Place of birth:
The inspiration to make food your business: Cooking is the only profession I've ever had, and I am grateful that I get paid to do what I love and am deeply passionate about — anything else seems like torture.
The road that led you to FreshDirect:
After studying at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School (now I.C.E.), I started cooking my way through various New York City kitchens. My first job while still in cooking school was at Oceana. This was when anything less than a 6-day work-week wasn't even a consideration. I was paid $300 a week, and I was the first woman to work in that kitchen (boy, times have changed!). Later, I worked my way through the kitchen at C.T. until I was Chef Claude Troisgros's sous chef. I was very determined to work at Nobu after this (it wasn't easy getting through the door), and after finally proving myself there — working through the stations and learning the "Nobu Way" — I had the honor of being asked to be head kitchen chef at Nobu Next Door. When Laurent Tourondel returned from his stint in Vegas, he asked me to work with him again (he was my Chef de Cuisine at C.T.) to open Cello, which was an instant critical success! After that I found a real passion for the über-seasonal as the chef of Nicole's.
The secret of your success: I've been fortunate enough to have had creative freedom throughout my career, whether I've wanted it or not. At first that freedom was terrifying, but at some point something clicked and I've never looked back; I let intuition take over and became comfortable with making mistakes. I'm self-motivated so working hard has never been a challenge for me; hard work is the bottom line in this profession.
The most satisfying thing about what you do: The biggest challenge for me has been the transition of adjusting my thinking from small, fine-dining restaurants to large-scale, mass production. Honestly, I had barely touched a microwave when I first started working here. And now I make full meals in them with amazing results! To wrap my brain around the scale of what we do and believe that we can execute on this level of excellence has been a hump. The philosophies behind fine dining versus mass production are completely different, and I've had the opportunity to travel between both worlds and bridge the gap as I see fit.
The reason why the food you make is better and fresher than anyone else's: At FreshDirect we buy direct from the source in many areas. We really do start from a place that's better than others (local, seasonal, whole muscle, just-caught, just-picked, etc.), which translates into better prepared foods. We are hands-on, highly experienced and totally dedicated to the best possible end result.
Favorite thing to eat: Seasonal Japanese.
Favorite thing to cook: I have no singular favorite thing to cook; I love many things. When you make the conscious choice to cook with the best available ingredients, it's easy to let the food shine for what it is. Good is good.
Your perfect last meal: Food that reminds me of my summers growing up: The best rib-eye I could get my hands on. A salt-baked potato, mostly just the skin (with 200 pounds of butter). Local corn on the cob (with 200 more pounds of butter). Now add coarse sea salt and pepper, more salt than pepper. For dessert, strawberry shortcake or pineapple upside-down cake (with the stupid cherry and all). Or maybe even both.
Favorite restaurant: I don't have a single favorite meal or restaurant, but there are elements of meals that really stick out. To name a few: Sitting in front of Tomita at the sushi bar at Nobu and having omakase; eating at and meeting Tetsuya in Sydney; being a guest of Robert and Margrit Mondavi (and their dog, Luce) at the French Laundry and not being able to eat one more thing after the fourth dessert course (preceded by, like, 15 savory courses!); beachside, salt-cooked slabs of beef in Brazil with my family; locals-only kabob house in Beyoglu, Istanbul; a tasting menu prepared for us and enjoyed with us by the chef at Ciya in Kadikoy, Turkey.
The biggest change in the food world in the last 20 years: The idea that cooking is easy, glamorous, uncomplicated. Cooking professionally is physically grueling. All of the recent "rock star chef" stuff gives people considering the business the wrong impression; attending cooking school does not signify chef status and paying dues is still important — the most important. So many restaurants fail because people go into thinking it will be easy, a "dinner party"; once reality (hard, hard work) sets in, it's over. The financial means to eat out often doesn't make you a food expert, and just showing up in the kitchen doesn't make you a chef.
Best cooking tip: The smallest amount of extra effort is what tips the scale to transform food from good to great — and it's what makes the difference. Go the distance for the best ingredients. Spend the time to do the best mis en place. If there is a problem (over-seasoned, burned, overcooked) — start over.
Favorite food quote: "Kick ze ass of ze guy." –Laurent Tourondel. Sometimes to get things done, you just have to put your head down, move forward no matter what and kick some ass.