is stealthily employed in savory dishes to impart a lovely mahogany color and build savory-sweet depth. You&rsquove likely had caramel sauce in clay-pot (kho) dishes but didn&rsquot know it. Like molasses, it can be added to grilled-meat marinades to enhance the appearance of the final dish.
Don&rsquot fear the caramelization process. It&rsquos not overly dramatic, and the vinegar prevents crystallization, which can result in crusty failed batches. Employ cane sugar, such as C&H brand, because it caramelizes consistently better than beet sugar. The result is an inky, bittersweet Vietnamese staple. I keep a jar of caramel sauce to cut down on prep work. If you don&rsquot have time to make a batch, use the work-arounds in the recipes to make some on the spot. Select a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan with a long handle and a light interior (such as stainless steel) to observe the caramelization. If you wish, use strained fresh lemon or lime juice in place of vinegar."&mdashJBF Award Winner Andrea Nguyen
- 2 tablespoons water, plus 1/4 cup
- 1/8 teaspoon unseasoned rice, apple, or distilled white vinegar (optional)
- 1/2 cup cane sugar
Fill the sink (or a large bowl or pot) with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the saucepan.
In the saucepan, combine the 2 tablespoons water, vinegar (if using), and sugar. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula or metal spoon when the sugar has nearly or fully dissolved, stop stirring. Let the sugar syrup bubble vigorously for 5 to 6 minutes, until it takes on the shade of light tea. Turn the heat to medium-low to stabilize the cooking. Turn on the exhaust to vent the inevitable smoke. (Don&rsquot worry if sugar crystallizes on the pan wall. But if things get crusty in the bubbling sugar syrup, add another drop of vinegar to correct it.) For even cooking, you may occasionally lift and swirl the saucepan.
Cook the syrup for about 2 minutes longer, until it is the color of dark tea. The next 1 to 2 minutes are critical because the sugar will darken by the second. Monitor the cooking and, to control the caramelization, frequently pick up the saucepan and slowly swirl the syrup. When a dark reddish cast sets in&mdashthink the color of Pinot Noir&mdashlet the sugar cook a few seconds longer to a color between Cabernet and black coffee. Remove from the heat and place the pan in the water to stop the cooking. Expect the pan bottom to sizzle upon contact.
Leaving the pan in the sink, add the remaining ¼ cup water. The sugar will seize up, which is okay. When the dramatic bubbling reaction stops, return the pan to medium-high heat, and cook briefly, stirring to loosen and dissolve the sugar.
Remove the pan from the heat and return to the water in the sink for about 1 minute, stirring, to stop the cooking process and cool the caramel sauce to room temperature.
Use the sauce immediately, or transfer to a small heatproof glass jar, let cool completely, and then cap and store in a cool, dark place indefinitely.
Reprinted with permission from Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Recipes and a Good Life Found
Besides featuring an abundance of gorgeous photos and farm-fresh recipes, The Lost Kitchen also doubles as an autobiographical piece. Throughout the book, French reveals anecdotes about her life that range from hilarious (accidentally harvesting poison ivy as a centerpiece) to heartbreaking (her first business failing after a difficult divorce). Ultimately, it’s a story of perseverance, as French is a self-taught cook who, after creating a supper club in her own home, went on to open a world-renowned restaurant in a renovated mill.
French’s food is without pretension, instead choosing to celebrate Maine’s seasonal bounty — a trait that goes hand-in-hand with living in a region that recognizes the tradition of small, organic farming. The result is a book filled with detailed information on how to shuck oysters, forage plants, eat lobsters, buy shellfish, make DIY cleaner, and most importantly, cook good food.
How One Chef Ditched the Runway for the Bakery
Search RecipesPhoto: John Wagner Photography, Courtesy of Minneapolis Airport Commission
The James Beard Foundation is committed to supporting women in the food and beverage industry, from chefs and restaurateurs to entrepreneurs dreaming up new ways to make our food system more diverse, delicious, and sustainable. Our Women&rsquos Leadership Programs (WLP), with founding support by Audi, provide training at multiple stages of an individual&rsquos career, from pitching your brand to developing a perspective and policy on human resources. As part of the Foundation&rsquos commitment to advancing women in the industry and Audi&rsquos #DriveProgress initiative, we&rsquore sharing stories from female James Beard Award winners, Women&rsquos Leadership Program alumni, and thought leaders pushing for change. Through #DriveProgress, Audi is committed to cultivating and promoting a culture that enables women to achieve their highest potential by removing barriers to equity, inclusivity, growth, and development.
Below, Laurie Woolever unpacks the evolution of Women&rsquos Entrepreneurial Leadership program alum Katy Gerdes from fashion designer to pastry chef, baker, and business owner.
For Katy Gerdes, it took a high-profile detour into fashion to realize that her childhood passion for baking was her true professional calling.
&ldquoAt the age of 10, I told my mom I wanted to make a cheesecake,&rdquo recalls Gerdes, a onetime apparel designer who competed on the television series Project Runway, and now owns Angel Food Bakery in her native Minneapolis, Minnesota.
&ldquoShe said, &lsquoYou can try, but it&rsquos really difficult.&rsquo She bought me some cookbooks, I made a cheesecake, and it turned out great&hellipthen I just started baking everything I could. I love logic puzzles and being creative, and baking is a combination: there are strict rules, but once you know what those are, you can start breaking them and being more creative.&rdquo
Gerdes spent her teen and college years working part-time baking and pastry jobs, and after earning her degree in apparel design from the Rhode Island School of Design, she returned to Minneapolis to design menswear for Target. It was a heady time, yet she never felt at home in the industry.
&ldquoThe business is so focused on image that it really took a toll on my mental state,&rdquo she recalls. &ldquoI got very self-conscious, body-aware. I was never, and still am not, a fashion-y girl,&rdquo she says, &ldquobut I like designing and making things with my hands. I always loved baking. It didn&rsquot occur to me that it could be a career, but I knew I needed to do something different.&rdquo Gerdes auditioned for Project Runway, and quit her job when she was cast in the show&rsquos third season.
&ldquoIt was very intense. We had maybe three or four hours&rsquo sleep a night, but I loved it.&rdquo She was eliminated after episode three, which she chalks up to having been too reserved for the drama-hungry production.
Back home, she did independent design, and baked as a placeholder job while pondering her next move. She eventually became pastry chef at her family&rsquos restaurant, Hell&rsquos Kitchen, overcoming her nepotism-averse mother Cynthia&rsquos objections.
&ldquoI had to work really hard to win her over,&rdquo Gerdes recalls. &ldquoI was the only pastry chef, so I got to build the program I take that kind of responsibility very seriously. And there was the added pressure of proving to my colleagues that I&rsquod earned the position.&rdquo
Gerdes won her mother&rsquos confidence, and when a space opened up in the Hell&rsquos Kitchen building, the two became business partners. In 2012, they opened Angel Food Bakery, where customers can see sweets being made from scratch in the open kitchen. A few years later, they opened their second location, at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, requiring them to partner with concessionaires Delaware North.
&ldquoWe&rsquore very much a family business, doing everything ourselves,&rdquo says Gerdes. &ldquoWe hadn&rsquot had investors or partners before, so to take on a partnership like that was intimidating we didn&rsquot want to lose who we are as a company. But they&rsquove been fantastic partners. It&rsquos such a different style of business, but, we [still] make everything on-site, just like we do downtown, and it&rsquos a fully open kitchen.
&ldquoPeople assume that what they eat at an airport is going to be of lesser quality, but for them to see us scraping the cookie dough, rolling out the doughnuts&hellipthey can see that we didn&rsquot just get that in frozen and pop it in an oven.&rdquo
In 2017, Airports Council International named Angel Food &ldquoBest New Quick Service Food and Beverage Concept for North American Airports,&rdquo and in 2018, they were named &ldquoBest Local Concept in North American Airports.&rdquo
Spurred by her participation in the Women&rsquos Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) program, Gerdes is now mapping a growth plan. &ldquoI&rsquom in the feasibility assessment phase,&rdquo she says, &ldquoand asking myself, what do we want to do? We could get into wholesale production, but then who&rsquos delivering product at 4 every morning? Who gets the phone call when that person doesn&rsquot show up to work? That&rsquos me. Do I want that in my life?&rdquo
On the job and through WEL, Gerdes has also learned the value of mentoring and developing employees. &ldquoOur current general manager, her goal is to own her own bakery, so we&rsquove invited her to all our ownership meetings. The feeling is, &lsquowhat can we teach you so that you&rsquore successful when you do it?&rsquo Or, &lsquowhat can we teach you so you know if this is something you want?&rdquo Because it&rsquos not as glamorous and fun as everybody thinks it is.
