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Q & A with Bice's Jose Liriano















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We don’t often get to meet the chefs who feed midtown’s power lunch crowd.  Ever since Bice opened in 2002,  it’s been packed with suits, luminaries & Italians nostalgic for a taste of home.  The flagship restaurant is located in Milan, but the one in midtown was designed by Adam Tihany, whose resume also includes Per Se and Daniel.  Unlike other power lunch destinations, the food at Bice is excellent.  The chef is Jose Liriano who’s not from Italy, but rather the Dominican Republic which explains the Latin influence in some of the dishes.  Liriano started as a line cook at Bice and quickly rose to executive chef of the same kitchen.  Liriano’s homemade taglioni with lobster and osso bucco alongside parmesan risotto are both pretty hard to beat.


Single/married/divorced?

I am getting married!  So, right now I have a fiancé.

 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I was first thinking that I would like to be an accountant,
but as soon as I came to the US, I fell in love with the culinary arts right
away.

 

What was your first job in food and what did you learn?

My first job in food was washing dishes at a restaurant in
Florida, and worked my way up to a line cook. When I started as a line cook for
Bice, I immediately absorbed everything I could learn from as many chefs as
possible.

 

Was there a definitive factor or experience that made you
realize you wanted to grow as a chef within the Bice system?

There were many things that made me want to be a chef.  I was
given a chance at Bice, and I remember that while I was moving up,  I wasn’t
just cooking… I was doing the payroll, scheduling, thinking up recipes, buying
products, and everything in between.  Being part of Bice isn’t only about being
a cook, it’s about managing the whole restaurant, and I think it is that
diversity that got me hooked.

 

What were the most important skills you learned as a line
cook?

In order to be a line cook, you have to know that there are
unspoken rules that must be followed.  Imagine having to do so many
different things, and having to do them all in the right way.  After watching
the guys with experience, I realized that if someone asked you ,“Can you move to
the sauté station?” you never say no.  My response was always “Oh of course!” 
You had to be ready to do anything they asked at any time.

 

Since becoming executive chef, what changes/tweaks have you
made to Bice’s menu of Italian Classics?

Everywhere has a different story.  In Florida, they don’t eat
in the same way they do in New York or in LA.  So the menu is different
everywhere, with a little of my style and a little of the city’s.  Once I came
to New York, I tried all the classic dishes, and put my own spin on some of my
favorites like the tuna tartar and lobster salad.  Our regulars would kill us if
we changed the menu entirely, so we respect them but make sure to keep things
interesting and seasonal.  For example, every season, I change the dressings or
the vegetables—it’s a way to make the dish new again without taking away its
essence. If it’s a different season, there’s a different menu.

 

What is your favorite dish on Bice’s menu? Least favorite?

My favorite dish? You know, that’s a tough question. It’s
all under my inspiration, so I pretty much like everything. One I love is the
casoncelli pasta stuffed with veal and prosciutto di Parma, topped with black
truffle and rosemary. Everyone loves it. As for my least favorite…I can’t say
that! I mean, there is one ravioli made with mushroom sauce that I don’t love.
I can eat mushrooms, but they’re definitely not my favorite thing.

 

Aside from crafting new dishes, how else do you ensure that
Bice distinguishes itself from the multitude of upscale Italian restaurants in
Manhattan?

Listen, there are so many things I can say to answer this.
We’ve been here for 22 years, and our great New York location has its own
personality and buzz. The restaurant is chic, and well known by countless
celebrities, tourists, and New Yorkers alike. The thing is, even with its
upscale food and clientele, Bice is still inviting to any type of diner. It’s
not often that you find great food and high-profile status in a laid back,
casual environment. The welcoming atmosphere combined with our upscale status
is what makes us really special.

 

Where do you get most of your ingredients?  Are they mostly imported or domestic?

Everything here is extremely fresh. Most of our cheeses,
including the mozzarella, are imported from Italy. The Branzino comes in every
day from a local fish market.  Most ingredients come in daily and nothing is ever
frozen.  Even our lobster is brought in fresh and alive each day. 

 

How do you think dining in NYC has changed since you arrived
on the scene as Bice line cook?

For the most part it’s the same food, but a little mixed up.  Maybe one big change is that chefs are getting fancier, and I’ve noticed many
more chefs using Caribbean ingredients, which you didn’t see at all when I
started.  Now they’re starting to fuse exotic ingredients from all different
places into one dish. Back in the day, Italian food only used Italian
ingredients. Now, even Italian chefs are using all kinds of different stuff.

 

You often get luminaries in the restaurant.  Who have you cooked for at Bice?

When I cooked in Brazil, I saw a lot of soccer players,
which is about as important as it gets down there. Soccer is huge in Brazil. 
One week ago, Eddie Murphy was in for dinner, who I love, and we have celebrity
regulars that come in all the time. Everyone from Britney Spears and the Jonas
Brothers to Harrison Ford and the Clintons stop in fairly regularly.

 

Who are some of your culinary mentors?

My biggest culinary influence was this one Italian chef
Manuel Mattei who was the executive chef when I first started at Bice.  He gave
me a big chance, and was always saying, “Jose, you want to be a big chef? You’ll
see, you can do it.”  He gave me the opportunity to get big, and I took it. He
really is one of the reasons I’m always ready to help the aspiring chefs
working at Bice.

 

Can you describe some of the challenges you have faced while
launching Bice restaurants abroad and keeping tabs on them from thousands of
miles away?

I remember my first Bice opening in Long Island.  I was
nervous and always going back and forth thinking “I can do it…wait no I can’t…wait,
yes I can!” After my first opening, there weren’t many other challenges that I
wasn’t confident about tackling. The most difficult thing is training new chefs
the right way to create the best possible food, and the rest is just about
having good organization. The first day is just like, boom. After the
restaurant opens, everything just works.

 

Where do you go for great Italian and/or fine dining in NY?

Alfredo of Rome on 4 West 49th Street has very good
Italian food.

 

Any plans for another Bice location?

Not in New York, but I’ve heard talk about Bice eyeing the
windy city.

Phone: (212)688-1999

Address: 7 East 54th Street, btwn. Madison & Park Aves.

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