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the sweet scoop
After working in high-profile NYC kitchens including Gotham Bar & Grill, Le Bernardin and Judson Grill, chef Bill Telepan opened New American restaurant Telepan in late 2005. Since then, the elegant Upper West Side eatery has been widely celebrated by diners and critics for its seasonal menu and use of fresh, local ingredients. “We buy locally, we buy as much organic as we can,” Telepan says. “It’s important because seasonal and local means you’re getting the freshest ingredients that are really well grown by someone I know. It’s just a better product.”
I recently spoke with chef Telepan about his passion for seasonal cooking, helping make schools healthier, and more.
Why has the philosophy of sourcing local ingredients been so important to you over the years?
It’s very simple — when things are seasonal and local, they taste better. When a carrot is pulled out of the ground that day from less than 100 miles away, it’s going to taste better than a carrot that was pulled out of the ground a week ago and flown in from another part of the country.
What type of meals do you cook at home with your family?
We try to keep things quick and simple, but it changes. If I want to try something new, like something with Chinese ingredients, I’ll mess around with that at home. My daughter and I love to make our own pasta, but it’s all about keeping things simple–and we use the crock pot a lot!
So your daughter is a little chef-in-training?
Yes, she likes to cook and she loves to bake—she has officially become the family baker.
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu right now at Telepan?
Wow, that’s a tough one because I love them all! Right now, we are pulling our own mozzarella to order. Through Murray’s Cheese, I found a great grass-fed milk producer that makes curds that we pull into the mozzarella—it creates an amazing cheese. I also recently started buying whole veal from a farm in upstate New York. We feature it in a dish on the menu, which is amazing, but we also make sausage with it for pasta. I obviously love everything on the menu, but those are definitely a couple things I am very excited about!
Sounds like there’s a bit of Italian influence in there…
Yes, well, I was trained in France and have visited Italy many times, but I’m from New Jersey. France and Italy are so hyper-seasonal, so it has been nice to gain influences from there, but given my background, I am able to take it a few steps further.
What inspired you to get involved with Wellness in the Schools?
Very simply, my daughter is in a public school and I had met some parents who were trying to make some changes, and given that I am a cook, I figured I could help them move it a long a little quicker. 70% of the kids in public schools are getting a majority of their calories in a day by eating school lunches—and this mostly includes breaded chicken, hamburgers, french fries and nuggets. I figured this could be something I could help with by making those calories healthier. Over the last four years, we have been able to eliminate types of food like this from the Wellness in the Schools menu.
Has getting the school system to make change been a challenge?
Well, it’s really just about getting back to cooking and getting rid of the processed foods. It’s that simple. The school system has a large selection of food that they are able to buy, and it’s all about what foods they should be buying and how they should be preparing it. It’s not local, organic or even seasonal, which is fine, but we made it a point to get rid of the processed foods and get cooking again. This is the first step–and hopefully 50 years from now, everyone will get back to buying local.
Congratulations for being named one of the top ten chefs in Food & Wine’s recent Chefs Make Change campaign! How did it feel to participate?
That was so exciting! And such a surprise because we’re such a small organization. To be recognized in the same light as Emeril, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, José Andrés and Alice Waters—we were extremely honored. It was a great feeling to be included in that team of chefs. And it created such a big awareness and raised a lot of money for all of our charities.
Inspired by Ingredients was a fantastic first cookbook. Do you plan on publishing another?
Yes, I am always putting down outlines and thoughts, so hopefully by this summer I will have something in the works.
In the meantime, you can follow chef Telepan on Telepan TV (which, he tells me, is shot entirely by camera phone) and on Twitter at @billtelepan.
Interview featured on CleanPlates.com. Photos courtesy of Neil Samson Katz for CBS.
I recently interviewed the ever-so inspiring Chef Michael Anthony for Clean Plates. Enjoy my Q & A below!
After cultivating his craft in Paris’s best kitchens and working at New York restaurants Daniel, March and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Michael Anthony was named Executive Chef of Gramercy Tavern in 2006. Since then, the award-winning American eatery has received countless accolades and is consistently ranked as one of Manhattan’s best.
Chef Michael’s farm-to-table approach focuses on using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. With an ever-changing menu showcasing Greenmarket produce and sustainable products, Michael’s simple, straightforward cuisine inspires a connection between diners and their food.
