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Q & A With Waldy Malouf

Chef Waldy Malouf is not just a chef.  Though he owns and operates multiple restaurants in NYC, including Beacon Restaurant on 56th Street as well as his namesake pizza joint, Waldy’s, on 27th Street, his career extends far beyond the kitchen.  After graduating from the CIA, Waldy took over the Rainbow Room, revamping and earning the restaurant three stars from the NY Times.
Since then, Malouf has written two cookbooks, and now sits on many
charitable organizations in NYC, including Share Our Strength and God’s
Love We Deliver. 

At Beacon Restaurant, diners can participate in
the “Kitchen Counter” offered Thursdays, where Malouf personally
prepares a twelve-course tasting menu.  On other nights, the chef takes
advantage of his wood burning oven, serving wood-roasted wild mushroom
ravioli with light cream & sage brother and grilled lamb chops with
sweet garlic, mint & ratatouille. 


Status: Single/Married/Divorced

Married

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an astronaut. I grew up in Florida near Canaveral. I was supposed to be a lawyer like my father
and even went as far as going through two years pre-law. I had been cooking since I was 14 and only
then realized that it could be a career that I loved and began pursuing it as
such.

What was your first job in food?
Working the pancake grill at Perkin’s
Pancake House in Dunedin, Florida at age 14.

Many chefs say that making the transition from kitchen to
writing recipes or a cookbook is incredibly tough – do you agree? What was the
greatest challenge in speaking to the home cook through recipes?

In
the beginning it is difficult but
once you develop a method for looking at your recipes through a home
cook’s
eyes, it becomes much easier. I never
write recipes for my cookbooks in a professional kitchen but always in
a well-equipped
home kitchen.  I also do my best to not leave out any little steps that
I think would be second nature to me but unknown to the home cook.

You have a reputation for building incredible rapport with
the chefs you work with – has this always been a priority in your kitchens?

It has always been a priority in my
kitchens to build a team of chefs and cooks that truly enjoy what they do. They must always maintain a respect for the
food and have a thorough understanding of true hospitality. It is necessary to build camaraderie in a
kitchen and respect each person’s contribution, as no one person is more
important than the other. In order for
fine food and service to be produced, a well orchestrated collaborative is required.
 

At your wood-fired pizza and penne restaurant, you bake your
pizzas twice—first without the topping; then with. Where did you learn this method and how does
it differ in taste from traditional pizza cooking?…

 We
developed the method for cooking the dough at Beacon. While some
purists will find fault in this method, it allows us to create
flavorful pizzas to order and cook in 6 – 8 minutes.  The recipe for
the dough consists of organic high gluten and whole-wheat flour,
natural yeast (levain), wild flower honey and extra virgin olive oil.
It has a great taste, thickness, crispness, and versatility.  It seems
to be loved by all that try.


As someone who is so firmly committed to supporting local
purveyors and natural foods, what would you say is the greatest challenge
facing America’s
culinary landscape today?

The
challenges in supporting local purveyors and natural foods are product
consistency, supply, mainstream distribution, and pricing.  As a chef
and restaurateur, I feel it is important to accept these challenges and
jump over the hurdles they present in order to bring the best quality
product to my customers while supporting an important and intricate
part of region in which you live.  It is also important to deliver
healthful food while protecting the integrity of the food chain.
 

You started out at one of NYC’s most well-known institutions,
The Rainbow Room. What was your greatest
takeaway from your time there?

When
I took it over, it was heralded for its décor and location, but its
food and service reputation was not stellar. What was immediately
apparent to me is that in order to improve the service and food we
would have to bring the staff together with a common goal.  By
integrating the management teams, improving communication, and
resolving as many labor issues as possible, we were able to improve the
food and service to such a level that we received a 3-star review from
The New York Times.  A first in the history of the Rainbow Room!  My
greatest takeaway: how to take the time and patience to organize and
lead a group of people to obtain a single goal.

Your commitment to community service is remarkable; you it
on the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund committee to raise money for families
of food service workers lost at Windows of the World on 9/11, as well as Share
Our Strength, CityMeals-on-Wheels, James Beard, plus many more. How do you find the time to manage your
restaurants and outreach commitments?

It
has always been important for me to give back to the community and I
just make the time to work with organizations I feel do important
work.  That said, thank God for my Blackberry, e-mail and personal
assistant.

What’s your favorite dish on Beacon’s menu, and why?
They
are like children – you have no favorites but if I had to pick just one
dish that I truly enjoy any time, it would be Wood Roasted Oysters
because they are unique, light, flavorful and taste great.

What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick
one)?

If
I did not like a dish, I would take it off the menu.  But since I am
not a huge fan of salmon, I would have to say that is my least favorite.

What is your junk food of choice?
Wise BBQ Potato Chips

Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
Peasant

What culinary trend do you most embrace?
Open kitchen with guest-cook interaction.

What trend do you wish would die already?
Most of molecular gastronomy, although not all.

What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill the
beans…

We
are planning a complete renovation and overhaul of Beacon.  I will be
opening 3 new Waldy pizza shops over the next 18 months.  I am working
on my third cookbook to be published in the spring of 2010.  Somewhere
in the crevices of my brain, there is another restaurant trying to
surface.

Address: 25 W. 56th St., btwn. 5th & 6th Aves.
Phone: (212)
332-0500

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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