The Grub Street Diet

Hearth Chef Marco Canora Squashes Chips Into His Sandwiches, Can’t Get Enough Toast

Canora, and some Japanese-style fried chicken at Hearth.
Canora, and some Japanese-style fried chicken at Hearth. Photo: Melissa Hom

Chef Marco Canora — who yesterday was named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s best chef in New York City award — calls his East Village restaurant, Hearth, “the closest to a mom-and-pop restaurant that I think you’ll find in New York.” He adds, “It’s very much a family here, and that’s why I love it. That’s why I spend so much time here. I think it’s why so many of our employees don’t leave.” That might just sound like Canora singing his own praises, but the decorated chef, and former contestant on Food Network’s Next Iron Chef, says there’s something besides his restaurant that he loves above all else: toast. Wait, toast? “I will go out on a limb and say I love every kind of bread and butter there is,” Canora tell us. “Even if it’s toasted Wonder; I love it. It’s been my favorite food for my whole life.” And he makes sure to get it every chance he can (i.e., every day). Read on for tales of toast and more in this week’s New York Diet.

Friday, February 11
Like every other weekday, the first thing I pour down my gullet is coffee. All of you coffee aficionados out there plug your ears and cover your eyes: Gold Coast blend from Starbucks, made in a drip coffee system, with just a little bit of 2 percent milk. Then I’m off to the gym for an hour, and upon my return I down a twelve-ounce protein smoothie thing. My wife makes it every morning, and then there’s half of it left for me when I get up. We basically bought some frozen, organic fruit and all this stuff to put in it, and through trial and error we’ve figured out something that we like. It’s made with greens powder, flaxseed, frozen fruit, almond butter, chia seeds, cinnamon, and whey-protein powder. We were using almond milk for a while, then we changed to water and almond butter, and that was kind of cool. You know, whatever. It’s been a work in progress.

The next thing I ate was a picante soppresatta pizza pie from Motorino. I’ve had the margherita, and I’ve had the marinara and stuff, but I like that one the best. I’m a sucker for spicy salumi. The waitress tells me it will be cheaper if I get the “lunch special,” a pie and a salad or soup, so I got the broccoli soup, which was like a puree of broccoli, with probably cream in it. How and why more food costs less money will remain a mystery. The pizza there is so good I pretty much have a pie a month.

I had more coffee at work, this time La Colombe. I use whole milk at work. I have no problem with whole milk. I use 2 percent at home because that’s what my wife buys. We got fresh Sullivan Street Bakery bread delivered to Hearth, and I couldn’t help myself. I must have a bread and butter sandwich with salt, which seriously might be my most favorite thing to eat on the planet. Bread and butter, or even better toasted bread with butter. I cannot tell you enough. My whole cooking career — I love nothing more than toasting a piece of bread, and putting butter on it, and a sprinkle of salt. I just fucking … I love it, I love it, I love it. I can’t get enough of it.

Next, Eric Blanz from Liberty Wines stopped by to taste with Paul Grieco and happened to pull out some Epoisses cheese from Burgundy, the raw-milk variety that was smuggled in by someone unknown. I ate a couple ounces, which were washed down with Dr. Crusius Spatlese Riesling. Both the wine and the cheese are what dreams are made of. The last seven years, I’ve learned so much about wine. I am just so fascinated and in love with the world of wine. I think it’s one of the coolest things ever. I definitely attribute that to my partnership with Paul.

I also ate some raw sepia and octopus samples from the Canary Islands off the southern coast of Spain. Really fantastic stuff. I’ll probably get it on the menu soon. I taste a lot. It’s really an important thing to me, to make sure I’m tasting everything as it leaves the kitchen, so, man, if I wrote down everything I tasted it would be way too long and tedious. Then I had more coffee, and a small slice of olive-oil cake from Terroir East Village. I drink a lot of coffee.

For family meal, the meat roast guy puts up a protein, the middle guy puts up a starch, and the garde manger person puts up a salad. There’s a system, you know. Friday was arroz con pollo and a salad, and a mini Diet Coke in the thick glass bottle poured over ice.

The blessing and the curse of being the chef is that I can walk into the pastry department and eat whatever I want whenever I want. Friday it was a slice of pecan tart.

Post-service cocktail was two Aviations, my drink of choice. It’s Plymouth gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice, and crème de violette. Oh my God, I’m telling you, if you can find someone to make you a good one, because it’s not easy to do, it is so — in my mind, the perfect cocktail. The bartender always does, and it’s always a little game, like, let’s see how perfect you can make the Aviation. The highest compliment I give them is, “It’s so close to perfect.” Because we never reach perfection, right? I constantly fuck with those guys and girls.

