Food & Wine: Nick Anderer

Nick Anderer

F&W Star Chef

Chef: Nick Anderer

Restaurants: Maialino, Marta (NYC)

Experience: Gramercy Tavern, Babbo (NYC)

Education: Columbia University

Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from them?
My mom. She taught me to always cook with love.

What's a dish that defines your cooking style?
Spaghetti alle vongole. I love pasta, and I think that of all pasta dishes, spaghetti alle vongole really grips me because it shows a good knowledge of technique and care. It’s so simple that the smallest mistake will be apparent, but I love the way the clam juice and wine form a sauce. People would swear there’s butter, but there really isn’t. I love to try and make a dish seem effortless. Spaghetti alle vongole seems so simple but there’s a lot of effort behind it.

What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself?
And what is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
It’s hard to say, because I cooked so much with my mom, but one of my favorites was meatloaf with mashed potatoes and creamed corn.

Roasted chicken is best for a neophyte. Mastering it is a good place to start. It’s relatively simple but a showstopper if done right. Seasoning overnight is a good trick, and temperature management. It all depends on the size of the bird, but it’s important to know that your skin is done at the same time as your meat.

Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
My mother was my first mentor. Professionally speaking, I’d say I have three mentors: Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern taught me how to work with vegetables with the utmost respect, the way a sushi chef handles fish. Mario Batali taught me a deep respect for pasta and not being afraid of bold, aggressive flavors. Larry Forgione taught me what it means to be a chef in America, to use American ingredients and to really care about the history of American food.

Favorite cookbook of all time.
I have to name three. Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli because it’s not so cut and dry. It really teaches you about cooking with your hands. It’s about keeping an eye out for ingredients and how to find the right plum or garlic before you even start making the recipe. Le Ricette Regionali Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda. I use it all the time. Maureen Fant’s The Encyclopedia of Pasta.

What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
You need to be extremely determined, almost stubborn, and unflappable. You need to be able to deal with criticism, both self-inflicted and from others, and to let it roll off of you. The business of being a chef is way more than just making good food. It’s making good food for massive amounts of people and it requires patience and determination.

Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
There are so many. I wish I were a master sushi chef. I wish I knew more about fish in general. I’m envious when I walk away from a great sushi experience knowing I’d never be able to re-create it, even if I had the ingredients.

What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how do you use it?
Either salt or lemon juice. They’re essential to what I do. Taking away either one would be like handcuffing me. Salt brings out flavor and lemon brings out a lift. It’s like a note in a song that wouldn’t sound right without it.

What is your current food obsession?
I’d say sushi. I book sushi reservations almost every weekend. In New York, I love Brushstroke, Sushi Zen and 15 East.

Name three restaurants you are dying to go to in the next year and why?
They’re all in New York. Sushi Dojo, because I’ve heard tremendous things and it sounds like it would be my style. Sushi Nakazawa, because he’s introducing different elements to traditional sushi like spices, and I’m curious how he applies it to his classic background. Toro, because I’m intrigued by what Ken Oringer’s doing in New York City, and despite being a Yankees fan, I’m okay with him bringing some Boston to New York.

Best bang-for-the-buck food trip—where would you go and why?
Lockhart and Austin, Texas. Lockhart has the greatest barbecue places in a town that looks like the Old West. You can try brisket in one place, ribs in another. Austin because it’s so eclectic—like Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the middle of Texas. I’ve not been to New Orleans yet and I’m dying to check out.

What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip?
An antique plate from Checchino, one of my favorite restaurants in Rome. We have it on display at the restaurant. We actually have two of them: one with a cartoon of a pig and the other with a cartoon of a lamb.

If you were going to take Anthony Bourdain out to eat, whom would you choose, and where would you eat?
I’d take Anthony Bourdain because I think his personality would jibe with mine, and we’d probably be able to drink more. We’d go to Vietnam or Tokyo.

If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring, and what would you make?
I’d probably bring some rice, some soy sauce and keep it simple. I’d be able to steam rice and season any foraged vegetables, fish or meat with the soy sauce.

What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
It’s tough to say, because trends come and go so fast. I’m into goat right now; I wish more people were into it. Whatever goat is five years from now.

What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
What is your favorite snack?
Straight from the fridge: leftover pork fried rice or beef lo mein. My favorite snack is oysters. I’m crazy about oysters. I like East Coast better than West.

Best new store-bought ingredient/product, and why?
My Unicorn pepper mill, because it has a mechanism that’s serious metal as opposed to plastic, so it grinds pepper the right way. No other pepper mill works for me. D

o you have any food superstitions or pre- or post- shift rituals?
Pre-shift ritual, I go to SoulCycle.

Post-shift ritual, I have a beer.

In terms of superstitions, I always add chopped parsley along with garlic and olive oil when I start a pan sauce for pasta, even though it probably doesn’t do a damn thing. The parsley just sizzles, curls up, and loses its green color. It doesn’t really give any noticeable flavor but it’s the way I was taught in Italy and I’ve never done it any other way. I won’t mess with it because it seems like everything’s coming out just right and I’ve never questioned You can always add more fresh parsley at the end if you like the color.

 

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