Chatting With Ardesia Chef Amorette Casaus: The Trials of Small Kitchens, Joys of Sherry and Pancetta

Left: Ardesia chef Amorette Casaus, Right: Ardesia owner Mandy Oser
Left: Ardesia chef Amorette Casaus, Right: Ardesia owner Mandy Oser

Chef Amorette Casaus helmed the kitchen at Spanish favorite El Quinto Pino until three months ago, when she became executive chef at Ardesia (510 West 52nd Street), the new wine bar in Hell's Kitchen, where she's curing her own charcuterie and doing monthly roasts.

We caught up with Casaus about her cooking at Ardesia, the biggest mistake she ever made in the kitchen, and the contents of her home refrigerator.

How are things going at Ardesia?

It's going well. I think now that we have been open for a few months, everyone has gotten to know their role, and we are all doing a good job at producing good products and doing what we love.

What's the reaction been like from the neighborhood?

People really love it. And it's intended to be a neighborhood place. The show of support has been really positive.

Are there certain ideas or cooking methods you've brought with you from El Quinto Pino?

Well, the concepts are similar because they're both wine bars, but Ardesia is completely different in many ways. El Quinto Pino is Spanish, and Ardesia is very American, very New York, so in terms of cooking styles, not much.

But what I did bring with me is how to cook in small areas, to make good menus in tiny spaces.

How do you do it?

Organization. Truly, without organization small kitchens won't work. Organization, tidiness, and after that everything is just having your ducks in a row. What's your favorite dish on the menu right now and why?

My favorite is the duck banh mi--it's so good. It has sharpness to cut the richness, sourness to the cut sharpness. It's just a really full-flavored sandwich. I'm partial to sandwiches.

Did you have a hand in inventing the sea urchin panini at El Quinto Pino?

No that was Alex Raij. It's super simple: bread, butter, and sea urchin. Yet it really took off. What's in your duck banh mi?

It's just truly a banh mi: duck pate, duck pancetta, Sriracha aioli, pickled diakon and carrot and cilantro leaves. It's a fresh sandwich, but also rich and salty with the pancetta. It's well balanced.   Do you make your own duck pancetta?

Yes, we make all our charcuterie in house: duck pancetta, regular pancetta, mortadella, cocktail sausages, pastrami...

Is it difficult to do charcuterie in a small kitchen?

It's absolutely challenging. When it's sausage day, everything gets moved out to put the sausage machine in.

Do you have any plans for Ardesia's near future now that you've been open three months or so?

The menu has always been very seasonal, although there are definitely items on there that will never go away, our solid, homerun items. But we have new salads, new specials constantly being run. It's good to keep the menu rotating.

What do you wish there was more of in the New York restaurant world?

I wish that there were more restaurants using local ingredients, more restaurants that were environmentally focused. Really, it's very few places that are using local ingredients. And perhaps it's that they don't market it--it's not like Franny's where its in your face what product they use and from what farm. But I think they should have the waitstaff mention that this ingredient is from this farm, mention that you're focused on local ingredients. It's just so important for the environment and for agriculture in the Northeast, to keep our small farms up and running.

What do you wish there was less of?

Just less people not using our farms, being so frivolous with ingredients. I wish there weren't so many of those places--you don't know where they're getting their product. Since we're on the subject, are there any farms that you work with particularly often?

We work with Satur Farms and Heritage Farms. And I go to the Greenmarket every Wednesday. We're a small place, so that's really enough to get all our products. Whatever I can't get from Satur I can get from the Greenmarket.

We're going to do a new roast once a month, and this month it's a pig roast. The pig is from New Jersey, very specially raised, only eating local foods, like the local chestnuts. When you utilize a product like that you realize that you don't need a bunch of products to make the food shine.   What's the biggest mistake you've ever made in the kitchen?

It was years ago: I was frying shallots in two quarts of oil on the flat top. The oil got too hot and went down into the flat top and started a huge fire. In a multi-million-dollar kitchen in Cafe Gray! It was a really unfortunate situation. We all knew what do to, so it got put out quickly, but it was really scary at the moment. I think it was the only time I've ever used a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

Where do you like to eat on your day off?

I like to support smaller places--I'm very much for the underdog. I love Franny's, Char No. 4, Vesta in Queens. We go to Sripraphai at least once or twice a month. I love Bark Hot Dogs--they're putting out amazing products, just really good food.

What's the last movie you saw?

Nine. I was really bad--really, really bad. It was unfortunate because I wanted to like it and I gave it a chance, but halfway through I wanted to leave. There are great actors in it! It should have been a good movie, but it was terrible.

What do you think the New York restaurant world look like in 10 years?

I can only hope that the local foods trend is not a trend, that it will go everywhere so that every restaurant will be carrying local ingredients. It could become what is regular, mandatory.

What's in your refrigerator?

I'm on a raw cleanse right now, so lots of vegetables: celery, baby carrots, avocados, baby arugula. There's a pot of wild brown rice, and a growler that I bought from Craft before I knew I was going on the raw cleanse. And turkey wings from Christmas and plenty of sherry.

I love sherry; it's fantastic. El Quinto Pino taught me a lot about sherry and Spanish wines in general. It's a good way to finish off the night--have a glass of sherry and re-think what happened that day and what could be better the next day.

Related: Ardesia Officially Open

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