&ldquoIf somebody puts in hard work to grow the company, why shouldn&rsquot we share in some of the benefits? My goal isn&rsquot to have as much money as I can possibly have. If I can share a little bit to keep a solid person happy and invested in something, that&rsquos great.&rdquo
Laurie Woolever is a writer, editor, and co-host of the food-focused podcast Carbface for Radio. She lives in New York.
The JBF Women&rsquos Leadership Programs are presented by Audi.
Five Things You Didn’t Know About Anne Burrell
Anne Burrell was born in Cazenovia, New York, on September 21, 1969. She is a well-known chef and television personality and is also a former instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. She is most famous as the host of ‘Secrets of a Restaurant Chef’ o the Food Network and also as the co-host of ‘Worst Cooks in America’. Other television series she has appeared in include ‘Iron Chef America, ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’, ‘The Next Iron Chef’, ‘Chopped All-Stars Tournament’, and ‘Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell’. Despite being a high-profile television chef, there are many things people do not know about Anne Burrell. Here are five facts you might not know about this talented chef and television personality.
1. Mario Batali is One of Her Most Influential Mentors
Burrell first met Batali in a wine shop and he has since become one of her most influential mentors. In the series ‘Iron Chef America’, she has helped him compete in over 20 competitions by acting as his sous chef for the show. Mario Batali is a well-known celebrity chef, media personality, restaurateur, and writer. He was born in Seattle, Washington, on September 19, 1960.
2. She is Engaged to Koren Grieveson
Burrell has been in a long-term relationship with her girlfriend Koren Grieveson for many years and the couple announced their engagement on December 31, 2012. After Ted Allen, a cookbook author, talked publicly about Burrell’s sexuality on a radio talk show, Burrell made an official announcement that she was in a relationship with Grieveson in the New York Post. However, she denied that Allen had outed her and said that her sexuality was never a secret. Koren Grieveson is also a talented chef and won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes.
3. She Studied and Worked in Italy
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1996, she moved to Asti in the Piedmont region of Italy to study at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners. She then decided to remain in Italy and worked in many restaurants over a period of nine months. One of these was a small restaurant in Tuscany called ‘La Bottega del ‘30′. This had just one seating each evening.
4. Bucatini all’Amatriciana Is Her Favorite Dish at Home
When she is cooking at home she likes to keep things simple and Italian dishes are some of her favorites to cook. Of all the dishes she makes, Bucatini all’Amatriciana is her all-time favorite. She says it has all her favorite ingredients in it, such as guanciale, holy trinity, olive oil, bacon, and salt. The sauce consists predominantly of tomatoes and onions and she just adores the chewy ropes of pasta in the dish.
5. Anne Burrell is Good Friends with Alex Guarnaschelli
Other than Mario Batali, one of her best friends from the Food Network is Alex Guarnaschelli. She is the executive chef at a New York restaurant called ‘Butter’ and also a television personality. She is best-known for the shows ‘Chopped’, ‘All-Star Family Cook-Off’, ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’, and ‘Iron Chef America’. Guarnaschelli won ‘Iron Chef America’ in the 2012 season.
11 Things You Didn't Know About Marcus Samuelsson
You've seen them judge the competition, battle for the title of All-Stars champion and compete in a friendly game with colleagues on After Hours, but there's a lot you don't know about the judges of Chopped. Here's your chance to get to know the nine people behind the Chopping Block.
Marcus Samuelsson is the acclaimed chef behind Red Rooster Harlem, Ginny's Supper Club, and American Table Cafe and Bar by Marcus Samuelsson. Marcus is the youngest person to ever receive a three-star review from The New York Times. He was also tasked with planning and executing the Obama Administration's first State dinner. Marcus has won multiple James Beard Foundation Awards, including Best Chef: New York City and most recently in the category of Writing and Literature for his recent memoir, Yes, Chef. But what you may not know about Marcus is that if he didn't become a chef, he might have become a professional soccer player. Find out more about Marcus in his Q&A below.
