Chef Todd Mitgang recently made his solo debut at Crave Ceviche Bar in midtown East. At the youthful age of 27, Mitgang saw instant success, long waits and already has plans to expand his eatery into a neighboring space. Before his popularity at Crave, Mitgang studied at FCI, then landed his first job out of school at Soho’s Kittichai, where he was positioned as Chef de Cuisine.
At Crave, Mitgang devotes his undivided attention to ceviches, curing an impressive selection of raw fish in unusual marinades, far beyond the usual lime and lemon juices. He adds extra crunch with whimsical accessories, including charred popcorn. Intensely fruity sangrias and a playful wine list, categorizing the wines by inviting descriptions like “toasted brioche,” add to this chef’s restaurant’s lure. With an ever-changing menu that rigorously bows to the seasons, his winter specialty dishes include a yellow fin tuna with a quail egg, swiss chard, and beet juice yuzu as well as a golden pear fluke with pistachio brown rice and pomegranate maple schlag.
did you want to be when you grew up?
I always new I wanted to
do something creative, although “chefdom” never came to mind.
was your first job in food?
It was a place called Dursos, a gourmet Italian deli out in Long Island. They had me handling prepared foods and
butchering organic chickens. I barely knew how to handle a cleaver! It is a
miracle I still have all fingers intact.
been raised in a family that you say dined on “iceberg lettuce and grilled
chicken,” where did you find culinary inspiration as a kid?…
As a kid, food wasn’t
necessarily the center of my universe, but even at an early age I was adamant
about what I liked and what I disliked. I guess some people call that finicky. I was that kid that didn’t want greens in my
wonton soup, but of course as I got older, my tastes became more refined.
It must have been my mom’s
Asian inspired shrimp salad that turned my interest in food into my obsession.
It was so simple yet so delicious. That was the kind of food I wanted to make.
culinary school, you became chef de
cuisine at Kittichai, working with one of the top Asian chefs in the world, Ian
Chalermkittichai. How did this
opportunity come about?
it or not, I came across the job at a career fair. I was basically like, “Hey
guys, I want to be your sous chef.” Before I was at Kittichai, I was working as
the executive chef of a small French restaurant on Long Island. I was 22 at the time, but I had the foresight
to realize that it was happening too soon. It would have been silly if I didn’t
at least try to make it in the culinary mecca that was Manhattan. I had some
great trails at Inn at Little Washington, Blue Hill and Daniel and as much as I
thought that that is what I had wanted, I realized it was much more important
for me to see the process of a successful New York opening. That is why I chose
to be a part of the opening team at Kittichai and work for a chef whose
expertise was in a cuisine I knew nothing about. I was hired as lead line cook,
a week later I was sous and 3 months later chef de cuisine.
Where did your interest in Thai food
it stemmed form my desire to learn about a cuisine I knew nothing about. My interest only grew stronger as I started
tasting and seeing ingredients like kaffir lime, fresh curry, shanghai shoots
and choy sum. Some of these ingredients I had never even seen! The produce of
the Asian pantry is still some of my favorite out there.
After your time at Kittichai, you opened
your first restaurant, Crave Ceviche Bar in Midtown East. How did you create this concept?
partners Brian Ownes and Dino Andreakos and I were inspired by the exploratory and intimate ambiance of sashimi, tapas and noodle bars.
Where did you learn the art of ceviche?
lime, salt, done.
Often seen as “seviche” with an “s,” is
there any meaning to your choice in spelling ceviche with a “c”?
naming the place Crave we thought “C” would be a better a choice. We realize
that there are many different types of variations and spellings. In fact we
even bought all the domain names possible just to avoid confusion!
You have one of the more inventive wine
lists we’ve seen, listing wines and then creatively describing their flavors: “almond
biscotti” or “baked apple pie” for example. Where did you stir up this charming idea?
came up with this at one of our brainstorming meetings. It was at Barnes &
Noble actually! Our goal was to make the wines a little more accessible to
people who weren’t familiar with certain varietals or flavor profiles and I
think we accomplished that.
What unfamiliar wine sells well because of
its enticing description?
Txomin hands down. The description reads “apricot and honeysuckle” which we
feel is enticing enough but the presentation adds an extra selling point. In
order to bring out the natural effervescence of the wine it needs to be poured
into the glass from very high up. It is pretty cool when you see it done in
front of you.
fall menu reads significantly different from your summer opening menu,
incorporating more broths and meat than before. What’s in store for us this spring?
The menu is going to
change once more before spring actually. We look forward to introducing a menu
during a season Crave has not yet seen (we opened in August 2007).
incorporate popcorn in some of your dishes for an added char and crunch effect;
where did you first implement this concept?
The owner of the
restaurant in which I worked out on Long Island is Dominican. One day (this was
about 5-6 years ago) I got in these fresh pink Maine shrimp. They were the
freshest crustaceans I had ever seen. I immediately felt compelled to serve
them in their most unadulterated form .
. . ceviche. The owner Lisa said that in
the Dominican Republic they served their ceviche with saltine crackers. I laughed
in her face. Saltine crackers? This is fine dining! Sure enough I did some
research and she was right so in order to mimic that crunch what better than
a no reservation policy, your booming restaurant sometimes leaves long waits
for a table. Any chance for reservations
in the future?
With the expansion, we
look forward to being able to accommodate more guests in our back dining room.
This time with reservations! Bar will
remain first come first serve.
your favorite dish on Crave’s menu
right now and why?
C’mon cocoa smoked
popcorn? Need I say more? I also really
love the Chatham cod with eggplant, black beans, charred grape tomatoes and
What’s your least
favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
My least favorite dish on
any menus comes from monotony- preparation wise that is. In that case it would
be the spicy yellowfin tuna with plancha seared yucca even though it is one of
our top selling dishes.
is your junk food of choice?
Puffed cheese doodles.
Crunchy doesn’t even hold a candle to puffed!
than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
Last year I had some
incredible meals at Fatty Crab, 11
Madison Park, BRGR, and L’Impero.
What culinary trend do you
Sweet and savory pairings. I truly feel that balance
should exist in every dish.
trend do you wish would die already?
In all honesty, all trends
are trendy for a reason. When any trend comes in to the public eye, a chef can
always take away from it and make it his/her own and add it to his/her arsenal.
next on the horizon for you? Any new ventures or restaurants in the works?
Spill the beans…
I just want to get through the expansion first! I never thought I’d be running
a restaurant and expanding it at the same time. Plans for the future? Yeah,
we’ve got something up our sleeve, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out!
Address: 946 2nd Ave. Btwn. 50th & 51st Sts.
Until we eat again,
**Don’t forget to subscribe for Restaurant Girl’s Weekly Newsletter**