What do you do and how did you get here?
I am the executive chef/managing partner of Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel and Marta in the Martha Washington Hotel. I've been working in restaurants in NYC and Italy for the past 16 years and have always wanted to open an Italian restaurant. I met Danny Meyer 10 years ago while working at Gramercy Tavern as a sous chef and together we decided to launch Maialino 5 years ago.
What did you want to be growing up?
My first dream as a little kid, believe it or not, was to be a farmer. I'm not quite sure why. I loved animals, I guess, but quickly realized that I was not cut out for farming. Main reason being that there wasn't much animal farming going on in uptown NYC where I grew up. So I set my sights on other goals through high school and college -- art history, Italian language, finance, cooking.
Do you have a favorite hotel in the world?
I'm a bit biased but I think the Gramercy Park Hotel is one of the most beautiful boutique hotels I've ever seen. In Venice, I've always been enamored with the Flora - tiny place. I like smaller spots with character that are off the beaten path.
How do you feel social media has changed the way people travel, particularly as it relates to their dining choices?
There is now a veritable overload of information at everyone's fingertips. Guidebooks and reviews are not obsolete, but they are certainly becoming less important than they used to be. It's much easier to find advice via social media from people you know and/or trust.
A culinary experience can make or break a trip - any memorable meals from your travels?
So many. The most memorable are usually the least expected. A roadside snack in Sicily or an impromptu lunch at a gyoza stand in Tokyo. In terms of recent experiences, I had one of the best lunches ever at Butcher in New Orleans. Super casual spot with house cured meats and killer sandwiches in a quasi-cafeteria setting.
Many people connect sensory experiences with memories…with this in mind, how do you go about building a memorable menu? Is this something you think about?
I always try to think about what is truly crave-able. What would someone say "I have to come back to try that" for. Often times it's something familiar done differently than most do it and sometimes it's something very odd/different done in a way that is recognizable/familiar to people.
What is the biggest change you've seen in the industry?
Two things. Rent. Hiring/finding talent.
If you could cook for anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
My great grandma because I hear she was a great cook and handed down so many great recipes through the family.
What will you be doing ten years from now?
Hopefully delivering delicious, soulful Italian food to people across the globe...and maybe finding more time to vacation and surf in Hawaii.