What's your Achilles' heel ingredient, one that you hate to work with or encounter in someone else's dish?
What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?
What was your most memorable meal? What, where, who? Details, please.
MS: That's easy: El Bulli, with Ferran and Albert, after spending a great day driving from the city.
Is there one dish that you always order out and never make at home?
If you weren't in food, what career would you have liked to have tried?
James Beard: America's First Foodie
Today’s American food movement can be traced back to one man: cookbook author, journalist, television celebrity and teacher James Beard.
Food in the 21st century has become much more than “meat and potatoes” and canned soup casseroles.” Chefs have gained celebrity status recipes and exotic ingredients, once impossible to find, are now just a mouse click away and the country’s major cities are better known for their gastronomy than their art galleries. This food movement can be traced back to one man: James Beard. His name graces the highest culinary honor in the American food world today — the James Beard Foundation Awards. And while chefs all around the country aspire to win a James Beard Award, often referred to as the “culinary Oscars,” many of those same chefs know very little about the man behind the medal. Respected restaurateur Drew Nieporent summed it up when he said, “Everybody knows the name James Beard. They may not know who he is, but they know the name.”
America’s First Foodie: The Incredible Life of James Beardtells the story of the Portland, Oregon native, who had the first cooking show on television (1945) who was the author of 22 cookbooks along with a syndicated newspaper column and countless magazine pieces and who ran an acclaimed cooking school out of his townhouse in New York City. James Beard introduced Julia Child to New York, boosting her place as a culinary grande dame. Child in turn once said, “I may have brought French cooking to America, but Jim brought American cooking to America.” He was a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement, consulting on menus for iconic restaurants such as The Four Seasons, promoting seasonally driven dining.
America’s First Foodierelates the story of Beard’s life while chronicling a century in the food movement. The film will weave the biography of the man the New York Times deemed “the Dean of American Cookery” while painting a gastronomic family tree.
The last chapter of the film will explore the post-Beard years, and will discuss how the billion-dollar food industry he helped found has changed. Since Beard’s death in 1985, the James Beard Foundation and House have continued his mission. The foundation is at the center of America’s culinary community and is dedicated to exploring the way food enriches our lives. The James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program helps aspiring culinary students realize their dreams by supporting them on a path to success. The Beard name has become synonymous with culinary excellence and each year thousands gather for the James Beard Foundation Awards.
Director/Producer Beth Federici and Co-Producer Kathleen Squires have interviewed many of the country’s epicurean icons, including Martha Stewart, Alice Waters, Jacques Pepin, Wolfgang Puck, Jeremiah Tower, Ted Allen, Judith Jones, Larry Forgione, Dan Barber, Gael Greene, Jonathan Waxman, Ruth Reichl and many more.
Through a recorded and printed oral history crafted by Beard himself, personal letters from Beard to his friends and colleagues, archival footage and interviews, we will weave the history of American cooking and gastronomy with the story of its Founding Father and will explore how the food world has evolved since his death. We will visit the places he loved, including his childhood homes of Portland and Gearhart Oregon, the great restaurants of New York, Portland, San Francisco and Chicago, the great public markets like Pike Place Market in Seattle and, of course, his second and final home, New York City. By marrying current footage with archival footage, interviews and animations, we hope to create a film that truly captures the color, spirit and genius that was James Beard.
James Beard Award-Winning Chef Tony Mantuano of The Joseph: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef
Do your best to stay balanced. When I was a young chef, I worked, worked, worked and worked some more, to the detriment of my well-being and my relationships. If you don’t have a semblance of balance between your work and home lives, you simply won’t perform at your best in either area.
Traveling to the source of the cuisine you’re cooking is really important. No one gave me this advice, and it was out of our own curiosity that Cathy and I took a leap of faith and got on a plane to Italy in the mid-80’s. That trip (and in countless trips in the years that have followed) opened up our world. It shaped our future.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing James Beard Award-winning and Michelin-starred Chef Tony Mantuano, who represents an exceptional brand of Italian cuisine.
