Born and raised New Yorker Isaac Mizrahi knows a thing or two about food in this city. The fashion designer, who grew up in Brooklyn, admits to being an avid foodie who loves to cook but does not like pretentious food. Case in point: Mizrahi once brought Carvel Flying Saucer ice cream sandwiches to a very fancy dinner party: We’re fans of a move like this.
After serendipitously running into Mizrahi at a dinner recently, we soon found out about his passion for food, and couldn’t help but plug him for his favorite restaurants, the best advice he’s ever received and that time he had dinner with Barbra Streisand- ahh, to be a fly on the wall during that conversation. Read through below, and don’t blame us if you’re suddenly craving an ice cream sandwich.
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
I like a big breakfast. Probably waffles, because I never like them when I order them out. I would have the waffles that my husband makes that are amazing. The secret ingredient is club soda. They’re so fluffy and crisp.
For lunch, I would have an amazing salad. Aside from ice cream, salad is my favorite food. The lettuce would come from my favorite farm stand in Bridgehampton – Pike’s – and it would be their butter lettuce, their red leaf lettuce, and their arugula. All of the vegetables would come from there, too – and with my own vinaigrette. The secret ingredient in my vinaigrette is white wine. Also, I would probably be eating ice cream intermittently all day - after breakfast and after lunch.
Then for dinner, some kind of pasta – probably Lidia Bastianich’s Spaghetti Carbonara. She taught me how to make it and it’s a delicious recipe. And then, ice cream for dessert, with some sort of baked product. I make a really, really good chocolate cake. That, with some of my homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream.
What parallels do you see between the worlds of food and fashion?
They’re really related and often I raise those parallels because the tolerance for pretentious clothes is at the same exact bar as the tolerance for pretentious food. If someone is dressed badly or in this pretentious way, it hits me the same way as food with too many spices and herbs and honey and foam.
What’s your personal definition of good content in a world so inundated with so much content?
Anything that holds my attention. It’s personal. Anything from Shakespeare to the Real Housewives of Orange County. If it keeps my attention, I’m there. There’s really no difference. If it’s not really good, you’re going to lose me to my phone.
How has the food industry changed since your career started? What about the fashion industry?
The food industry hasn’t really changed that much since my career started. It’s gotten more sophisticated. But it has changed a lot since I was a child. When I was a kid, no one knew what arugula was. And now kids demand arugula or they won’t eat dinner. It’s a crazy thing!
In terms of the changes in fashion, there has been a steep decline in the quality of textiles. So many of the beloved mills that were in business for centuries are gone. And the perception of quality is different. Now, there’s almost no real acknowledgement of quality. It’s more about what is on the label or about the paragraph in the magazine accompanying the dress you want to buy. When I was a kid and wanted to put metallic gold printing on a bathing suit, it was really hard. You couldn’t wear it in the water a thousand times, so we couldn’t do it. Whereas today, the most expensive labels have metallic painting on bathing suits, because no one cares about going in the water in that bathing suit.
When I was a kid there was an extra, added lesson: the best textiles don’t last. The best silk and the best cashmere – you can put your finger right through them. There is another meaning of the word delicate now.
As an avid foodie, what are your favorite things to cook?
I like cooking really challenging things. I cook a lot of fish. I’ve been learning about fish butchery and that’s been fun!
What do you always like to put out when hosting a dinner party? What do you usually bring to one as a guest?
I like to put out bowls of candy. It’s very “old Jewish lady” of me. But, who cares about hors d’oeuvres? As a guest, I usually like to bring dessert. The best thing I ever brought were those Carvel flying saucers. I brought them to a super fancy dinner party and everybody was SO happy at the end. I had to overtake the hostess and say, “What about my flying saucers?” and the room lit up.
Do you have one meal in your career where you looked around and couldn’t believe who you were sitting with? Who was there? What did you eat?
It was with Barbra Streisand, about twenty years ago (after she had become a client), at my favorite restaurant, Il Cantinori. I kept thinking, if this woman knew how obsessed I was with her as a kid, she would probably call a car and leave.
Where do you love to travel? What won’t you travel without?
I love traveling less and less. But, I love Scotland. I haven’t been in so many years, I’d love to go again – or to the English countryside. I can’t travel without my cashmere shawl, because, like I said, I am turning into an old Jewish woman. Cashmere shawls and bowls of candy.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and from who? The worst?
The best advice came from my Uncle Harry who told me to keep things in perspective when you’re freaking out. And the worst was from Kal Ruttenstein who cautioned me against spending too much money. But what’s more fun than spending too much money?
What are your favorite restaurants in New York City and for what? What are some restaurants in other cities that you love?
In New York, Il Cantinori. It’s three blocks away from my home and it’s one of the most romantic spots in New York. They have the most delicious pappardelle dish with sausage and peas and I live for it. And they have the most delicious tartufo. It reminds me of old Italian restaurants from when I was a kid. You know, once they had a fire, and I was so freaked out. All of the regulars were freaking out. I drove by and saw Frank [Minieri], my friend who runs the place, and the restaurant was a charred disaster; I thought it wouldn’t come back. Frank swore to me that they’d bring it back to exactly what it was, and they did. When they reopened, it was EXACTLY, to the photon, the same. The walls had the same texture, the sconces, the chairs. Fabulous.
The Brooklyn restaurant you loved as a kid that still exists…
I don’t think any of them exist still! Bonaparte’s and a place called Lundy’s.
You never liked X till you tried it at Y…
Cilantro at Le Bernardin, because it’s the faintest echo of it and it’s wonderful.
Who were you in a past life?
In the same vein as what is the new black in fashion, what’s the new potato right now?
Xanax is the new Transcendental Meditation.
*Isaac Mizrahi, photographed at Il Cantinori in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann