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Q&A With 15-Year-Old Chef Greg Grossman

greg.jpgGreg Grossman isn’t your typical teenager. He’s a culinary prodigy with a career that some seasoned professional chefs might envy.  At the age of
fifteen, he’s already headed up a catering company in the Hamptons,  launched a culinary research group, and recently returned from Spain where he attended Madrid Fusion with Gerry Dawes and ate at Ferran Adria’s elBulli just a few months before it officially became the elBulli foundation.  Oh, and he’s still in high school.

This weekend, Grossman showcased his cooking skills at The Feast’s Pop Art Pop-Up dinner in the Sanctuary Hotel.  You may remember that Seamus Mullen, who was the opening chef at Boqueria, cooked at their first pop up dinner.  So Grossman’s in impressive company. The menu for Grossman’s restaurant, which ran from March 10th to Saturday, March 12th, was inspired by artists, like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. This was an ideal gig for Grossman, a serious art enthusiast who wants his dishes to be as appealing to the eye as they are to the palate.  “As a cook, to be able to engage in a creative process like this was an unbelievable learning experience,” Grossman says.  He pulled off a four-course dinner with a frozen carrot amuse bouche and Lichtenstein’s “meat,” mingling sirloin and foie gras.

What kind of restaurants did your parents take you to growing up?
I never really got to eat at any unbelievable restaurants when I was young, but my parents always tried to get me to eat things that some kids normally wouldn’t. It definitely allowed me to be aware and appreciative of different foods at a young age.

Do you do most of the cooking in your house or do your parents handle the load?    
My dad works out of New York the entire week, so the “typical” family meal isn’t really the norm in our apartment. And as is the case in most New York City situations, we don’t really have the space to cook.

What’s your favorite comfort food?
Noodles. Pho, ramen, soba, etc.

Why did you decide to start catering in the Hamptons?
It essentially started as cooking prepared foods with a few friends. It was basically sort of a side job.

Do you plan on running the company again this summer?
No, I don’t live in the Hamptons, and definitely would not be able to compete with any sort of large, corporate-driven catering company that has investment and a crew backing it.

You just returned from visiting with Ferran Adria. What’s the most valuable thing you learned from him?   
I had been saving up to try to go to Spain for a few years, and it was the most unbelievable experience of my life. I can’t even describe the meal at elBulli in words. The three or so hours that I spent at the restaurant changed my view of cooking. One thing that shocked me about the menu this year, in comparison to many other dishes that I have seen in past literature, is that simplicity is truly important. It was a constant theme throughout the meal.

Tell us about some of the dishes you’ve got planned for your multi-course dinner?   Which paintings inspired them?
I was literally so thrilled to get to participate in this process. As a cook, to be able to engage in a creative process like this was an unbelievable learning experience. When I was asked f I could try to do something like this, I really didn’t know the scope of what the concept was, but some really cool concepts came out of the discussion. The amuse bouche is going to be visually paired with Jeff Koons’ “balloon dog (orange)”. It was really interesting to try to pair something with it, and we were really satisfied with the results.

Do you plan to dabble in molecular gastronomy at the pop up?
 I could give a million reasons why that term isn’t applicable in describing techniques that are used in the kitchen, but if referring to Hydrocolloid, modern equipment or Sous-Vide use, then, yes. Sous-Vide is hardly a modern technique anymore, though we will use it on the savory side.

Have you taken any formal art classes?
No, I have not had any formal education, but am very interested in the art world.

Who is your favorite artist? 
I am a huge fan of Agam, Vasarely and Dali, to narrow it to just a few.

Do you consider cooking more of an art or a craft? 
I haven’t really thought much about art versus craft In cooking, but I truly feel that is a combination of the two. Many aspects are that of practice and applied knowledge, taking the role of a craft, but cooking also requires a creative and abstract thought process. That’s why I believe that it is a balance of art and craft.

Is it difficult to balance your cooking career with high school and everyday teenage activities?
Absolutely. I find it difficult to explain to others, but from right after school onward, it’s all culinary-related work. During school it’s difficult to tap out, and my life basically becomes consumed with three completely different states of mind. It’s difficult, stressful at times, and always interesting, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What part of the city do you live and what are some of your favorite eateries there?
I live in the western part of the garment district, close to the Port Authority. There isn’t much to eat in the area, but there’s a Bon Chon chicken just a few blocks east which is always good for a late night snack, and a wealth of restaurants like a 15 minute walk away in Hell’s Kitchen.

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