As Food & Beverage Partner with The Pizzuti Companies, Mantuano directs the food and beverage program at The Joseph, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Nashville alongside leading wine and hospitality expert Cathy Mantuano. Together, the husband-and-wife duo guide conceptual development, creative direction and design, menus, execution and the spirit of hospitality for Yolan, featuring refined Italian dining Denim, a stunning rooftop lounge Four Walls, an intimate cocktail bar and the sophisticated property’s in-room dining and banquet offerings.
Midwest-born and raised, Mantuano first brought fine Italian cuisine to Chicago’s award-winning Spiaggia — one of the country’s most revered Italian restaurants — and has built a reputation of excellence for both himself and the restaurants he has opened in the decades since. A world-renowned chef with a passion for fostering raw talent, he and Cathy trained in Italy in the early 80s, when it was rare for Americans to stage overseas. They have returned almost every year, learning in various kitchens — from small family trattorie to three-star Michelin restaurants. These experiences culminate in restaurants that evoke la bella figura — an expression commonly used to describe the beautiful way of life in Italy — experiences that are genuine, gracious and rich with culture.
A decorated culinary icon, Mantuano has received 12 nominations from The James Beard Foundation, winning Best Chef Midwest in 2005. A loyal supporter of causes close to his heart, he was also honored by President Barack Obama for his culinary contributions to diplomacy.
Mantuano is often recognized for his participation on BRAVO’s “Top Chef Masters” and on several national broadcasts, as well as his appearances at prestigious culinary events and symposiums worldwide. Inspired by their love of Mediterranean cuisine and their travels worldwide, Tony and Cathy co-authored Wine Bar Food — allowing readers to create and share their favorite recipes with loved ones.
The Mantuanos live in Nashville and are proud to call the Music City home.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
F ood has always been integral to my family. Growing up, my fondest memories are of our gatherings around the dinner table — which was filled to the brim with home-grown vegetables, freshly made pastas and perfectly roasted meats. The conversation, the laughter, the storytelling, the milestone anniversaries and birthdays — I associate all of these times with food. I knew from a young age that I wanted to replicate those feelings as often as I could, not just for my own family but for others, as well so building a career as a chef was a foregone conclusion. Everyone should experience that magic.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Italian cuisine has been my career-long focus. I was drawn to this genre as a youngster in large part because of my family heritage, which is Italian. My earliest memories of food are extremely fond, especially when visiting my grandmother’s house. Every meal was special there. My grandfather grew everything at home, and my grandmother cooked it — “farm to table” in the truest sense of the concept. And as a boy, I learned quickly that cooking could be so simple, but delicious! The flavors shined through both because my grandmother stayed true to the ingredients and because of the emotion she put into making our food. She was cooking with love. You could tell she was happy, and my mom and my aunts — who often cooked alongside her, rolling out fresh pasta — were happy, too. When you’re surrounded by those good feelings, you don’t want to lose them. So in a way, my decision to pursue a career as a chef stemmed from those memories and a desire to foster those special moments for others.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
In 1983, my wife Cathy Mantuano — who has built her career around wine expertise — and I traveled to Italy to stage in various restaurants. It was a little practiced concept at the time, Americans traveling abroad to cook with foreign chefs. We were living in a small neighborhood just outside of Milan, and the first restaurant we staged in was comical. The chef and his wife lived upstairs from the dining room and were constantly at odds — we could audibly hear their raised voices, which were filled with Italian emotion, in the kitchen and in the dining room. That volatility spilled into the restaurant. The chef was temperamental and spastic — he would puree things in the Robot Coup, forget to place the lid atop and contents would splash all over the walls and the ceiling. And he’d actually use a spatula to scrape up the contents and put them back in the blender! The servers were untrained, almost always spilling trays of beverages and food on a nightly basis. Lots of yelling. It was a comedy of errors, and nothing changed. What’s worse is that everyone working there thought this was all completely normal!
To make matters worse, we were living in an apartment building about a half a mile away that tended to draw men and their mistresses. I’ll spare you the details.
Cathy and I were young — and we looked at each other wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. We came all this way for this mess? After a week, we knew we had to get the hell out of there. We left our first post and thankfully found another restaurant willing to take us. That restaurant was called Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio, Italy — just south of Mantua — and to this day remains one of the most inspirational restaurants of our careers. It is a three Michelin-starred destination with kind, talented owners who live and breathe genuine Italian hospitality. We had found our foundational training ground, and we’ve returned time and time again over the decades. The owners’ children now run Dal Pescatore. They and their parents, our mentors, are some of our most treasured friends.
