Cesare Casella the Latest Chef Onboard the UWS Bandwagon
The Upper West Side — flush with Dovetail’s success; the boffo business at Kefi , Cesca , and Ouest ; and with Fatty Crab II on the way — seems to be — of all places — the hot restaurant neighborhood du jour. And the next chef heading northwest? Tuscan toque Cesare Casella, who has a lease on a 1000-square-foot space on West 73rd Street. The Maremma chef, who leads the Italian program at the French Culinary Institute, is also seeking to acquire an adjacent storefront. “If we can do that, we will have an Italian restaurant, but not a Tuscan cowboy one,” Casella says. “I have to represent all of Italy, the way I teach at FCI. If we stay with the small space, it will be Bean Bar or something like it.” Bean Bar is the Tuscan takeout bean operation Casella has wanted to open at Grand Central since last May. His new space won’t be ready till fall or next winter at the earliest.
Related: Cesare Casella Jumps to Launch Bean Bar in Grand Central
Italian Chefs Just Can’t Agree on How to Make Carbonara
So you think you know spaghetti carbonara? You don’t know spaghetti carbonara. That is the theme of the Italian chef coalition ITChefs – GVCI’s current campaign to educate New Yorkers about the classic dish. TChefs – GVCI’, which stands for Virtual Group of Italian Chefs, is charging four of the city’s top Italian chefs to make it exactly according to the “authentic” recipe for one night. On Thursday, Cesare Casella of Maremma, Mark Ladner of Del Posto, Kevin Garcia of Accademia de Vino, and Ivan Beacco of Borgo Antico, will make the dish according to the master recipe approved by ITChefs – GVCI. Or will they? Like every traditional recipe in every cuisine, “authentic” carbonara changes with every chef that makes it.
Chef Centerfold Calendar Ready for 2008
We just got our copy of the Gourmet Institute calendar, and though we expected it to be pretty good (the pictures are by My Last Supper author Melanie Dunea), it turns out to be almost surreal. Dunea really gets the the absurdity of chef glamour shots, but rather than try to tone down the portraits, she folds her insight back into the photograph. The pictures are so high-concept that they transcend their original food-porn purposes. Brilliant! The calendar, which helps to support City Meals on Wheels, features twelve big-shot chefs in her signature style, and includes such awesome shots as Maremma’s Cesare Casella in a cowboy suit, looking like a tough Tuscan sheriff of the plains; Esca’s David Pasternack, looking totally looped, pouring liquor into the mouth of his fish companion; and Barbuto’s Jonathan Waxman, throwing what we hope is flour around in a gleeful, Tony Montana–like spree.
The Chefs of the Gourmet Institute 2008 Calendar
Related: Eating the Last Supper
Russian Tea Room Hires Marc Taxiera As ChefThe Russian Tea Room has found itself a new chef: former Beppe boss Marc Taxiera. Only in his first few weeks there, Taxiera is already revamping the menu, which has been in a state of suspended animation since former chef Gary Robins got the mitten in February. Taxiera has flown under the radar a little but is actually one of the more talented young chefs in town: Despite having no experience other than an ICE externship at Felidia and a job on the line at Baldoria, he did so well at Beppe that he was promoted from within when chef Cesare Casella left the restaurant to concentrate his energies on Maremma. Even though it’s on what is usually thought of as a cursed street, Beppe continued to flourish, owing largely to Taxiera’s smart, muscular menu. Whether all that translates into Russian is another story, but it’s a smart move for the embattled Russian Tea Room.
Related: Russian Tea Room Fires Gary Robins, and Robins Fires Back
Back of the House
Progressive Purveyor Cornering the Market on Boutique Meat
Like Old MacDonald’s farm, which had a duck duck here and a duck duck there, the web of artisanal-meat sources has been spread pretty wide. There’s no central terminal, no Union Square Greenmarket where the best small-farm beef, pork, and lamb congregates; and the lack of infrastructure has been holding up the works as New York’s best restaurants move from generic commodity meat to the Haute Barnyard versions preferred by chefs. Now, though, Pat LaFrieda, the city’s most progressive wholesale meat supplier, is quickly becoming the source of “boutique” meats.
Cesare Casella Jumps to Launch Bean Bar in Grand CentralCesare Casella of Maremma is known for his way with livestock (we’ve written of his specialty breed of pigs and his much-prized Chianina cattle herd). However the Tuscan-cooking guru made his first big product splash with his Republic of Beans import company, and he’s now looking to get back into the beans business. Casella is in negotiations to open Bean Bar, a carryout shop in Grand Central Station that will sell some of his signature Tuscan bean dishes as well as uncooked beans and possibly other Italian products. “The main idea is to have cooked beans,” Casella tells us. “They’re great and so healthy, but for many people, they are a pain in the ass to cook. I want them to be able to take home beans when they go home on the train.” Families around the tri-state area will definitely be thanking Casella for that.