Saturday, February 12
Coffee in the morning, then the La Paulee tasting at Metropolitan Pavilion. Drinking wine is a great way to start the day, especially when it’s the best Burgundies in the world. La Paulee is pretty much beatified by the cork dorks of the world; one of the most important wine tastings in the country, in the world. I’ll even go out and say in the world, really. It’s huge. The biggest wine event of the year. It was awesome. The wines that they pour there are fucking off the charts delicious. These are wines that would be on a restaurant wine list for like, $1,000, $2,000, maybe even more for some of them. Producers like La Flaive, Fougeray de Beauclair, Roumier, and many others. So to get an opportunity to taste crazy wine like that is really special. I probably tasted twenty different wines. They ask a few places to do food tables, because these guys need to have something to snack on while they’re tasting their Burgundies. The corned wagyu brisket at the Craft table was beyond delicious. I had a half a dozen single-bite meatball sandwiches at Terroir table, a charcuterie tasting at the Bar Boulud table, beef tartare at the Prime Meats table, and boeuf Bourguignon at De Braga.

Off to work, where I needed to juice up on lots of coffee to counteract the late-afternoon wine-buzz-slash-coma I was in. Family meal was penne bolognese and salad. Pre-service we had to put up a new Valentine’s Day tasting menu, and I ate a big bite of each dish. We had a Nantucket bay scallop first course, with blood oranges, escarole hearts, and pistachio. Then we did a black bass with a play on borscht, with bone marrow, and then we had a chitarra pasta with black truffles and butter and Parmesan, and then we had lamb two ways. We had rack, and osso bucco of lamb with preserved lemon, black olives, and artichokes. So we put up one of each so we could look at it, plate it, and taste it. I like to just fuck around with plating because it’s just fun to play with it and change it and look at it. It’s just fun. We don’t typically put up food and taste it like that. It was kind of a special night because it was a brand-new tasting menu and we wanted to make sure everyone was on board, because it was going to be a busy night. We didn’t taste it, but dessert was a red-velvet chocolate soufflé.

I had a post-service Aviation, sat with some friends who came into dinner, and had bites of a few of our desserts. I call it quality control, but that’s just a way to justify my addiction to sugar. After that, I was off to the La Paulee after-party at Colicchio & Sons, where I had three pints of Stoudts Gold Lager and some tasty 2 a.m. salumi snacks.

Sunday, February 13
Sunday morning usually begins with blueberry pancakes, lots of coffee, and maple syrup. It’s the one day during the week I get to eat breakfast with the family. After many years of trials, my wife finally nailed, in my mind, a great pancake. For a while, they weren’t. She finally found a great recipe that has cornmeal and leavening, and they’re these really light but really thick … they’re just, they’re so good. They make my Sunday morning.

Mid-afternoon lunch after the gym was two scrambled eggs — yes, they were organic — with spinach and garlic, with what I like to call “bird seed” bread toasted with butter. It’s one of these breads that has everything but flour in it. It’s made with every nut and seed on earth. It just doesn’t have any wheat flour whatsoever, but somehow it’s still bread. I have no fucking clue who makes it. It’s from Whole Foods. I don’t know the brand. I can’t remember the brand.

I took an afternoon walk with my daughter, Stella. We stopped at Joe for a couple of coconut macaroons, and I got a coffee. Then I headed to the theater district to watch an employee at Hearth in an Off Broadway play, Goons and Something. Before the curtain, my wife and I stopped at Esca for a quick glass of wine and a dozen Washington state oysters. The wine was a vernaccia from Sardegna. The show was one of these fifteen-seat theater deals. It’s closed now, unfortunately, but it was so great, man. I really loved it, and I’m not a big theater guy. It was five different comedy skits, and it wasn’t really about anything. It was just all this random stuff … I was holding my belly from laughter. It was really fantastic.

Post-play we headed to Hill Country with a bunch of guys from work: my general manager Matt Stinton; Jared, one of our bartenders; the guy who wrote the play, Fred; my wife; another waiter, Kevin. It was a restaurant group. We don’t socialize together enough, but it was really fun to do it. My wife and I ordered one pound of pork ribs, half a pound of moist brisket, one link of sausage — you’ve got to try it — and sides of baked beans, coleslaw, mac and cheese, string beans, and collards. We shared three Coronas. You know what struck me that’s perfect about that place? It’s really cool, because you sit down, and every place setting has a card, and the card is what you use to go and eat, and they stamp your card. So for large parties where you don’t want to deal with the fucking check, it’s so perfect. You get what you get, you get stamped what you’re stamped, and everybody has their own bill, essentially. It’s such a great idea, because you know the deal: You try to split it six ways, and people are like, Oh, but I didn’t drink, and blah blah blah. It’s a nightmare.

We cut a German-chocolate cupcake in four for dessert. Every one of us thought the place was fantastic.

