Q & A with The Fourth’s Marco Moreira and Jason Hall
What could be better than having one, wonderfully talented chef in the kitchen? How about having two?
The Fourth’s Marco Moreira, also the driving force behind the terrific Tocqueville, and sushi mecca 15 East, recently took on Jason Hall as his second in command. But Hall is hardly your run-of-the-mill assistant. Alfred Portale made him his own chef de cuisine at Gotham Bar and Grill back in 2009, and he’s actually held an executive chef post since 2011, at restaurants within John DeLucie’s hospitality group, such as The Lion, Crown and Bill’s Food and Drink.
So what made him decide to leave and join the team at The Fourth, a sexy, greenmarket-focused restaurant and lounge, located in the stylishly appointed Hyatt at Union Square? “I’ve known Marco and his wife (Jo-Ann Makovitsky) to be really respected and successful operators for some time now,” Hall explains. “The Fourth is a big footprint in a great neighborhood, right by the greenmarket. That direct connection to amazing ingredients is so valuable.”
“And big picture, there’s so much growth possibility for Fourth Avenue,” he continues. “Broadway and University Streets are pretty consistent, but The Fourth is such a leading contributor to the evolution of the immediate neighborhood.”
Together, Moreira and Hall are making the previously fine dining-deprived strip a true destination for farmers market-inspired dishes, like Crispy Baby Artichokes, Asparagus with Squire Hill Egg, Zucchini Risotto with Squash Blossoms, and Hearth-Roasted Berkshire Pork with Green Garlic, Mustard Greens & Dates. “It’s been an organic approach to just overall make things more seasonal,” Hall says of their collaboration. “Hotel restaurants can be misconstrued as needing to have a Turkey Club and stuff like that. We’ve enhanced the housemade pasta program, and are now making Whole Wheat Fettuccini and Ricotta Gnudi. We’ve brought simple vegetable preparations to the menu as well like our Spring Salad, which is just a bowl of the best spring greens.”
We also chatted with the dynamic duo about their personal culinary styles, the advice they’d give to chefs just starting out, and what they find most exciting (and occasionally, frustrating!) about being a part of the New York dining scene.
What do you think you would have become in life, if not a chef?
Marco Moreira: An architect.
What job would you say really kick-started your career?
MM: When I was five years old, I was celebrating my birthday in a restaurant. The waiter allowed me to wait on tables for the night. I got to serve customers and wear a napkin on my sleeve. It was a great time.
Jason Hall: My internship at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco.
Can you describe your personal culinary style and point of view?
MM: I like for the ingredients to speak for themselves. Less is more. But at the same time, my food must have an element of surprise and inspiration. I don’t like confusing food.
JH: Marco and I cook what’s available and what’s good right now. With that seasonal approach, you have to be patient when sourcing your ingredients.
Marco, how does The Fourth continue the legacy you started with places like Tocqueville and 15 East?
MM: Like at Tocqueville and 15 East, the greenmarket is our neighbor. So it’s the same philosophy, but at The Fourth things are less formal. Our doors are always open.
What made you decide to hire Jason? Since you’re still executive chef, how does your collaboration work in the kitchen?
MM: Jason has the same background as me in locavore restaurants. We share the same philosophy in the kitchen. We’re constantly collaborating, developing the menu together and brainstorming. We play with ideas and make them approachable and interesting.
What elements of the menu were you hoping Jason would change/contribute to, and what did you insist on keeping as is?
MM: Jason has updated the menu at The Fourth, making it cleaner and fresher. My years of experience know what will be a hit on the menu, and together, when we create a new dish we play to both our strengths.
Jason, you’ve worked for some incredible food luminaries. Can you share the best bits of advice you’ve taken away from some of them?
JH: Try to keep things really clean and simple in your approach to cooking. Cook for your customers and not for yourself.
Why, instead of hiring internally, do you think that Alfred Portale tagged you as his new chef de cuisine at Gotham Bar and Grill?
JH: It was just the right timing to bring in outside talent. It’s such an institution at Gotham, and I just think they wanted a fresh set of eyes on the menu.
If you were to eat at The Fourth as a guest, what would you order and why?
MM: I’d start with the Butcher’s Block (which includes charcuterie, a jar of foie gras, and olives), to be shared and nibbled on. Then, I’d move on to the Asparagus & Squire Hill Egg Salad. I love farm-fresh eggs, and in-season asparagus is great. Then I’d get the steak with a nice bottle of Bordeaux. And for dessert, Pastry Chef Mauro’s Strawberries with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and Basil Granite. It’s a light finish but satisfying.
What are some current culinary trends that you really embrace, and which do you wish would just die already?
MM: I’m not into molecular gastronomy. I embrace South American cuisine – I’m from Brazil. My upcoming restaurant, Botequim, epitomizes everything about the culinary world I wish to embrace.
What ingredients do you feel are particularly overrated, and which do you think are underrated?
MM: Overrated – Kobe Beef. Underrated – Bananas and Eggs.
What do you think is the most exciting, and maybe most difficult or frustrating, about being a part of the NYC dining scene?
MM: It’s exciting to have the best ingredients around us. Our restaurants are right by the greenmarket, and I’m so fortunate to have that. It’s exciting to cater to a clientele that expects the best and has a high standard. What’s frustrating is that no matter what you put on the menu, if you put a burger on, it’s automatically #1!
What advice would you give to chefs just starting out in this industry?
MM: No one is an overnight success. It takes planning and time. You have to eat out often and take advantage of things like Restaurant Week. Do stages in your free time. Try your best, and don’t make excuses.
JH: Be a cook for as long as you can.
What would you consider your greatest personal achievement in your career thus far, and what are some life goals you’re still working towards?
MM: I try to be a good mentor and to treat my team fairly. I’m proud of that. My goal is to continue to operate our restaurants honestly, and this goal will continue with Botequim.