Yesterday we spoke with Barbuto chef (and culinary legend) Jonathan Waxman about his new gig as a consulting chef at Rosa Mexicano and his passionate love affair with Mexican food. Today, though, he tells us about what he wished he’d known as a young chef and also give us some date ideas for Valentine’s Day.
You’ve been through a lot of culinary movements, starting with the rise of California cuisine. How would you describe the culinary scene today in New York City?
That’s an interesting question. I think that what’s happening, with the advent of Momofuku, the Dutch, Red Rooster, Torrisi, and Frankies, there’s a real movement towards rusticity and earthiness, which I applaud tremendously. White tablecloth [dining] isn’t as interesting to people anymore. That’s great. Everyone’s embracing it. It’s not just the East Village and that’s really the movement. And I’ve been doing it for 35 years!
Looking back at your career, what do you wish you had known early on?
There are three things I wish I had known. One, how hard it really was. And two, that I should have gotten a business degree before a cooking degree. And I wish somewhere along the line someone had taught me the birds and bees about cooking: all that which I learned and gleaned about seasonality and respect for ingredients. In the beginning it was more about recipes, but it wasn’t about how to pick an orange blossom or know that it’s shrimp season or the beauty of blood-orange season.
Would you encourage an aspiring chef to to go culinary school or not?
Here’s my advice. It’s a double-edge sword. It’s expensive, and chefs don’t make a lot of money. Weigh out the cost benefits. If it’s the right school it can be incredibly beneficial. But you have to to understand you’re not going to be a full-fledged chef right away. Everyone gets out and wants to be a sous-chef or Giada. Put your time in. It’s hours and hours and hours.
How do you go about maintaining a successful, current restaurant in New York?
I think that as a cook or restaurant you have to experience other people’s food, go to markets, and read voraciously, and you have to travel and keep your mind open.
Valentine’s Day is coming up. Besides Barbuto, where would you take a date for a romantic dinner?
If I had the money and ability, I’d go to Le Bernardin. Or the most romantic place is La Grenouille. Or Per Se, and Jean Georges isn’t bad, either. Bouley is one of the prettiest. And if I wanted to be casual, I’d go to Rosa Mexicano.
And if I wanted to cook a romantic meal at home using your cookbook Italian, My Way, what should I make?
Anything with white or black truffles, obviously. I mean, my wife loves when I make the bambini. My wife thinks that’s the best dish in the world.