Marc Forgione is an Iron Chef, restaurateur, and New Yorker, which by definition makes him intense three times over. But like most New Yorkers (and many chefs) he’s introspective if you slow him down for a minute, which I did earlier this month at American Cut, Forgione’s steakhouse at Atlantic City’s Revel resort.
While traveling I feel like there’s an enormous amount of pressure to eat food that’s memorable and local. What kinds of foods would you recommend to someone going to New York City?
Not to beat a dead horse, but have a real New York City slice of pizza. My favorite is Joe’s (7 Carmine St.) off Bleecker. I’ve had Banh Mi all over the place and at Saigon Bakery (198 Grand St.) they do a really good one.
And honestly, I know this might sound gross, but get a hot dog from a vendor, with a little sauerkraut and mustard on it. It’s not the best thing you’ll ever have, but there’s something about New York City, to be standing on a street corner with a hot dog in your hand, when you’re right outside Central Park and you can smell the horsesh*t. There’s just something about it. It’s not healthy, it’s not good for you, but it’s New York City for me.
No matter how much people travel, I feel like they’re very opinionated about what’s wrong with the hospitality industry. What’s the one thing that makes you nuts?
This new “trend” where servers act like they’re cooler than you. [It makes me want to say to the server] I will put you over my knee and smack you on the rear end if you don’t cut this out . . . it’s a weird, recurring “too cool for school” thing that’s been taking over the hospitality business, not everywhere, and more so in the last two or three years. In my restaurants I always tell [my servers about our customers], “talk to them, not at them.”
What has traveling done for you as a person?
Traveling in general broadens your horizons. I grew up in a small suburban Long Island town, and then I went to a private school. I was thirteen years old the first time I really got out, and I was starting to realize, “Wow, Long Island is pretty big.” And then when I left Long Island and traveled the world with a backpack, [I realized] “Wow, the world is a lot bigger than Long Island.” I think that if you never leave, that’s your world, and you don’t realize there’s a beautiful culture in Ecuador or France or Italy or anywhere, even California [he laughs].
But when I say it broadens your horizons, a lot of my traveling was done by myself and you learn a lot when you’re put into a situation you’re “uncomfortable” in. And you grow up real quick and you learn a lot about yourself while you’re learning about other cultures.
How has traveling affected your cooking and your worldview as a chef?
If you look at my style of food I don’t really have any boundaries. It’s not fusion by any means. I like to use the word American – that’s what America is, it’s the biggest melting pot in the world, basically. And I think a lot of that came from [my experiences] traveling. I might taste something like a paella in Spain and [be] blown away and I’m like, oh my God, how can I try and do something like this in my restaurant? Or when I was in Singapore and I had chili crab. And I freaked out, I lost my mind. I couldn’t believe how good this was. And now I serve a rendition of that dish here called chili lobster.
Being from New York, you think you can get these things and it [will be] the same. And I have had chili crab in New York at some very good restaurants and it wasn’t the same as that first time in Singapore, sitting outside on the river eating that chili crab. It was a life-changing experience.
Are you suggesting that part of it is the environment, like the hot dogs in New York City?
Big time. It changes your life sometimes to just have something as simple as a carbonara when you’re at a great restaurant in Rome and you don’t know why it tastes so much better, but it does.
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