Yesterday, we talked to Nikki Cascone about her new “global Jewish” restaurant, Octavia’s Porch, and what she was going to be breaking her Yom Kippur fast with this weekend. Today, she reveals who she dreams of cooking with and eating with, and what food shows she watches on TV these days.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from your first restaurant?
It was definitely a choice to sell 24 Prince. When the economy hit us, we asked ourselves, do we really want to lay off our chef or manager? So, it was a business choice to move on and that’s hard when you put five years of your life into something. But the other thing was that, culinarily, it was very simple food and I wanted more stimulation. And this is just one concept hopefully of many that the Little Printz Group will develop. It was just time to cut the cord. So, I learned that you really need a solid business plan for a rainy day. I see people still going out of business every day. The restaurant industry was hit hard. I feel very blessed that we were able to sell and not just shutter.
You’re six months pregnant. What are you craving these days?
For me, it’s all about being as casual as I can. I’m on a big Korean kick. I want really strong flavors right now and I love salty food. I also love simple, brick-oven pizza. We eat at Franny’s a lot. I went to Pulino’s the other day. I love Mile End. If my pastrami can be anything like their meat, I’ll be happy. … I’m not eating out at any fancy places unless it’s something I have to try.
What do you feel is missing these days from the restaurant scene?
What bothers me is that a place will open up and then suddenly they’re in six different areas. When that happens, you get away from the uniqueness of such a great place. Also, I don’t want to insult anyone, but I can never get good Mexican in New York City. That, and you can’t get real barbecue, like great ribs and smoked chicken.
If you could have a meal with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Howard Hughes, before he went crazy, would have been an interesting character. Culinarily, it sounds so boring, but I would have liked to meet or work with Julia Child. She’s the matriarch. I’m a big, big, big, big fan of Alice Waters. Females are very influential to me. Rose Gray from the River Café in London — that’s very much my style.
Favorite food movie?
Babette’s Feast. It’s so artistic and so beautiful. I have a fantasy that the old-school culinary brigade exists. That you start at the bottom, learn how to prep, and work your way up along the line. Now, with reality shows and rock-star chefs, people expect to get into the culinary world and that overnight they’re going to be a sensation. Speaking of reality TV, do you still watch Top Chef?
I have to admit that I took a break from Top Chef after I came home. It was hard to watch for a while after, but I still work with a lot of the people at NBC and Bravo, so I try to stay on top of that. You have to know who the other chefs are. And I still enjoy the show, believe it or not. I think it has a lot of integrity and I enjoy the format. I think there’s a reason it’s gotten Emmy nominations and now a win. It took me a few years to say it, but it’s something that will always be a part of me. Although it doesn’t necessarily define me.
Any other food shows you like?
I have to say, Jamie Oliver is like my hero. I tell my husband all the time that I would marry him in a minute. I honestly have a culinary crush on him. It’s the only show besides Top Chef that I DVR.
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