Thursday, December 13, 2012

Macy's Culinary Council featuring Iron Chef Mark Forgione

Macy's Culinary Council Kitchen
at Dadeland Mall
I bet when you think of Macy's, you think of the red star, Miracle on 34th Street and the Thanksgiving Day Parade. But there is something else that Macy's is famous for and that is Macy's Culinary Council; an exclusive panel of expert, renowned chefs from across the country that provide culinary advice and in-store cooking demonstrations; inspiring us to bring the wow factor to our own dining room tables. Founded in 2003, the council is made up of big names like Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Cat Cora, and Miami's very own Michelle Bernstein, just to name a few. This past Saturday, Marc Forgione, owner of Marc Forgione in New York City and one of the youngest American born chefs to receive a Michelin star in consecutive years (2010, 2011, 2012) was featured in Macy's Dadeland Mall. I had the opportunity not only to attend his culinary demonstration and get a taste of Forgione's mouth-watering recipes, but also to interview this incredible individual whose impressive talent in the kitchen is only paralleled by his extraordinary charisma and personality.

With renowned chef Marc Forgione

In the Green Room
Although I was awed by the fact that I was sitting across The Next Iron Chef's Third Season Winner, Forgiones' relaxed demeanor put me totally at ease. We briefly chatted about his experience in The Next Iron Chef,  his father, legendary chef Larry Forgione (also known as the Godfather of American Cuisine), and what he would advise young, aspiring chefs is the key to success.

Chef Forgione stressed the importance of using organic
animals raised stress-free to enhance the flavor of foods.

Although Marc Forgione basically grew up around his father's kitchen (critically acclaimed restaurant, An American Place) he took his time deciding what he wanted to do in life. Like most teenagers, he toyed around with the idea of becoming a rock star, studied psychology in college, and then switched over to Forestry. "I wanted to live in the woods and wear tie-dye all the time," said Forgione in his usual charming style. Then came his junior year and with it, a tradition between him and his friends, Five Dollars and a Dream, where they'd all chip in money and Forgione would shop for ingredients and cook. It didn't take him long to realize that he found more fun in cooking, than in stressing over tests.

However, it wasn't until he moved to France for some reflection and to diversify his experience, that Forgione decided this is what he wanted to do professionally. He worked at three of acclaimed Chef Michel Guerard's restaurants in Eugenie Le Bains and shortly after, the knew his calling. Once Forgione returned to New York, he worked as Chef de Cuisine at BLT Prime and went on to be named Corporate Chef for the BLT Restaurant Group. In June 2008, Forgione opened his first restaurant, Restaurant Marc Forgione, along with partner Christopher Blumlo, serving their signature style of contemporary food and drink.  In 2010, he was crowned the winner on Season Three of The Next Iron Chef show on The Food Network. In the Spring of this year, Forgione opened American Cut at Atlantic City's Revel Resort, redefining the steakhouse experience and paying homage to his father's An American Place through the similarities in the restaurants' names.

I asked Forgione what inspired him to find his own identity in the kitchen after having such a culinary legend for a father. He responded, "Growing up with my dad, brothers and sisters, I didn't truly think about how big my father was. He was just my dad. We worked together and I enjoyed cooking. I learned not to follow but just to cook. My turning moment occurred when I was alone in France. My goals shifted and all I wanted to do when I got back was continue to carry on my father's great name in my own cooking." We talked a bit about his experience and win in The Next Iron Chef and I asked Forgione what was the most challenging aspect of the competition. He thought for a moment and said, "Although it is challenging in many ways - from the physical exertion of the cooking to the emotional drive to win - to me, the biggest toll is mental. If you make it to the finals, you are constantly thinking ahead to the next dish you are going to cook during the six weeks. You go back to the videotape, your body collapses; you're basically a 'lab-rat' of sorts."

Finally, I asked Forgione that after receiving such highly coveted honors at such a young age, what would he advise an aspiring young chef is the key to success. "I would tell him or her how important it is to really be in the kitchen. Sometimes young cooks want to start off by getting a PR person, and skip all the steps; forgetting they have to pay their dues and work hard. The first three years of my career, I was literally in the kitchen 6 days a week, 13 hours a day. No dish was left untouched by me. All the chefs in Macy's Culinary Council have done the same; working very hard for many years. This is the key to success."

Truffle-stuffed Bell and Evans Chicken,
Natural Jus
Sunchoked Spinach with Farm Fresh
Eggs and Bacon
And successful he is. From here, we went over to the culinary demonstration, and I enjoyed the ease in which he prepared the food and the engagement he encouraged from the audience. The recipes came from The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook; a collection of over 80 recipes from the 13 all-star chefs in the council.  Forgione chose his Truffle-Stuffed Bell and Evans Chicken, Natural Jus, demonstrating how to stuff the chicken just under the skin to infuse more flavor while keeping the breast moist and the skin crispy. It was spectacular. He accompanied the dish with Sunchoked Spinach with Farm Fresh Eggs and Bacon. With this dish, he took us back to his time at The Next Iron Chef, where the finale's theme was Thanksgiving. He decided to come up with a 1621 harvest menu using ingredients that were available during the first feast. Sunchokes were one of them. Who knew?  To culminate his culinary demonstration, he prepared the most decadent and delicious Pecan Pie Bread Pudding I have ever had, served with Banana Jameson Ice Cream. It was so incredible, I had to indulge in an extra serving.

Pecan Pie Bread Pudding with Banana Jameson
While he cooked, Forgione shared some insights. He explained that when asked to name one ingredient he absolutely needed to have during the holidays, his first thought was that more than anything else, what he needed were the people he loved around him. He also told us one of the first things he learned how to cook, and his favorite family dish was Maple Whipped Sweet Potatoes. Can I come over some time? Finally, we learned how to poach an egg "properly", that he loves bacon and uses it in many of his dishes, and that his philosophy is that the difference between a good cook and a great cook, is salt, pepper and patience.

Well Marc Forgione, after tasting your cuisine and getting a chance to chat with you, I know exactly why you are an Iron Chef. I can't wait to visit your restaurant on my next trip to NYC.

Next time you hear of a Culinary Council cooking demonstration being held by one of these fabulous chefs in your area, I highly recommend taking part in it. Yes, Virginia, this holiday season, Macy's gave me A Million Reasons (or at least 13 culinary masters) To Believe....

I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with compensation for this post about Macy's Culinary Council. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.

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