More than just a chef, he is a devoted educator, father, philanthropist and active member of the community. Whether participating in charitable events, visiting farms with his staff or teaching elementary school children in his kitchen, Michael’s passion extends far beyond the plate.
As Executive Chef of Gramercy Tavern, you focus on using sustainable and local ingredients. Why is this philosophy so important to you?
Sourcing foods locally, for me, is the most distinctive way that we can tell our story. New York City is the most stimulating dining city in the world and we have the benefit of working with chefs and embracing ideas from all over. However, the best way to tell our story is through the ingredients that are here locally. Eating in New York is different than eating in any other city.
There are many benefits in supporting the local community and establishing one-on-one relationships with the people that grow our food. When a guest tells me how much they loved the swiss chard, I can tell the grower specifically why people love it. When someone asks about the grass-fed beef, I can give them an informed answer about what the animal was eating. Not everyone wants to know those details, but it certainly makes for an interesting story. Diners want to feel more connected and want their dining experience to be valuable—and value, these days, not only means being delicious, but also healthy and smart.
Now that Spring has finally bloomed here in NYC, what types of seasonal flavors can we see make an appearance on the menu?
Well, two weeks ago was the first day that asparagus showed up at the Union Square Greenmarket in enough quantity that restaurants could actually buy it by the case. It was almost like it was opening day at Citi Field! Right now, we have four asparagus dishes on the menu, but that will change as other seasonal ingredients come to our markets. Certain ingredients explode during certain times of the year, so why wouldn’t our menu explode with those ingredients as well?
We’ve also reached out to a couple area producers to buy small quantities of some special, hard-to-find things that they come across while foraging. We’ve been able to get some great wild ginger, toothwort and other ingredients that you typically won’t find at the markets.
When you find these ingredients, are there certain methods that you use when conceiving a new dish?
Dishes are inspired by the new ingredient. We want to keep it simple enough that it’s memorable and layer it so that it has an echoing effect through the dish—meaning handle it in a couple different ways on a single dish. Avoid over manipulating the ingredient. The flavor combos, techniques and plating have to create intrigue, a lovable quality. We want guests to experience something they have never experienced before.
I know you’re a father to three young daughters. Has having children influenced your mindset as far as the causes and charities you support?
It’s definitely instigated me to push things further. The principals that we use at the restaurant ignite the way I eat at home, and when it comes to little kids, every bite matters even more.
Over the last hundred years, we’ve grown further away from our culinary and agricultural history for convenience and modernization. I’m not saying that you have to go back in time and adapt an old-fashioned lifestyle—I love living in fast-paced Manhattan, I don’t want to slow down—but I do want to preserve the right to eat a wide variety of healthy, delicious and nutritious foods. Since I do this for a living, I’ve learned a lot of tricks along the way that I use at home and at the restaurant.
Can you tell me a little bit about your ongoing efforts in educating public school kids?
One of the most important roles of a restaurant in the community is that of an educator. We have a responsibility of sharing our enthusiasm and knowledge with those who are eager to learn. Not bombarding kids with propaganda, but giving them the tools to make healthy choices and to understand the fun and weird things that happen around food. We partnered with an elementary school 5 years ago and we schedule 18-20 days a year to teach the children, whether it be a class at the school, in our kitchen or at the green market. Most importantly, we want to create a vocabulary with the kids to find their likes and dislikes. If you make them a part of the process, they’re more likely to give it a taste.
I understand you’ll be in Toledo next week participating in their Taste of the Nation event and are an avid supporter of Share Our Strength. What about this organization moves you to get involved?
Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation represents a long running tradition with our company and the charitable organization. It’s a huge fundraiser for them, but it’s a culmination of a lot of symbiotic initiatives between Danny Meyer and Billy Shore. It’s done a lot to transform the neighborhood in which Danny’s businesses operate and also the landscape of the way people eat. Share Our Strength’s mission statement is to end childhood hunger and this is a major part in helping make that happen.
We love doing the large scale events, but some of the smaller ones, like Just Food’s Let Us Eat Local and Brooklyn Uncorked, are dynamite events as well! Especially with a company like Clean Plates, where you’re talking about a specific type of restaurant—these restaurants are very idealistic. I love being involved with these events, it’s a really cool thing.
