Won Best New Chef at: Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York City.
Born: (MC) 1980; Queens, NY. (RT) 1979; Summit, NJ.
Education: (MC) The Culinary Institute of America; Hyde Park, NY. (RT) The Culinary Institute of America; Hyde Park, NY.
How he got into cooking: (MC) “My grandfather Vito wasn’t a professional cook, but he cooked constantly; he was a huge influence on me. In general, my family made food a really high priority. I was not really interested in regular school. I visited the Culinary Institute of America only once and I was hooked on it. Immediately after graduating high school, I went to the CIA.” (RT) “I realized that I was eating substantially better than all my friends because of my Italian family. And I just wanted to eat nice things all the time. At 15, I got a job in a kitchen at a surf-and-turf place. Once I saw the kind of vibe and how things went down, I was attracted to it—the rawness of it.”
Favorite childhood dish: (MC) “My grandfather used to make pork roast with sauerkraut. I never understood why we ate it. Then I learned that he was from Alto Adige, and that this was food from his part of Italy.” (RT) His grandmother’s salami pie. “She made it once a year, around Easter. I wouldn’t want to eat it right now, but back then it was a special item. Just watching her make the crust and the rest of the pie—sometimes it would take her all day—I developed a deep connection to food.”
Biggest influence: (MC) “New York City is my biggest influence. Everything that makes it up and keeps it going.” (RT) White Heat by Marco Pierre White. “I picked up White Heat when I was 18, and it engulfed me. I was just so completely submerged in that book and that man and that culture of cooking. The level of artistry and discipline was so high, I didn’t know it existed. My head was blown off.”
Memorable cooking experience: (MC) “I was an intern at Babbo, and my job was to clean the walk-in. One day, there was a pig’s head sitting in it. I asked Mario Batali [chef-owner of Babbo] if we could make headcheese out of it. He said, ‘OK, meet me here tomorrow at noon.’ I got to Babbo early, and Mario was late, so I decided on my own, at the age of 18, that I would impress Mario Batali and do this project on my own. I cooked the head, made a terrine; I put weird stuff in like raw Granny Smith apples. Mario came in, took a look at that headcheese and made me take it completely apart and make it again with him. That day, he taught me that if you have no idea of the original, you shouldn’t try to improvise on it.”
Culinary obsession: (MC) Charcoal. “It’s about the flavors of charcoal and live fuel, like wood. And how it was used historically; what it meant when a dish was called ‘charbroiled.’ ” (RT) Fermentation. “I’m doing a lot of fermented broccoli rabe, which came from my love of kimchi. When I saw flowering broccoli rabe at the market, it reminded me of cabbage. We do a fritto misto with it. Also raw scallops with a fermented-broccoli-rabe dresssing.”
Favorite kitchen tool: (MC) A food mill. “You put everything in there and squeeze out all the flavor. It’s the antithesis of what Rich Torrisi does—he does things delicately.”
Memorable meal: (MC) “When I was 22, I saved up to take my dad to dinner at Daniel in New York City for his 50th birthday, just the two of us. I was working at a not-so-great restaurant at the time and was obsessed with working for Daniel Boulud [chef-owner of Daniel]. So I had my résumé folded up in my jacket pocket, and I waited for Daniel to do his rounds to the tables in the dining room. When he got to our table, I introduced myself and handed him my résumé. I got an internship at Daniel, which eventually became a full-time position at Café Boulud. Plus, my dad was totally blown away by his birthday dinner. It was a win-win.” (RT) “I got to stay with Daniel Boulud’s parents at their home, owners of the original Café Boulud, at their own outside Lyon. I cooked a few meals with them, and it was amazing; it gave me perspective on French culture and life. I made traditional saucisson lyonnais with potatoes. Mr. Boulud would be up very early in the morning every day, making bread and tuiles [butter cookies]. He had so much energy.”
Fantasy splurge: (MC) “To do a taste test of all the room-service club sandwiches at all the best hotels around the world.”
Cheap eat: (MC) An everything bagel with cream cheese and tomato. “I wish there were more amazing bagel flavors, but there aren’t. But I don’t discriminate about where I get my bagels. Never toasted.” (RT) Chinese fried pork dumplings. “I always order them. I’m addicted to them. I eat them with that soy dumpling sauce and that’s all.”
Favorite guilty pleasure: (MC) Starbursts. “I love chewy candies, like the Japanese Hi-Chews. I also eat a ton of pretzels.”
Favorite cocktail: (MC) Spicy Bloody Mary. (RT) “I had a Negroni with Coke at Tio’s in Sydney and I couldn’t believe how good it was. It was outrageous.”
Fantasy restaurant: (MC) “I have a dream of serving square pizza. I have a passion for square pies.”
What he’d be if he weren’t a chef: (MC) Fashion designer. (RT) A detective. “I love interrogating people and putting them on the spot.”
Hobbies: (MC) None. “I’m hobbyless. I’m good at nothing else besides cooking.”
Favorite cooking show: (MC) “I find Bobby Flay highly entertaining. I love pretty much anything that he’s in. I also really love Emeril Lagasse’s new show, The Originals. I’d love to do that show, where he goes to the original restaurants, the 100-year-old places. I love the concept of it.” (RT) “I love the Great Chefs series from back in the day on PBS. It was so simple, and it was about really great chefs showing how to make a great dish. That type of culinary TV is largely gone. Culinary TV is a lot like MTV—it used to be all videos, now it’s all about pop culture entertainment. So is food TV. I can still remember the feeling I had when I was young watching MTV. I don’t have that anymore.”
Favorite cookbook: (MC) White Heat by Marco Pierre White. “That’s the book for our generation. It hit the CIA bookstore and everything went crazy. I was also given this massive regional Italian cookbook, Le Ricette Regionali Italiane, as a gift when I left La Dogana in Tuscany. It’s in Italian. I use it for research as much as possible. My Italian is rusty, but I can read it.” (RT) “I have a bunch of old New York cookbooks that have helped me build the Torrisi 2.0 menu, like Albert Stocklis’s Splendid Fare. We have the Delmonico Cook Book, The Four Seasons Cookbook and classics like the Escoffier cookbook, Alain Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisine and of course, White Heat.”
Seminal internships: (RT) “Daniel Boulud set me up for stages at old-school two-star Michelin restaurants around France; they were all two- or three-week affairs. I cooked at Guy Savoy and Le Cinq in Paris and at Maison Troisgros in Roanne. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”
Kitchen disaster: (RT) “When I first got on the hot appetizers station at Café Boulud, I was so excited to cook on the line. The hot apps station was chef Andrew Carmellini’s baby; it was a great privilege to cook there. I knew soft-shell crabs were coming into season; I’d never cooked them before, but I kept bugging the chef to let me cook them. One day, we got them. They were live, we had to clean them and cook them à la minute and serve them with pickled ramps. The waiters sold 30 of them right away. And it was a disaster. I went down so hard.”
Pet peeve: (RT) “I hate when people use ‘gray’ words. I’m creating a poster that I’m going to put in the kitchen listing about a dozen words that I hate: try, should, probably, maybe, possibly, assume. All those words. It should be yes or no.”
Favorite food city: (RT) Tokyo. “The quality of product and the preparation there is far superior to anywhere else in the world. And I happen to be really into the culture and the art behind the cuisine.”
Favorite thing about New York City: (RT) “What is there not to love about New York City? That’s the question.”