Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York’s best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we’ll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.
Marc Forgione: Recipes and Stories From the Acclaimed Chef and Restaurant By Marc Forgione, with Olga Massov, 432 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40
In 2008, just as the nation hurled headlong into black financial abyss, Marc Forgione readied to open a fine dining restaurant in Tribeca. At the center of a nationwide shitstorm, where corporate accounts were being trimmed faster than a fidgety child’s bangs, Forgione and company were serving $40 steaks and $20 appetizers to a shaken crowd downtown at precisely the wrong moment. “We needed to really figure out who we were as people, nevermind as restaurateurs, but as people, how the hell to survive this,” Forgione says.
But against the recessional red tide, the restaurant survived, grew, and spawned offspring: two steakhouses, a modern Laotian kitchen, TV appearances, international fame, and, as of yesterday, a cookbook.
“Do not be put off by the seemingly complicated or long recipes,” the book advises early on. “This book is meant to be cooked from.” And, as Forgione pointed out in a recent conversation, it will make you a better cook. In it are recipes for dishes — everything from braised veal cheeks to red beet ravioli and seasonal sangrias — but also instructions on technique, sourcing, equipment, and timing, all carefully broken down to be clear and accessible to the everyday cook, although most of the dishes, and their requisite ingredients, are elevated above a weekday dinner. Most, but not all. And, unlike many cookbooks, each “dish” is a meal in itself; multiple components made to be plated together. So you can bring the restaurant home.
On the next page, we chat with the chef about kona kampachi tartare, growing up Forgione, and how NYC dining has changed in his lifetime.
What is the oldest recipe in this book and where did it come from?
Some of my dad’s recipes are in there, so those would technically be the oldest, but as far as the Forg recipes, the only dish that’s been on the menu since day one is Kona Kampaci tartare. I knew I wanted to have a signature tartare; every restaurant I’ve ever worked at always had that tartare that everybody liked…It’s weird; I didn’t plan on that being our best seller, but it’s kind of turned out that way.
What is one seasonal early spring ingredient you really enjoy?
Spring for a New Yorker kind of just represents going outside and seeing the flowers, and as a chef, when you finally get something green in your hand after dealing with root vegetables all winter long, it kind of makes you feel alive again. So those first things to pop up are usually wood sorrel, and there’s lettuce, and the ramps, favas, things like that. I just started working with someone, she’s now a good friend of mine, and she goes in to New Jersey, she’s got a couple acres where she forages wild stuff for me. And I’m getting ingredients I’ve never used before that I’m having a lot of fun with.
Where in NYC do you go for culinary inspiration?
I try to eat out at as many places as I can; I just went to Gramercy Tavern, and it was fantastic, and I always love the stuff that he does. I ate at Pearl and Ash the other night, which I really, really enjoyed. I’m not one to follow trends, but I kind of listen to my chefs and colleagues and friends and people who are eating out and find out what’s going on.
I use a friend for spices, and sometimes I’ll taste a spice and build an entire dish around the spice. He’s got a little shop in Hell’s Kitchen. There’s also a place in Chinatown: It doesn’t have a name, just an address, at 318 Grand Avenue, and it actually inspired a Peking Duck type dish. It’s a like a shithole restaurant. But most of my cooking is inspired by the stupidest things. I mean, I’ll eat a bagel in the morning, or have a fried chicken while I’m watching TV, and I’ll kind of say to myself, “How can I turn this into something?”
Your mom tested the recipes; how does her feedback differ from your father’s?
I wanted to give the recipes to a novice cook instead of a professional recipe tester, since a professional has tested recipes before. In my opinion, that’s not a real guide of how somebody at home is going to follow it. And I know my recipes are not exactly simple, so we started her out with the easier ones, and as she got better at understanding what I meant by something like reducing something by half, or cooking until it’s glazed…Once you learn that language, it’s repeated [throughout the book], and for the first few recipes she struggled; she almost wanted to throw in the towel. But now to this day, she says the book has really made her a better cook. It was really cool to watch, and to teach my mother something, after a whole lifetime of her teaching me.
And who did the cooking, growing up?
My dad was at the restaurant. My mom’s a great home cook, we ate everything home made growing up.
How did growing up in a culinary household impact the way you think about food?
I didn’t know that I was eating better than everybody else [laughs]! I just thought I was eating, and I kind of had a rude awakening when I got a little older and started eating at other people’s houses. So for me, food has just always been a part of life. Even from my grandfather, never mind my parents. So I kind of grew up the Italian way, where Sundays you went over, and there was the sauce, and it was all home made. Food was just always there, and even as a little kid, I helped my mom cook and I just always liked it…I was making my own breakfast when I was nine years old, and I thought everyone else was, too. It was never forced upon me, but it was just a part of growing up. It blows my mind when I meet people who don’t know how to boil water. I just can’t get that.
From a cook’s perspective, what’s the most marked change in the NYC restaurant scene since you were a kid?