Monday, February 14
Morning was coffee, gym, protein shake. Then a banana, a handful of raw, organic cashews, and a bread-and-butter sandwich. I’m pretty much up at nine, at the gym by ten, back by eleven-fifteen, out the door 30 minutes later. I’m at work probably by noon, twelve-thirty, then it’s only three and a half hours until family meal. There isn’t a whole lot of eating. That’s why when the bread delivery comes, I’m taking heels of freshly baked bread.

I wasn’t really feeling family meal at the restaurant — it was some wheat pasta with cauliflower and canned tomatoes. I wasn’t into it. This rabbit we have on the menu just came out of the oven, and I was like, You know what? It’s nice to be the owner sometimes. It’s super-duper classic Tuscan rabbit stew. It’s soffrito, tomato paste, white wine, assorted olives, and really good brown meat stock, and it’s braised for a couple of hours until it falls off the bone, so I had that with polenta and a salad. It’s literally one of my top three things to eat of all time. I love it.

Mondays are usually my night off, but being that it was Valentine’s Day and there were quite a few people who were coming in for an early dinner, I hung around, but I busted out early with a bottle of rosé Champagne in hand. One glass for my wife — that’s all she wanted — three glasses for me. I couldn’t let it go to waste! And some late night L.A. Burdick chocolates.

Tuesday, February 15
It’s typical morning: coffee, check. Protein shake, check. Gym, check. On the way out the door, a handful of cashews and a banana. We always have unroasted, organic cashews in the house — it’s the latest snack of choice — which are pretty delicious. I’m kind of trying to think of a way to use it in savory food at Hearth because I love them so much.

Crunchy heel of palome bread with butter, like I do every day. We were rolling a rabbit ballantine, which gets prosciutto di Parma, so there was a bunch of sliced 18-month-old prosciutto. I had to take three slices of that and put it on bread. That was kind of irresistible. Here’s another one: A server showed up to work with a bag of Garrett’s famous Chicago Cheddar and caramel popcorn. Jared, our server, walks in the door, and I guess someone gave him … imagine a typical brown-bag lunch, but the brown bag is six times the size, and it was filled with 50/50 caramel corn and Cheddar popcorn. I just fucking pounded so much of it. It was so addictive.

Then my favorite Hearth family meal, Japanese-style fried-chicken thighs. One of our line cooks named Yoshi is Japanese. We get chicken thighs in, and we bone the chicken thighs, and then he marinates them with ginger, garlic, and soy, and then he dips them in corn starch and deep fries them. It’s essentially Japanese fried chicken. It’s called tatsuta. It’s so fucking crunchy because of the corn starch, and you just serve it with lemon wedges. It is just perfect, man. I wish I could serve them, almost, at Hearth, but I don’t think I can. I could serve them at Terroir. Maybe I should look into that.

Then we went into service and the health inspector showed up and he was there for four hours. But it was worth it because we got an “A.” Later I ate a half an order of pappardelle Bolognese at the end of the night, because I felt like I deserved it because of the stressful three or four hours and getting the “A.” I typically try not to eat after service, but I had kind of a case of the Fuck-Its that night. So I was like, you know what? Fuck it. I made a nice, big plate of hot, steamy pasta and a glass of wine. We have a wine by the glass, Chateau d’Arlay. It’s 100 percent pinot noir from the Jura region of France. It’s really kind of light-bodied and earth-driven. I love it. I love it. I had an Aviation, too.

You know, in this whole thing, what I’m forgetting that we have to do a shout-out for? We have staff beer here, and it’s bottles of Miller High Life. I swear, man, I love that beer. The bartenders will put it on ice at the beginning of service, and then at the end of service, I have the coldest Miller High Life, the coldest beer ever in the history of man, because it’s been on ice for six hours. That is definitely part of my drinking routine here at the restaurant. It’s either that or my Aviation, but seldom both. All you beer dorks out there close your ears, because I think Miller High Life is fucking a great beer.

Wednesday, February 16
I had my shake; I had coffee; I had a banana again; I came into work. Then, so, I was very hungry, and I was poking around and not feeling anything, so I went across to the deli and I got what I’ve gotten probably a thousand times in my life: tuna fish on whole wheat with lettuce, and a bag of Lay’s potato chips that go into the sandwich. I think that that is just … I love that. You have to squash all the potato chips into the sandwich. And I had a cup of coffee.

Herb-roasted chicken for family meal. I really am a huge believer in family meal, and if my guys put up shit for family meal, they hear about it from me. I’ve always held it very high on the importance scale to put up something really tasty and thoughtful for family meal. I don’t tolerate crap for family meal. They’ll hear it the same way if they mess up something for the dining room. It’s their one opportunity to, as a cook, show their creativity, feed all their colleagues, and show everyone how great they are. If you’re not excited about the opportunity to show people how good you are, then you should not be in this business.

Hearth Chef Marco Canora Squashes Chips Into His Sandwiches, Can’t Get