Beard After-parties: Hawaiian Tropic Zone, Momofuku Party Bus, MoreThe James Beard Awards after-parties presented special challenges which could only be solved by the liberal use of an open bar. The place to go was the Hawaiian Tropic Zone, whose bikini-clad waitresses and go-go dancers, serving at the behest of chef David Burke, provided a welcome dose of vulgarity after the high-class Beard gala. But the truly hot ticket was the Momofuku party bus, which, if David Chang & Co. were to be believed, was a chartered party vehicle where the most intense celebrating would be done. Regretfully, though, it was closed to press. “Sorry, dude,” David Chang told us, dazed and blissful and still unbelieving in the wake of his victory.
Back of the House
Time to Fill Out Our James Beard BracketsThe nominations for the James Beard Foundation Awards, the Oscars of the restaurant industry, will be announced Monday morning. We’ll report on that as it happens, but for now, here are picks for the main categories from Adam Platt, Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, and Josh Ozersky. Our choices are admittedly New York–centric (the awards go to restaurants across the country), but the ceremony is held here, and the city always looms large in the proceedings.
What to Eat Tonight
A Very Special All-Pork ProgramWelcome to a Very Special Episode of Grub Street. In honor of National Pork Day, we’re going to turn back the clock and look at some of the most memorable pork moments from our first six and a half months. We remember them as if they were yesterday …
What to Eat Tonight
Ultraluxe Cattle Stampede Into Maremma
Few chefs in New York are more in tune with animals than Cesare Casella; he’s even developing a new breed of pigs, as we recently pointed out. But tonight at Maremma, he’ll be serving something even more special: purebred Italian Chianina beef, from his Tutto Bene ranch upstate. Chianina are the classic Italian cows; no bistecca fiorentina made from Black Angus or other British breeds can truly be considered authentic. Supplies are limited, so you’re not guaranteed a steak, but the restaurant will also be offering Chianina carpaccio and a ragù made from the aged beef. We sampled each preparation last night; the meat is extraordinarily lean, with a light, delicate texture reminiscent of veal. Call 212-645-0200 now for dinner reservations.
Grub Street Meets ‘Food Talk’Just in case you weren’t tuned in to WOR this morning, we thought we’d let you know that “Food Talk” host Mike Colameco had us on his show and that you can hear our conversation by going here (click on “Food Talk November 28” in the lower-left corner of the page). We covered classic Grub Street topics like Bar-B-Jews, Cesare Casella’s zoological experiments, and plans for a bollito misto debauch. So rest your eyes and give it a listen.
What to Eat This Week
Heritage Pigs: So Much Tasty History
After our recent pilgrimage to upstate New York for a first look at the next stage in pig evolution, courtesy of Cesare Casella, we started thinking about the places serving breeds that have been around for centuries — the so-called “heritage” pigs whose noble lineage makes them extra-tasty.
Cesare Casella Invents a New Pig!A lot of chefs — particularly of the Haute Barnyard breed — advertise their love of farms. But how many actually mastermind a breeding program, and then invite other chefs to the country to see the results? Cesare Casella, the Tuscan cook behind Maremma, has been breeding two types of pigs (and snow-white Chianina cattle) at Stonewall Preserve upstate. On Monday, he invited Mark Ladner of Del Posto, April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig, Zak Pelaccio of Fatty Crab, Kevin Garcia of ‘Cesca, and Mary Ellen Heavner of 5 Ninth to come up and sample the Stonewall pig.
Chef Plans to Build a Better PigCesare Casella has always been a hands-on kind of guy. The Maremma chef, a leading light of Tuscan cookery in America, imports his own beans and makes his own sausages. It only follows, then, that sooner or later he’d invent his own pig. Casella is breeding the Large Black, the tastiest breed of swine we’ve ever eaten, with a Yorkshire-Duroc crossbreed, the most durable and healthy. Their offspring are being mated with Large Blacks, creating a pig that grows fast, lives long, causes little trouble, and tastes better than you can imagine — or at least, that’s the idea. The pigs will appear first at Maremma — after the current generation, which is still young, begins producing offspring at the end of this year or in early ‘07 — and later at other restaurants around town.
Lots of chefs create new pork dishes, but how many create new pigs? (It’s almost like Pygmalion. Except Higgins never ate Eliza.)