Note: Pastry chef Nancy Olsen will be representing Gramercy Tavern during NYC’s Taste of the Nation on May 23rd. To purchase tickets, please visit www.newyorktaste.org.
Is there anything else on the horizon that you’d like to share?
Well, I do have some exciting news to share. It may be a little premature and it’s just right out of the gates, but we will be coming out with the story of Gramercy Tavern as a cookbook. It’s years away from publication, but it will become a big part of our lives here at the restaurant. This is a beloved place for a lot of people and I think that it’s a story that has yet to be told. I think people will be really excited to learn more about the history of the restaurant and to see, hear and feel how we’re pushing its evolution along.
From ballpark burger joints to highly acclaimed fine dining restaurants, the empire of Danny Meyer continues to dominate New York’s crowded culinary scene. With over 25 years of industry experience, multiple three- and four-star New York Times reviews and 21 James Beard Awards under his belt, the renowned restaurateur is most celebrated for his trademark approach to service and hospitality.
Recently, Danny and his talented team at Union Square Hospitality Group have set their sights on expanding to other locales, including additional Manhattan neighborhoods, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Miami, Washington DC, and even Dubai. Whether expressing his enthusiasm for a particular cuisine or being inspired by a culture-rich childhood, Danny demonstrates a true passion for life, family and food, in each of his distinctive ventures.
With all the current hype surrounding USHG’s rapidly growing portfolio and the intimate just-released documentary, The Restaurateur, I was eager to learn more about all the exciting things happening in the busy life of Danny Meyer.
Let’s start out by talking about something near and dear to the hearts of so many New Yorkers – Shake Shack. What’s in the works?
This summer, we’ll be opening in Washington DC, just below Dupont Circle, and also in the Washington Nationals baseball stadium. We figured as long as we’re opening in DC anyway, why not try to recapture some of the excitement like we brought to Citi Field a couple years ago.
And then we’re opening 2 other Shake Shacks this summer, one in Brooklyn and the other in Westport, CT on Boston Post Road. Westport is exciting because it will be the first Shake Shack that will not rely on pedestrian traffic—people will have to drive to it, and it will be interesting to see how it works, especially since Shake Shack was based on the traditional car-hop type of experience from the 1940s.
Also, our team is actually in Dubai right now, as we speak, because after 2 years of planning, we are opening our first international Shake Shack and its going to be a big one. It will be the exact same look and feel, except the menu will be translated in Arabic as well as English.
Congratulations on the opening of Untitled (in the Whitney museum). How’s that going?
Yes, it will be 3 weeks old this Thursday. We are still putting in the final physical touches, but it’s going very well. Even this past Monday when the museum was closed, every seat in the restaurant was taken. It’s a really fun take on the farm-to-table coffee shop concept, basically not trying to reinvent the wheel on the kinds of food people like to eat at a coffee shop, but saying ‘why not try to look a little bit differently on how the products are sourced and prepared?’
And you’ve had your restaurant, The Modern, and cafes in the MoMA for quite some time now. What is it about museum spaces that’s most appealing to you?
I absolutely love art. My mom actually had an art gallery where I grew up in St. Louis and when I was in college in CT, we used to come down to NY and go to the MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Whitney. I love being part of the cultural execution of a restaurant and, this may sound odd, but I love playing second fiddle to something that is much larger than we are.
For the same reason that Citi Field was so exciting, to be able to add to the excitement of things people love doing anyways—I can’t tell you how thrilling it is. For example, Jazz Standard was created not to take away from what people were coming for—jazz—but rather to enhance the experience with great food and drinks.
Hospitality seems to come first in any venture you put your name on. How has this mentality driven your success?
I think it’s what comes most naturally to me. We are so fortunate to be living in a city where there is an abundance of good food and chefs—so the challenge is to not find good food, but to find good food in a place that makes you feel good as well. People ask me all the time “how do you find such great chefs to work with?” For me, that’s the easy part. I know food, but the part that really can distinguish us is to not only find someone who can cook, but someone that loves to naturally make others happy through his or her dishes. That is what is important. This concept applies to all other positions in the restaurants including servers, maître d’s, managers, etc., who are not only great at what they do to keep the restaurant operating, but are also emotionally hard-wired to make sure every diner is having a great experience.
I’ve seen you at a few events recently, including South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash. How is having a presence at events and interacting with customers first-hand important to you?
