Like Father, Like Son
Marc Forgione, the Michelin-starred mohawked chef who won Food Network’s Next Iron Chef in 2010, began his culinary career working for his father, beloved chef Larry Forgione. After cooking in kitchens in France, he joined Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Prime empire as corporate sous chef, before opening his eponymous NYC restaurant in 2008. Now the chef/owner of Marc Forgione, American Cut in Atlantic City and NYC, and a Laotian restaurant Khe-Yo, Forgione talks about growing up with the “Godfather of American cuisine,” quintessential New York City eats and the inspiration behind his new cookbook.
AndrewZimmern.com: Your father, Larry Forgione, revolutionized American-style cooking in the 70s and 80s. What are some of the most important lessons you learned from him? How did he influence the way you approach food?
Marc Forgione: Food was always a part of our house, but when you’re an eight-year-old kid, you don’t really understand or care about it, you’re just a kid, you know what I mean? It was more like in the movie Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi is teaching the kid how to paint the fence and wax the car, and he doesn’t realize he’s learning how to do karate. At the time, I didn’t know I was learning how to cook, but when I actually got serious about it and started cooking I realized I already knew a lot more stuff then the average seventeen-year-old.
I think that my father has influenced every American chef that has come after him. Without my father and the work of other American chefs from his generation, I don’t believe we would have the green markets and beautiful American ingredients that chefs today work with on a daily basis. He paved the way for that next generation, and I can only hope that we can do the same for those following behind us.
AZ.com: What is it about the quintessential New York steakhouse that you love? How have you left your mark on the concept with American Cut?
MF: It’s a steakhouse menu, so we have our steaks and our fish, but we’ve also kind of revamped some of the classics: the shrimp cocktail, the wedge salad…making them fun and fresh again. Classics are classics for a reason, so I really wanted to take those typical steakhouse dishes and bring them back to their glory. And we also do some creative stuff too: chili lobster, Diamond Jim Brady oysters. We do the best surf and turf you’ve ever had with a tomahawk chop and chili lobster.
AZ.com: What are the biggest challenges of opening a restaurant in New York City these days?
MF: The things that are challenges about opening in NYC also make you stronger. Everything is expensive, everyone is always looking to hire, there are great restaurants on every block…. But again, these are the things that I think make you stronger so I wouldn’t look at them as “problems” but rather as opportunities to get better.
AZ.com: You are the youngest American-born chef and owner to receive a Michelin star in three consecutive years for your eponymous restaurant. That’s no easy feat. What steps did you take to ensure this success?
MF: Yeah people have been telling me that and it’s a great honor. People always ask me what the difference is between being a chef and a chef/owner and this interview doesn’t have enough space to tell you all the differences. But the fact that we were able to get a Michelin star with me just being 29 years old was something I will never forget. I always say, everything goes back to following your gut. I get advice all the time from so many different people, and at the end of the day I always listen to my gut. It might not always work out, but at least I was doing what I felt was right.
AZ.com: How did winning the Next Iron Chef affect your career? Pros and cons of becoming a recognizable TV star?
MF: I think the best thing that has come out of winning Iron Chef is that it’s getting more people to come and check out my restaurants. It’s also allowed me a lot more freedom in the kitchen to experiment and serve people some cool/crazy dishes, because I think now people feel like they can trust me a little bit more. The only con I guess is that I’m so much busier now! But luckily I have a really great team behind me to help keep things in order.
AZ.com: On Iron Chef America, what has been your toughest challenge?
MF: Battle Halloween Candy was really difficult because I don’t eat any of that stuff.
AZ.com: Your first cookbook, Marc Forgione: Recipes & Stories from the Acclaimed Chef and Restaurant, is due out April 29. What inspired you to write this book?
MF: I wanted people to know about the struggles I went through with getting to where I am today. I think a lot of people think that there was this road paved for me, and that it was easy because my dad is Larry Forgione and now I’m on TV. But opening my first restaurant was the most life-threatening experience I’ve ever been through. And I just felt like this was an important story to tell because I want young chefs to understand that when it gets tough, keep at it.
