Chef Marc Forgione says he'll never know exactly what drove the masses to his eponymous restaurant in Tribeca. It's because during its opening year (2010), the eatery was awarded both a Michelin star and a two-star review from Sam Sifton of the New York Times. What's more, in 2010, Forgione also prevailed on The Next Iron Chef, a win that significantly boosted his public profile. Whoever said good things come in threes had the chef/owner in mind
In the two years that followed, Restaurant Marc Forgione was again bestowed a Michelin star, thus earning him the distinction of being the youngest American-born chef to receive such an honor in consecutive years. But the 37-year-old Mohawk-sporting toque says he doesn't let the awards mess with his head because of the degree of subjectivity involved.
"It's funny with the awards and all that kind of stuff," says Forgione. "First and foremost, I was very humbled by the whole thing. But then they took the Michelin star away from us two years ago, and in my opinion the restaurant,was ten times better two years ago than it was five years ago."
For the New York-born chef, it's far more important to have customers' affection than to receive a coveted rating or award. In the same vein, he doesn't get hung up on his celebrity-chef status. In fact, when asked how he relates to being regarded as a chef's chef and his television stardom, his response is succinct: "I don't pay any attention to the TV stuff."
"I was an Iron Chef, but I'm not anymore," says Forgione. "It was great for my career, and it really helped me and opened my eyes and introduced me to a lot of people, but now I'm just a chef and a restaurateur that's trying to get butts in seats like everyone else."
Speaking of butts in seats, come February 27, Forgione will have 600 butts to feed as one of seven chefs participating in the tribute dinner honoring chef, restaurateur, and author Jonathan Waxman. Waxman is chef and owner of Barbuto in Manhattan's West Village, Adele's in Nashville, Montecito in Toronto, and the recently opened Bajo Sexto, a taqueria in Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The tribute dinner is part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, and Constellation Brands' chairman of the board, Richard Sands, and President and CEO Rob Sands will receive the Southern Wine & Spirits Lifetime Achievement Award.
Forgione is tasked with preparing the pasta course for the soirée, and in light of the challenge, he's come up with a concept he thinks will be a lot of fun. It's essentially a spaghetti carbonara dish, only the carbonara sauce is inside a jar and guests will have to pour its contents onto the noodles. The DIY idea is something the chef's never done before but says he's pretty excited about.
At the big event, Forgione will be joined by Frederic Delaire, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, Marcus Samuelsson, Aarón Sánchez, and Nancy Silverton. Iron Chef Tom Colicchio will be the master of ceremonies at the dinner which will be held at the Loews Miami Beach hotel. These industry heavyweights will pay homage to Waxman, who is credited with being one of the pioneers of California cuisine.
Forgione has been cooking since he was 16 years old and worked the line in his father Larry Forgione's kitchen at an American Place. He later attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst and graduated from the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. His big break was landing the chef de cuisine gig at Laurent Tourondel's critically and commercially successful steakhouse BLT Prime. Forgione was a big part of the BLT brand as it expanded throughout the country and branched out to include BLT Fish and BLT Market. He parted ways with the group when he decided to open Restaurant Marc Forgione in 2010 with partner Christopher Blumlo.
Restaurant Marc Forgione serves new American cuisine in a rustic yet upscale setting, but the chef's budding empire doesn't stop there. There's American Cut, a new American steakhouse in Tribeca, as well as a Laotian restaurant, Khe-Yo, in the same neighborhood. For Khe-Yo, Forgione teamed up with his former sous chef, Laos-born Soulayphet Schwader. Furthermore, the former Iron Chef recently opened Lobster Press, a fast-casual concept serving a panini-style lobster sandwich in New York City. He also has plans to open two more American Cut restaurants, one in New Jersey and the other in Midtown Manhattan.
Forgione says that although chefs have always been under a great deal of pressure, the landscape has changed immensely since he started. For instance, the competition, particularly in New York, is very stiff; the cost of food and doing business is much higher, and now chefs at fine-dining restaurants have to deal with challenges such as how to accommodate the demand for online delivery orders. The internet has definitely changed the game, as has social media. In his opinion, however, chefs themselves don't necessarily need to excel at Instagram and Twitter so long as someone within the company is social-media-savvy.
"I don't think being good at social media makes you a good chef," says Forgione.
So what characteristics make for a great chef in today's world, according to Forgione? "Someone that's well-balanced. They need to be creative, humble, a little cocky, and confident. You have to be patient. All of those things. It's very challenging these days, especially in the world we live in."
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To stay on top of his game, Forgione pushes himself to take risks and try things in the kitchen that make him uncomfortable. As far as dining trends go, he's a big fan of the current focus on natural, wild, and beautiful ingredients and uncomplicated preparations.
The chef says he's eager to explore the food scenes in Montreal and Charleston, which he's been hearing a lot of buzz about. While in Miami, he likes to eat at the Pubbelly restaurants and is a huge fan of local celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein. And although he has no plans to set up shop in the 305, he'd definitely entertain the opportunity if someone were to approach him about it. "I always like to say never say never," he says.
Tribute Dinner honoring Jonathan Waxman, Rob Sands and Richard Sands with Master of Ceremonies Tom Colicchio: Saturday, February 27 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, 1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $500. Visit sobefest.com.