If you could give a piece of advice to young chefs, what would it be?
Oh my God. How long is this interview? I’m not the first person to say this and it’s not the first time it’s being said. Young chefs need to slow down and take their time and not take jobs before they know how to cook. Cooking is not just about buying the coffee table book and trying to reproduce what’s inside it. It takes time. It’s kind of like being a musician. It takes time to build your own voice. If you’re a drummer and you just play Neil Peart songs, and you spend your whole life trying to emulate that one person, the best you can ever do is be in a cover band. That’s the best you’ll achieve. You might be technically very good, but everything you do is derivative from one musician. The same thing applies to cooking. You can’t just draw all your inspiration from one place.
Do you think it’s bad when a critic goes to a new chef’s restaurant and says he’s clearly in the style of whoever his mentor was?
At a certain time, if you do have a mentor-protégé relationship, you’re paying homage to the person you trained with for a long time. There is certainly a lot of that. I make pretty good raviolis and I did not invent raviolis; it’s just something that I happen to like to eat. I guess the first statement relates to taking time to develop your own skills also. Especially lately for young chefs, it’s “I want to be a sous chef as soon as possible,” or “I want to be the lead cook as soon as possible,” or “I want to be the head chef as soon as possible,” or “I want to get on TV as soon as possible.” Just take your time.
Who is somebody outside of the food industry you admire and why?
Somebody I was drawn to on the music side was Frank Zappa. I always admired his ability to work with a lot of different genres of music. A lot of people know his music for his humor side, but on the more serious side of his music, it was amazing. He could work with so many genres; he could work with Doo-wop, he could do orchestral, he could do straight Rock n’ Roll, old R&B, crazy jazz improvisations, and Bebop. He could work with so many different genres but still have a common theme. That’s how I approach things on the food side.
If there were two songs you could play that would be the soundtrack of your life, what would they be?
I would say there are different musical genres of my life. For the middle part of my life, so far, I would say “Cherub Rock” by The Smashing Pumpkins. For the early part of my life, it would be “Zoot Allures” by Frank Zappa, which I was completely obsessed with in high school. Even though I wouldn’t call it the most popular song in the world, as a musical piece it blew me away.
What’s always in your fridge?
I actually eat really healthy at home. There’s always almond milk, some tabouli, and cheese. At home, it’s very sparse and very healthy.
I find this to be a theme with many chefs. A lot of them will be like “Oh, nothing is in my fridge…”
Yes, it’ll be like, “I’ve got two beers and a ton of caviar,” which is so true. And if I do cook on Sunday, I’ll go to the green market or I’ll be out in North Fork and we’ll buy what we’re going to make and that’s it. Like a huge pantry filled with everything you can think of and then nothing in the fridge.
But then what’s your wife eating every night?
My wife makes amazing vegetable stir-fry and great salads and she goes out to eat a lot, like all good New Yorkers. But if we’re eating at home and she’s cooking, we’re big on her salads, and we’re big on her vegetable stir-fry.
What are your favorite cities for food? What restaurants do you go to in each?
In the same vein as the new black in fashion, what’s the ‘new potato’ in food?
Well the current trend is this hybrid thing; people – or at least the media – seem to be really attracted to that. How long is that going to last? I’m not really sure.
*For Andrew’s Recipe for Rigatoni Sunday Night Ragu, Click Here
*Andrew Carmellini, photographed at Bar Primi in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann.