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Q & A with Andrew Carmellini

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I love dining out, but if I could hire a personal chef, it would be Andrew Carmellini.  I’d never get bored.  He’s as good at cooking Italian as he is at French.   And he’s wonderful at rustic, comfort cuisine, especially roasted garlic chicken.  In fact, Carmellini used to be the private chef for Governor Cuomo when he was still student at the CIA. 

Carmellini started cooking at a local Italian restaurant when he was 14 years old.   That was just the beginning.   Since then, he’s cooked at San Domenico in Manhattan and Emilia-Romagna, as well as Lespinasse, Le Cirque, and L’Arpege in Paris. 

Cafe Boulud was a turning point in his career.  During his six year tenure at the UES French eatery, the American chef garnered a James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef and Best Chef: New York City.  In 2006, Carmellini left Cafe Boulud to open A Voce where he  earned critical praise from the New York Times and a James Beard nomination for best new restaurant. 

His greatest accomplishment is Locanda Verde at the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca.  He’s successfully erased the memory of Ago and reinvented himself once again.  This time, he’s cooking rustic, Italian dishes, like fettucine verde in a white bolognese, wood-fired broccoli rabe sausage, and a homemade rabbit terrine with sour cherry mostarda.

married to Gwen who is a professor at Cooper Union and the co-author of Urban

What did you want to be when you grew up?
always dreamed of being a record producer, a marine biologist, and a chef.  It’s

What was your first job in food?  What
did you learn?
first job was at a local catering place when I was 14.  I learned mostly what not
to do and how to drink a lot of beer at work without showing it.

You worked at San Domenico and Lespinasse in New York
before moving to France
for a while.   It’s unusual for a chef to
shift gears while on the rise.  How’d you
make the shift from Italian to French, then back to Italian?  Do you ever see yourself returning to French
down the line?
not a one-trick-pony and love cooking lots of different styles. French cuisine
gives you the basics of cooking, but Italian cuisine has a bit more soul. I’m
American and love to eat, travel and cook . If I’m in the mood, I might go back
to French fine dining one day when the timing is right.

A Voce gained a lot of attention when the restaurant earned a Michelin star
under your direction.  Why do you think
the restaurant lost it the next year?
was kind of surprised we got one star at all.

What compelled your sudden departure from A Voce?  
one is best left unsaid.

You just recently opened Locanda Verde in the old Ago
space at the Greenwich Hotel.  What was
it like working with Robert DeNiro, Ken Friedman & Josh Pickard on that
project?  How did this team come together
in the first place?
was in talks with the developer behind the Jay-Z hotel project when I met Ken.
I’ve been friendly with Josh for years and cooked a lot for DeNiro at Café and
A Voce. They needed help at the Ago space. I thought it was a beautiful corner.
Here we are.

Ago was a flop and closed fairly quickly.  Locanda Verde is constantly packed.   What do you think the fundamental
distinction is between Ago & Locanda Verde other than the obvious – good
place just needed some love.

After leaving A Voce, you and your wife co-wrote the cookbook Urban Italian.  How would you define Urban Italian

It’s a combination of cooking at home, hitting
the boroughs and deriving inspiration from the markets–city cooking as opposed
to country cooking.

What was it like collaborating with your wife?  Any bickering or is it something you’d do
way, we rocked it and were a great team. The book is written in my voice
because I didn’t want flowery ultra-foodie-porn speak. I wanted it to sound
like me and Gwen really captured it.  We’re actually working on the second book now.

We hear your wife used to be a vegetarian.  How did you convert her to a carnivore?  Was it A Voce’s duck meatballs that proved
too seductive?
good one. She was vegetarian for 13 years, but her health suffered from it. One
day she had a piece of fish and that was the end of it.

You’re a bit of a forager when it comes to cooking.  We know you go truffle hunting and road
tripping across America
for regional specialties. How do you ever integrate your discoveries or
experiences into your cooking?
is really important if you’re an American cook. All the culinary history is
derived from somewhere else so eating a taco in Oaxaca,
gnocchi in Piedmonte and Okonomiyaki in Japan is important.

What culinary trends do you embrace?
tend to do what I feel and not follow trends too much. You have to have soul.

What culinary trends do you wish would just die already?
is a trend to call any person, who picks up a knife, wears a funny hat, gets a
tattoo and goes on a reality cooking competition, a chef. I look back at the hardcore
French guys I worked with over the years, and the trend makes me laugh.

What is your favorite dish on the menu at Locanda Verde?

love the Porchetta Sandwich.

Where do you dine in New York
on your nights off?  Favorite Italian
other than your own…
enjoy Mercadito Cantina, Hearth, Dim Sum in Chinatown,
a sushi place I’m not telling you about, a Japanese home-cooking place I’m not
telling you about, Ipuddo, Boqueria, the sucking pig at Txikito.

Any new projects on the horizon?  Another
cookbook perhaps?  Spill the beans…
and I just sold the next book. The idea will probably change 10 times so we’ll
see. Locanda is jamming right now so that’s my focus; just making people happy.

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