There is really nothing more important. There is a limit to what you can learn behind the scenes. Interacting with our staff and guests—seeing, smelling, feeling and hearing what’s going on—is how we get all of our great ideas. It’s important that we use all of our senses in order make a place sing as sweetly as it possibly can.
Roger Sherman’s documentary, The Restaurateur, was just released on DVD. How did you feel about seeing yourself on the big screen?
In life, we wake up every day trying to do things a little bit better than we did yesterday, and going backwards in time was a really odd sensation. Note: I highly recommend seeing this film, which captures all the stresses, tough decisions and joys that Danny and team endured when simultaneously opening Tabla and Eleven Madison Park. The bare-all portrait features footage dating back to 1998, including a chef being replaced after initial reviews, signature-dish creation from Floyd Cardoz and Tom Colicchio (then executive chef of Gramercy Tavern) with hair!
Is there a standout piece of advice that you’ve received from a mentor and carried with you throughout your career?
I’ve received a lot of advice over the years, but I have to say, “Keep it meaningful and keep it real.” If you’re going to do something, do something that matters. Don’t just do it because you’re told it can’t be done. Before we decide to open a restaurant, we have to really understand where it came from. The reason why we are moving into baseball stadiums is because we love baseball, we know baseball and we understand what makes it a great experience.
Your restaurants have already won 21 James Beard Awards and recently received another 4 nominations. What does this kind of constant recognition mean to you and your staff?
It’s a tremendous morale booster. Fortunately, it’s not something that goes to anyone’s head because that could be dangerous. If anything, it just feels good and motivates us to start a new day and do whatever you can to be better tomorrow. The people in our organization are extremely proud of what they do, and it feels amazing when other peers in the industry, people who they respect, give them a vote of confidence. It’s like them saying “as much as you respect us, we think you’re one of the best in the business.” It just feels great.
If you could take a week off of work, with no Blackberry or emails, what would you do?
Well, being disconnected from my business is not something I personally could do, but I would love to take a bike riding trip in the south of Italy. Get a lot of exercise, eat a lot of great food and meet a lot of people. That would make me very happy.
I read that you lived in Italy when you were younger, is that right?
Yes, for about a year and a half with my wife. Mostly Rome, but also spent a little time in Bologna, Sardinia and Milan. That was really the motivation for opening Maialino, my love affair with Italy.
In addition to a strong love of Italy, having a large family is also something we have in common. Do your children like to play around in the kitchen?
Yes, we have 4 kids, and they all enjoy being in the kitchen, absolutely. Our oldest daughter, who is a senior in high school, is constantly cooking and baking—it’s a rare day that she doesn’t find time to bake something, even with her heavy school workload. It’s how she relaxes. The others love to cook as well and LOVE to eat.
Is there anything else on the horizon that you’d like to share?
Well, as sad as it was to close Tabla at the end of last year, the expression that “every time a door closes, another one opens” is so true. It gave us the opportunity to plan and conceive North End Grill with Floyd Cardoz, who was our chef at Tabla. This restaurant will really focus on refined grilling, which is very different than barbecue. Rather than slowly smoking something, it will be about really carefully grilling something. Floyd and I are so excited about it and he’s going to an amazing job with it.
Danny, thank you again for taking the time to chat with me and best of luck with all your new ventures!
For more info on Danny Meyer and his establishments, visit USHGNYC.com.
(Note: photo courtesy of Danny Meyer)
Marc Murphy, Executive Chef and owner of celebrated NYC restaurants Landmarc and Ditch Plains, has certainly mastered the art of multitasking. Maybe you’ve seen him as a straight-shooting judge on Food Network’s weekly hit Chopped, speaking out against hunger at a City Harvest event, or even teaching the ladies of The View how to roast a chicken, but he was still kind enough to sit down with me to discuss his latest projects and new catering venture, Benchmarc Events.
In a town where egos can run rampant, it’s refreshing to meet someone who genuinely cares about making people happy through his food. Marc’s consumer-minded sensibility and laid-back approach to fine cuisine has been thoroughly embraced by diners looking to enjoy refined fare without suffering through stuffy atmospheres or break-the-bank bills.
Marc’s passion is evident, his enthusiasm for his craft is inspiring, and one thing is certain—his welcomed approach definitely seems to be working.
Enjoy our Q & A below.