I think that the quote/unquote “explosion of American chefs” because of people like my dad and Alice Waters and Paul Prudhomme and all those guys — back then, there were maybe 10 chefs in the country that you could name by name. Now there are probably 10 American chefs that you could name in each neighborhood in New York City. So, I think that revolution in American cooking, that you don’t have to be European to be successful or to be taken seriously has been a really great thing. And American products — everything from wine to cheese to olive oil — this wasn’t here 25 years ago. So it’s been beautiful to watch our country culinarily explode.
What do you look forward to seeing more of with this explosion of American food and cooking?
I think there’s a really cool push going on…Going back to those guys I just mentioned, I think the molecular thing was around for a number of years, but I think now, people in general are going back to organic, raw, pristine ingredients, to caring about where the lamb came from and how it’s raised, caring about which farmer you’re getting your carrots from. I love when guests come in and ask, “Where did the carrots come from?” That question never would have been asked even five years ago. So that’s been great for everyone.
KONA KAMPACHI TARTARE + AVOCADO MOUSSE
This appetizer has been on our menu from the very beginning, and is one of our most popular dishes–it’s on our tasting menu. Despite the long list of ingredients, it’s actually very easy to make, and I guarantee that if you serve this at your next dinner party, it’ll be the dish everyone will be talking about. It not only looks impressive–it tastes absolutely incredible, too. I remember playing around with different flavors and textures while I was creating this dish, and while I loved what I was getting as a result, but it still wasn’t quite perfect on my palate. One day, while looking for something to fin¬ish the dish, I noticed a small mound of leftover toasted pine nuts lying around. And me being me, I just thought, Why not? I threw the nuts in and tried it–it tasted absolutely perfect. Exactly the missing piece I was looking for. The smokiness from the toasting, the sweetness that pine nuts are known for, and their fattiness were all perfect complements for the fish, avocado, and spicy lime sauce.
This fish began as Kona Kampachi, a type of yellowtail raised off the coasts of Hawaii. The company we work with has since moved to Mexico and the fish is now just plain kampachi.
We serve this dish with a spoon that contains a small bud called a Szechuan button, which at first might seem like theatrics. We tell you to place it on your tongue and move it around your mouth and wait for it to start to “pop,” meaning that the button will create a tingling sensation in your mouth, making your palate more ready for all the flavors you’re about to experience.
FOR THE SAUCE
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup mild honey
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
1 tablespoon mustard oil (see Sources, page 403)
Freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE AVOCADO MOUSSE
1 avocado, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 dashes green Tabasco sauce
FOR THE TARTARE
10 ounces (2 cups) large-dice kampachi (see headnote)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons brunoise cucumbers (see page 48)
½ cup diced avocado
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
TO ASSEMBLE THE DISH
¼ cup pine nuts
4 red radishes, julienned
Micro cilantro (optional)
4 (1x¼-inch) sashimi-style slices kampachi
Fresh lime juice
4 Szechuan buttons (see Sources, page 403)
MAKE THE SAUCE
1. Combine the olive oil, honey, lime juice, teriyaki sauce, and mustard oil in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
MAKE THE AVOCADO MOUSSE
2. Place the avocados, lime juice, olive oil, Tabasco, and salt to taste into a blender and puree on the highest speed until smooth. You may need to use the bottom of a ladle to get everything started. Transfer to a non¬reactive container, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
MAKE THE TARTARE
3. In a medium bowl, combine the fish, olive oil, cucum¬ber, and salt to taste. In another bowl, combine the diced avocado, lime juice (to keep it from oxidizing), and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and set aside.
4. Place a quarter of the diced avocado on the bottom of a 2-inch ring mold. Fill the mold three-quarters of the way with the fish, packing the fish tightly. Repeat with the remaining avocado and tartare–you should fill 4 molds. Transfer the ring molds to a tray and refrigerate until ready to use.
ASSEMBLE THE DISH
5. When ready to serve, in a small dry skillet, toast the pine nuts over low heat, periodically shaking the pan to prevent the nuts from burning, until golden and fra¬grant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let the nuts cool completely.
6. Unmold the Tartare into chilled bowls by inverting the molds over the bowls. You will have the tartare on the bottom and diced avocado on top. Pour enough of the Sauce to come a quarter of the way up the molded tartare. Garnish with the julienned radish and micro cilantro, and scatter the toasted pine nuts around.
7. For each bowl of tartare, place a quenelle of the Avocado Mousse on a large soup spoon and top with a slice of the kampachi. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice, and garnish with a sprig of micro cilantro. Place a few po¬tato chips on the side of the bowl.
8. Divide the Szechuan buttons among 4 Asian soup spoons and serve with the bowls of tartare and avocado mousse. Before eating, place the Szechuan button bud under your tongue and wait until your mouth begins to “pop” before eating the dish.
Excerpted from MARC FORGIONE: RECIPES AND STORIES FROM THE ACCLAIMED CHEF AND RESTAURANT © 2014 by Marc Forgione. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.