At Boqueria, one of New York City’s most-popular Spanish tapas joints, Chef Marc Vidal goes a long way to transport diners to Barcelona’s bustling and beautiful Boqueria market. He serves a menu of Spanish classics like patatas bravas, albondigas, croquetas and gambas alla ajillo. But he also loves to cook with the seasons. Every Friday morning, Vidal grabs a cup of coffee and heads to the Union Square Greenmarket where he and his team of chefs meet up to peruse the stalls for ingredients and brainstorm for the restaurant’s ever-changing Market Menu. “We just walk around and see what’s going on,” says Vidal, whose parents were restaurateurs in Barcelona. “The market menu is the fun part for us. It’s our chance to be creative and work with the seasons.”
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“Local farmers literally come to our door, and they show us what they’re growing and teach us about all these cool new things,” said Ford Fry, the James Beard Foundation Award-nominated chef and restaurateur who heads acclaimed, locally focused Atlanta destinations, including The Optimist, King + Duke , No. 246 and JCT.Kitchen & Bar. Fry is fond of frilly mustard greens and the little flowery shoots that sprout early on from collard-green plants. “We love to use those,” he said.
Celebrity chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson always has a way of getting our attention. At 23, an executive chef at Aquavit, he received a three-star review from The New York Times. At the time, he was the youngest to earn that accolade. But it’s not just that he was a culinary prodigy or an expert at Scandinavian cookery long before we’d ever heard of “new Nordic” cuisine. It’s that he provides us with a new way to look at food, interpreting it through a lens influenced by his being born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and trained in the kitchens of Europe. When he’s not introducing us to less familiar cuisines, he’s taking the more familiar ones and feeding them to us better than those before him, just as he does at his restaurant Red Rooster.
In his new cookbook, Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home, Samuelsson steps out of his restaurant and invites us into his Harlem brownstone. It is there in his home kitchen where he blends near and dear cultures and cuisines with the multiethnic neighborhood in which he now lives and works. The 150 colorful and feel-good recipes are ones he hopes create lasting memories for those he shares them with.
“The question isn’t whether or not you need to eat fat; it’s ‘What kind of fat are you eating?’” says chef Franklin Becker, owner of The Little Beet and The Little Beet Table in New York City. Becker got a wake-up call in 1993 when, at age 27, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. It forced him to change both how he ate and how he cooked. Now, he’s set out to change everyone else’s habits too. He started by revolutionizing the way New Yorkers eat on the run. His quick-service spot, The Little Beet, opened in midtown Manhattan in January 2014. With lines out the door at lunchtime, it’s not surprising that another New York location is set to open soon and more units are being planned. He also just opened a full-service fine dining version, called The Little Beet Table. And now he’s out with a new cookbook that captures his eating philosophy. Good Fat Cooking (Rodale, 2014) is filled with recipes that utilize healthy unsaturated fats to produce incredibly flavorful dishes.
“Food is most flavorful when coaxed with very little,” says Jenn Louis, the chef and co-owner of Portland, Oregon’s Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern, as well as Culinary Artistry, a full-service catering business. Louis loves to cook with the seasons and as simply as possible. Nearly everything in her restaurants is made by hand. Her pastas have earned her a reputation as something of an Italian nonna, and in March she’s bringing out a pasta cookbook, Pasta by Hand (Chronicle), focused on the under-loved category of Italian pasta: the dumpling (there’s a lot more going on there than just gnudi).
At San Francisco’s Le Marais, the beautiful artisanal bistro and bakery in the Marina District, the crowds come for many reasons. Some arrive just past dawn for the best Kouign-Mann and croissants this side of the Atlantic Ocean. (It doesn’t hurt that pastry chef Emily Riddell uses locally-milled organic flours and European-style organic butter). Others come for lunch — a crusty griddled ham and cheddar with grainy mustard and cornichon, and a salad of roasted beets with pomegranate, fennel and burrata, or one composed of Yali pears and wild greens, walnut, celery root and bitter onion. Late afternoon it’s bakery time again — a cup of Stumptown coffee and a slice of banana pecan bread, and then back for dinner — maybe scallops with persimmon and Serrano ham, black bass en papillote with turnips sorrel and lemon verbena, or smoky confited chicken with chickpeas, raddichio and citrus. The place is always humming with happy people.
But truth be told, it’s more than just the food that keeps the crowds in que. Owner Patrick Ascaso, a former investment professional with a passion for food, and his wife Joanna Pulcini, a literary agent, have created the kind of restaurant you can’t quite tear yourself away from. The service is great, the place is charming, and the food is divine. You may never care to leave. “The idea was to create a European eatery that serves food all day long, with the scents of bread baking in the morning, and then the pastry in the afternoon, and the wood-grilling savory dishes at night,” said Ascaso. “With the wood interior, it is remarkable how the space changes from the warmth of a bakery to the elegant feel of a bistro at night.”
If you’re talking about great seafood in Brooklyn, chances are you’re talking about the fish restaurant Bergen Hill, a snug outpost located in a quiet corner of Court Street in Carroll Gardens. The chef, Andrew D’Ambrosi, cooks out of a kitchen that seems to have been built for a doll, not a fully grown man. It’s about 3 feet by 5 feet and has no oven; it includes four induction burners, one sandwich press and a toy-sized electric oven. (Don’t complain about your kitchen!)
Writing a New York Times Best Seller is no easy task. Neither is keeping a New York City restaurant packed and popular for a decade and a half. But Gabrielle Hamilton has managed to do both. Her 2011 memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, proved that she was as good a writer as she is a chef. Now she’s finally giving her fans the cookbook they’ve been clamoring for. And the release just so happens to coincide with Prune’s 15th anniversary as one of New York’s most-beloved restaurants.
One Girl Cookies is one of Brooklyn’s most-beloved bakeries. Gem-size butter cookies, cream-filled whoopie pies, swirl-topped cupcakes and frosted layer cakes make this shop, located on a tree-lined street in Cobble Hill, an oasis of sweetness. Since opening in 2005, husband-and-wife team Dave Crofton and Dawn Casale have created a neighborhood spot for life’s most delicious treats and most precious milestones. Open its glass-paned door and a bell jingles — friends meet, couples fall in love and toddlers take their first steps. The couple have opened a second, larger cafe in Dumbo, have written a cookbook and are planning a third cafe for Industry City in Sunset Park for early 2015.
Crofton, the baker, has created a breakfast menu that offers all sorts of wonderful ways to start your day right: a fruit, granola and yogurt bowl (both the granola and the yogurt are made in-house), as well as muffins, scones, and savory and sweet breakfast breads. While he is a baker, he’s also mindful of serving a breakfast menu that’s actually good for you. “I think about health a lot when I create breakfast recipes,” says Crofton. “You can easily include whole grains in most breakfast muffins, breads, and scones. It makes them heartier and more filing, which is an important way to start the day.”
“I am not someone who just throws butter at things or sits around reducing heavy cream,” says Eric Korsh, Executive Chef of Danny Meyer’s rustic American restaurant, North End Grill. Korsh, who has helmed the kitchens of A-list spots like The Waverly Inn and Calliope, is all about good honest cooking. “This whole idea of healthy food, I think, is about cooking beautiful food — a nice vinaigrette, a lovely lean protein,” he said. “I think all good cooking is healthy cooking.”