The moral of the story? Despite the discouragement (and slight trauma) that came with our first stage, we weren’t ready to give up on our dream. We knew that somewhere, what we were looking for was out there, so we pressed on. And we found it.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
When I first moved to Chicago in 1981, I took a job cooking at a restaurant called Pronto. The executive chef and the maître d were gruff, tough Italian-Americans and to put it bluntly, they were terrible to me. They bullied me, tried to keep me from succeeding and in general, made coming to work every day highly unpleasant for a young chef.
I spoke with the owner of the restaurant about my concerns, and he encouraged me to keep my head down and just focus on my work. He said he saw something in me and didn’t want me to give up too easily. So I carried on, enduring some of the worst treatment I’d ever experienced. What killed me was that while the restaurant was busy, the executive chef was lousy — he took shortcut after shortcut with the food. He was robbing guests of a true Italian dining experience.
A few weeks later, the executive chef went on vacation, and the owner pulled me aside to tell me that he planned to fire the chef upon his return and wanted me to step in.
So I became the executive chef at Pronto. But I still had a problem with the maître d’, who despised me even more once his buddy was gone. Constantly trying to undermine my authority, spreading rumors, trying to get my cooks turn against me…the list was endless.
One evening during service, he came into the kitchen and started in. And I’d had it. In an almost out-of-body experience, I picked up my French knife, pointed it right at him, and said, “Get the fuck out of my kitchen, get the fuck out of this restaurant, and don’t ever show your face here again!”
In that instant, I learned that sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do with bullies: You have to stand up to them. When you do, they will generally back down. And I was justified in telling him to leave — since accepting the chef role, I had been working harder than ever, bringing freshness, quality and authenticity to the menu, earning the respect of my colleagues and our guests. They respected me for eliminating his toxic energy and then followed my example of working hard and focusing on our guests.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
For me, it’s always been about trying to replicate the cuisine of Italy without adding my own “spin.” Authentic Italian cuisine is what I’ve spent my life’s work producing — discovering heirloom recipes that speak to generations of history, culture, family and love. We don’t overcomplicate. We stay humble to the past and humble to our guests.
When people tell me that their food reminds them of Italy, it’s the highest compliment I could ask for.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
A charcoal or wood grill, and beautiful piece of protein — I’m not picky it could be beef or chicken or fish — and a vibrant salad made with farm-fresh ingredients. The perfect meal always involves a bottle or two of quality Italian red wine, and plenty of San Pellegrino. The perfect meal is as much about simplicity as it is about sharing it with the people you love.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I was a music major in college, and music inspires me daily. I find it exciting to hear kids in their 20’s today playing music in the style of Motor City and other genres that were popular when I was growing up. It’s amazing how people of all generations can gravitate towards the same classic sounds.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I am really pleased to be working with The Pizzuti Companies on their latest hotel, The Joseph, a new luxury hotel in Nashville that opened in August. After spending the majority of our careers in Chicago, Cathy and I joined the team as Food and Beverage partners, where we have opened Yolan, a refined Italian restaurant and Denim, a casual rooftop eatery. Soon, we’ll also reveal Four Walls, a speakeasy style cocktail lounge with innovative bar snacks.
We’re at a very significant time in the lifeline of a city. Nashville has long been famous for its honkytonk bars and fried hot chicken — and those are wonderful things. But there are many layers to Nashville. There are world travelers living here and people from major cities who now call Nashville home. They know the level of cuisine we’re producing, and they’ve been wanting something like this in their city. We see The Joseph and its restaurants as enhancing the image of Nashville in an exciting way. The culinary community had already been growing in that direction… we want to be a milestone on that timeline.
There isn’t a night that goes by that guests — many of whom are local — don’t tell us how much Nashville needed a place like The Joseph, needed a restaurant like Yolan. It’s a perfect coming together of so many things that makes this city exciting to us.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
First, align yourself with a type of food or chef that you really admire.
