Best New Chefs 2009
Corton, New York City
Born: Rhodesia (Zimbabwe); 1976.
Total Michelin stars at places he’s worked: 11.
We loved: “From the Garden,” a mixture of vegetables and herbs; smoked pasta with Gouda and black truffles.
How he became a chef:
“My father was in the British Army; I was going to follow in that career path. Then, when I was 15, I was sitting with a commanding officer and he stuck a six-year contract in front of me. I said, ‘Oh my God, I’ll be so old when it’s over—21,’ and I decided not to do it. I gravitated towards cooking. I always liked food, my mother always cooked good, freshly made food, and that was in early ’80s in London, which was not like growing up in Provence. So I started working at L’Escargot. I moved out of my house and literally, I was paid pennies.”
Highlights of his cooking career:
- Restaurant Marco Pierre White: “Seeing White’s book White Heat was when I got the bug—the moment when I decided to commit to cooking full-time. The food was just incredible, like art. I went to cook with Mr. White when I turned 18. It was a lot of work, but it was eye-opening and fantastic, like learning to cook all over again.”
- Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons: “Raymond Blanc is a landmark chef. At that time, you could trace almost every single U.K. Michelin-starred chef back to Le Manoir—they worked there, or had worked at some point in their training for a chef who was at Le Manoir.”
- Pierre Gagnaire: “He’s been the biggest influence on me. He thinks in a way that’s like no one else. I love, love, love the way he uses vegetables.”
Memorable cooking experience:
Cooking for Prince Andrew. “He was in the military for 22 years, and he’s a guy’s guy, so cool and down-to-earth. I was preparing lunch, and he sat there and talked to me: ‘Paul, how's it going?’ He was like my best friend, and he’s fourth in line to the throne of England. My dad was so proud.”
“At L’Escargot, I was frying potato-and-orange beignets in a little pan of oil. I wasn’t watching it and the oil got really hot, and when I dropped a beignet in, the thing went whooooof. The pot of oil exploded and the three flattops went up in a six-foot wall of flames. We continued service, we were crouching down because of the smoke, and I was scuttling on the floor like a crab with the chef screaming at me. From then on, I always checked the temperature of the oil.”
Ingredient obsession/latest obsession:
Calamondin, the Asian citrus that’s like a cross between a lemon and a clementine. “You don’t generally see them fresh here. They’re incredible. We’re using it as a garnish for hamachi right now.”
Favorite childhood dish:
Wonton soup. “I went to boarding school for seven years, and my parents worked odd-hour jobs. We lived right near London’s Chinatown, and I would go to China China Restaurant for lunch on my own. Their wonton soup was beautiful.”
Favorite kitchen tool:
ShamWow, the super-absorbent shammy cloth that was launched on an infomercial. “I’m obsessed with it for cleaning and drying off pieces of food—like sous-vide beef, which you have to completely dry before you chill. Paper towels stick, but the ShamWow soaks up all the residual moisture, soaks up anything. I’m mind-blown by it.”
To go back in time to one of the legendary grand banquets prepared by Carême, the French “king of chefs” in the 19th century. “What he was doing back then is unbelievable. There was no technology as we know it today.”
Favorite cheap eat:
Ramen soup with pork broth at Ippudo NY in New York City. “I get it with the whole garlic crushed into it. You stink, but boy does it taste good.”
“A bag of Kettle Brand Chips. I’m rather partial to the New York Cheddar with Herbs.”
The Paddington cocktail at Manhattan’s PDT, made with rum, lemon juice and orange marmalade. “I grew up with Paddington bear-and Paddington bear pajamas. It's a really great drink.”
What his next restaurant would be:
A French gastropub. “Marco Pierre White opened a place called Yew Tree Inn near Newbury, England. It’s a pub with really good food. I’d like to do that, using local produce.”
Famous catering event:
Cooking at the launch party for the film Ocean’s 13 in the Playboy Suite at the Palms in Las Vegas. “I got stuck in an elevator with Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and George Clooney (he looks genetically perfect). They’re all nice guys. Models were walking around in $5 million worth of diamonds—each. I was making liquid-nitrogen cocktails, there was lots of smoke. Everyone loved it.”
A first edition of the 1974 Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point (“that’l;s quite cool to have”) and the original 1978 Great Chefs of France by Anthony Blake (“Alain Chapel specifically is very motivating—he’s the guy who trained Ducasse. You look at that food now, it’s really creative.”)
What he collects:
Menus from Chinese restaurants. “I do love Chinese food, and every single country has a Chinese restaurant. I like to see what each place deems Chinese food to be.”
Corton, 239 W. Broadway, New York City; 212-219-2777.