The Pines' Angelo Romano Looks for Fresh Alligator and Hints at New Project
Part one of my interview with the Pines chef Angelo Romano ran yesterday. Here in part two, he weighs in on fluke cartilage, what else he could have done with the money he spent on culinary school, and why he can't put alligator on the menu even though he wants to.
What would you like to see more of in the New York culinary scene? I'd like for a long-grain rice phenomenon to happen. That could be a selfish thing, but personal questions are all selfish. I also want there to be a room-temperature food that's unexpected. Room-temperature food is like school-lunch temperature. It's that weird temperature when you can taste all of the flavors. When you taste pizza at room temperature, it's the first time you taste what the sauce tastes like, and whether the cheese has enough salt. I'd be into that.
What do you wish would go away? People opening osterias and trattorias and Italian-American places and trying to be authentic Italian restaurants.
What's your guiltiest pleasure? I really like Taco Bell a lot. That's part of my Wednesday routine. I go to the market in the morning, and I go to Taco Bell even if I'm not even hungry. It smells of my childhood. There's something beautiful about that length of consistency. It's like going to therapy. I still get the same feeling of satisfaction. I go to the one in Greenpoint. The one in Union Square is nuts. You don't know what's going to happen in there.
What's your favorite meal to cook at home? I don't cook at home. Ever. I've had this apartment for over a year, and I've never even turned the stove on.
What's the most memorable meal you've ever eaten? The first Cesar Ramirez Brooklyn Fare meal. For a year or two, that was one of the best kept secrets. This three-Michelin-star dude was cooking meals for $80, BYOB. That was a game-changer. His stuff was so well-thought-out and balanced, down to chilled spoons with caviar service. And it was Cesar, a dishwasher, and one guy. He was the first proper dude that wasn't doing omakase and started doing tasting menus. It was so personal.
What do you wish you could put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell? Alligator. I've been trying to get fresh alligator for like six months, and I've been calling, cursing, and harassing. I can't get it fresh.
What music is best to cook to? We listen to the same stuff all day long. Jay-Z. Lil Wayne. Rap music. It's fun. I'm tired of listening to the Talking Heads while I eat. It's emotional and drone-y. We play really fun stuff. It's all hip-hop all day. Except at brunch, when people aren't as into it. I don't know why.
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What one tip would you offer an amateur cook looking to improve his or her cooking? Use more salt. The secret to a good egg is good salt. Especially scrambled eggs. When you think you make good scrambled eggs, add twice as much salt and that's probably good.
What do you wish you could tell your line-cook self? Don't go to culinary school. I should have taken the $170,000 and traveled for two years. Instead I chose to listen to a Belgian gentleman tell me how to quenelle something. Culinary school should be three days so you could go in and realize that this is not what food is anymore, and then you could quit. Take an accounting class, join the Army for three weeks, or take a food-science class--those things are actually relevant to your career.
What's your favorite dish on your menu right now? Cabbage soaked in fish sauce with chile paste, smoked guanciale, huckleberries, and sheep's milk. It's a good balance, and it's the most rustic plated dish that we have. It doesn't look like an Otto dish. It's the least delicate dish on the menu and the most monochromatic. The smoky, tart, creamy, cabbage gives off really cool flavor--it's just rad. Only a few dishes stayed on the menu with the seasons change, but the cabbage kept going because I just like it so much.
What are your favorite local purveyors? Burnett Farms, Upstate. Brooklyn Grange. Blooming Hill Farm, Guy Jones. Norwich Meadows.
What's the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene? You're forced to work so much that you don't get a chance to experience as much. You can read about it or experience it one day a week. My Wednesdays are spent trying to cram in any personal life I have and going to all the restaurants. It makes things hard.
Describe your craziest night in the kitchen. The busiest nights and the slowest nights. On the busiest nights, you're disorganized and stressed, and the tension is high. On the slowest nights, you're bored as hell. On a Monday or Tuesday when it rains, I don't even want to go there. The dream is to have an outside kitchen so we don't have to work when it rains. New Year's Eve was pretty nuts, and we had a Super Bowl buy-out that got pretty crazy. The restaurant is the size of an apartment. You get 40 people in there that are all drunk, and it gets kind of crazy. We're connected to an Italian social club, so we can only be so loud. I think I'm buying a pass with my name.
What's your proudest culinary moment? The Star Chef thing [being named rising star chef by Star Chefs] was really cool. Also, the only magazine I've ever read is GQ. So when Jim Nelson came in, that was kind of it. I've been reading the magazine for so long. His assistant called and said, "Jim's coming in--how late are you open?" I stayed late with one server and kept the restaurant open.
What's your desert island food? Trail mix: M&Ms, peanuts, and raisins. And Funyuns. And sambal. I use sambal in everything.
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What's the most pressing food issue today? Sustainability.
What's always in your refrigerator at home? Sriracha and Colman's mustard and Ito En Japanese teas.
What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten? Cartilage of a fluke. That was really good. The texture was really cool. We torched it. Also, a dry aged spider steak. It's the little piece of meat inside the hip bone. I had it dipped in kidney fat, and it tasted like cheese. Lately, it's been bottargas [a pressed, dried roe sac of a fish]. We've done scallop bottarga. We're messing around with waste.
Favorite food-related item to give as a gift? I give wine a lot. Maldon salt. It's one of those things I should have in my house but never buy. Olive oil. Arianna Occhipinti is this amazing woman wine producer from Sicily, and she makes great olive oil. I'm not going to ever give you vinegar with chiles with a canvas rope or some shit. Chocolate is too predicatble and personal.
You can have anyone in the world cook for you. Who is it, and what are they making? My kitchen staff, to see what everything tastes like when I'm not there. It would help me sleep, like, that much better.
Have a hobby that's totally unrelated to work? Golf. Muay Thai.
What's next for you? We have a few projects we're working on this year that I can't really talk about yet. They're all Brooklyn-based.
Hungry for more? We publish a new interview in this space every Tuesday and Wednesday.
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