AZ.com: As a New Yorker through and through, what are 5 must-have food experiences in NYC?
MF: One of the four-star restaurants, Dirty Water Dog, NYC slice, bagels, and Peking duck at 317 Grand Street.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
MF: Sriracha, eggs, sundried tomatoes. Lately I’ve been juicing, so I usually have some kind of juice in there.
About Marc Forgione
Chef Marc Forgione is the chef/owner of Restaurant Marc Forgione in New York City and American Cut. Chef Marc Forgione began his career at the age of 16, joining his father, Larry Forgione (a culinary legend who revolutionized American-style cooking in the ’70s and ’80s), in the kitchen at An American Place.
Forgione opted for a traditional four-year education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he graduated from the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. He spent his summers working the line at restaurants such as Above in New York, with acclaimed chef Kazuto Matsusaka. These stints would lay the groundwork for Forgione’s post-collegiate toils, again alongside his father at An American Place and later under Patricia Yeo at AZ. When Yeo and celebrated chef Pino Maffeo opened Pazo, they took Forgione along to serve as sous chef at the short-lived eatery. When Laurent Tourondel set out to develop his flagship, BLT Steak, he recruited Forgione as his sous chef.
In an effort to diversify his experience, Forgione left for France, where he secured a series of humble posts under Michel Guerard in Eugenie les Bains and worked at three of the region’s finest restaurants, Le Pres D’Eugenie, Ferme aux Grives and Le Cuisine Minceur. Upon his return to New York, Forgione promptly reunited with Tourondel, who invited the now seasoned chef to serve as chef de cuisine at BLT Prime. Forgione was later named corporate chef for the BLT Restaurant Group, a position that enabled him to expand the BLT brand across the country.
With Marc Forgione, formerly known as Forge, Forgione’s first restaurant, he has created an approachable place “that people walk by and are compelled to enter and where the ingredients are the star.” Restaurant Marc Forgione was awarded its first Michelin star in 2010. In addition, Forgione received a two-star review from Sam Sifton of The New York Times, who noted, “Mr. Forgione’s food is sometimes sweet. Other times, it is salty, sour or spicy. Sometimes it is all four — and loudly so. The brashness is deeply and above all American: an augmentation of international cuisines in a land of plenty.” The restaurant also earned the distinction of being named “Key Newcomer” by Zagat Guide, “Top 25 Restaurants in NYC” by Modern Luxury magazine and “All Star Eatery” by Forbes magazine. Forgione was awarded “Star Chefs Rising Star of the Year”; named “Rising Star” from Restaurant Hospitality magazine and mentioned “New Formalist” by Esquire magazine. In 2010, Chef Forgione won season 3 of Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef” and is now one of seven Iron Chefs competing on “Iron Chef America.” In addition to supporting numerous NYC charities, Chef Forgione is a Chef Ambassador for Family Reach Foundation and is a member of Feeding America’s Entertainment Council.
American Cut, located in New York City and at Revel in Atlantic City, pairs Chef Forgione’s award-winning, modern and signature take on fine dining with the comforts of the new American steakhouse. The name American Cut is a nod to Larry Forgione and his restaurant, An American Place. Signature items include his take on the ultimate surf and turf – a show-stopping, 28-day aged, 48-ounce Tomahawk Rib Eye Chop served with his Chili Lobster.
Chef Forgione recently launched his hand-crafted Bloody mix, Batch 22 (available for purchase on www.dontcallitamary.com), based upon the same acclaimed Bloody Mary he serves at Marc Forgione. In summer 2013, he opened a Laotian restaurant in New York City, Khe-Yo, with Executive Chef Soulayphet Schwader. Khe-Yo features cuisine from Laos, where Chef Schwader was born, using both local and authentic ingredients. Chef Forgione’s first cookbook, “Marc Forgione: Recipes and Stories from the Acclaimed Chef and Restaurant” will be published in late April 2014.