Isa Chef Ignacio Mattos Explains Why New York City Isn’t the Culinary Capital of the World: Interview Part 2


Yesterday we spoke with Isa (348 Wythe Avenue, 347-689-3594) chef Ignacio Mattos about how he’s trying to change the language of food and further culinary innovation. Today, he explains why New York City is behind the times and he reveals what he cooks on his days off.

What are your thoughts on New York City as a gastronomic capital?

We’re in New York City and we’re way behind in terms of food. Stockholm and Sweden and Copenhagen are ahead of us. Japan is unbelievable. Lots of people are having a fresher and more committed approach to food at this moment more than in New York. It’s important that people start to realize that. France is great. Sweden is great. Rather than hot dogs and pizza, they’re doing great food.

Who are some other New York chefs doing interesting food?

Wylie [Dufresne] at wd~50 is doing some stuff. People don’t need to understand it or love it or hate it, but people should be open-minded about food. It’s not about perfection but creating sensations for people. The people at Torrisi Italian Specialties are getting the emotion. Roberta’s is interesting. Rather than doing just pizza, they’re doing stuff that’s more interesting in the middle of Bushwick. It takes guts to do that.

What tool do you find most useful in the kitchen?

I would say my knife. In terms of tools, there are some new tools but they’re expensive. We have a wood-fired oven. Yeah, maybe that. We’re trying to find different ways of using it: smoking foods, and cooking with lower heat. We’re making the bread and cooking vegetables and trying to cook certain meats. Yeah, definitely the fire oven. People see it and ask, “Are you making pizza?” But we’re giving it a purpose other than pizza.

What’s a good tip home cooks can take from restaurant cooking?

Don’t be afraid. Just go for it. You just have to be hungry and then just go for it. I don’t think there are any tips for home cooks. Just be careful with a knife, and don’t cut yourself. Or maybe use vinegars and lemon juice for flavor.

So what are you cooking on your off days?

Right now, I don’t want to cook. I have one day off a week and I try to avoid cooking. But if I had to cook, I’d make a roast chicken. I like that at home, or carbonara with guanciale or lard or some sort of fat. Or pasta with anchovies. A one-pot dish.

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