The restaurant business is harder than ever, and if you choose to go that route in your career, make sure you work with someone who wants to help you grow in the right way. Don’t commit to a place where you’re required to work seven days per week that’s a sign of an unhealthy environment and you will burn out. Spend time with your family and those with whom you have relationships. Take time off.
In the last few years, young chefs have also found that they can make a living without necessarily tying themselves to a restaurant. There are many ways to express your passion — whether through private chef opportunities, leading cooking classes, developing culinary products and more. It’s important to look at the whole picture and explore the diversity of the field. Eventually, you’ll discover what makes you happiest.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Do your best to stay balanced. When I was a young chef, I worked, worked, worked and worked some more, to the detriment of my well-being and my relationships. If you don’t have a semblance of balance between your work and home lives, you simply won’t perform at your best in either area.
- You don’t have to work with assholes, no matter how important they seem. Work with people you respect and who share your values. Don’t be afraid to respectfully walk away from those that don’t. It took me a long time to realize that. That said, how you leave your positions at every stage of your career is incredibly important. The restaurant industry is made up of a tight knit group. If a place isn’t right for you, don’t leave them in the lurch. Give proper notice. Your last two weeks of service will tell your current (and possibly future) employers everything they need to know about recommending or hiring you again.
- Traveling to the source of the cuisine you’re cooking is really important. No one gave me this advice, and it was out of our own curiosity that Cathy and I took a leap of faith and got on a plane to Italy in the mid-80’s. That trip (and in countless trips in the years that have followed) opened up our world. It shaped our future.
- Try to live close to where you work. At one time, my family and I moved about 40 miles away from Chicago, and the commute was brutal, it took everything out of me. When you’re already on your feet and you work somewhat unconventional hours, getting in car early in the morning or late at night is the last thing you’re going to want to do.
- At some point, someone you’re close to in the business is going to let you down. There will be great disappointment. You’ll be at a loss for words. Let yourself feel those feelings, but then move on quickly. There are always better days ahead.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
People must try the pastas at Yolan! All of our pastas are made in-house and are staples of Roman tradition. The Cacio e Pepe, the Bucatini All’Amatriciana and others — these are just a few examples that express the authenticity of Italian flavors. This isn’t “my take” on a Carbonara pasta — this is how it’s made in Rome.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to attract greater diversity in the culinary industry. It’s incredibly important that people of all backgrounds make up the dining experience. As an industry, we need to let others know that there is always an exciting chance to learn a new skill in the culinary arts. I care deeply about my team I care who they are and am enriched by the opportunity to share in their stories. If I can successfully teach and mentor those eager to learn — until they’re ready to fly on their own — I will have done my job.
Leaving Saturday Kitchen has left James with some more time on his hands, so he's going to be opening a new restaurant in the New Forest in November. We can't wait to try it!
Last week he revealed that he had been dating but on a bit of digging we have discovered that he has actually been in a relationship for the past five years with PA Louise Davies. A secret well kept, he actually lives with her and their dog Ralph. The couple are said to have met on the set of 'Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire'.
She took her first job as head chef in 1948.
Already positioning herself to expand upon the legacy that her grandfather imposed, in 1948, Lewis was offered the opportunity of a lifetime and shifted gears. A good friend of hers&mdashantique dealer Johnny Nicholson, who frequently attended the coveted dinner parties Lewis threw&mdashwas preparing to open a new café on the Upper East Side.
After a brief conversation, the two went into business together, and Lewis became the head chef at Café Nicholson, located on East 57th Street in Manhattan. Lewis created a menu filled with simple Southern delicacies, and her cooking drew in a number of celebrated faces: Paul Robeson, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Gloria Vanderbilt, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, and many more. The restaurant was a huge success, and Lewis served as chef until her departure in 1954.
8. A classical statue was erected in his honor soon after his death.
Despite his short and somewhat uneventful tenure, Garfield quickly (as in, within six years) received an honor equal to more renowned American presidents. Sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward, who is probably best known for his oversized bronze of George Washington that stands on the grounds of his inauguration at Federal Hall in New York, unveiled his Garfield monument in 1887 at the foot of the Capitol building. The statue, which depicts Garfield giving a speech, also sports three figures along its granite pedestal base: a student (representing Garfield's stint as a teacher), a warrior (for his military service), and a toga-sporting elder statesman (to signify his political career).