From Lespinasse to Le Cirque, Andrew Carmellini cut his teeth at some of New York’s best restaurants before winning two James Beard Awards at Café Boulud, earning accolades for his American hit, The Dutch, and opening Locanda Verde at the request of one Mr. Robert De Niro. Add the recently opened Lafayette, a French brasserie-style eatery in New York with two hot-selling cookbooks written with his wife, Gwen Hyman, and you’ve got one big name. Big enough to host two top events at this month’s Food Network’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival, including Chicken Coupe with Andrew Carmellini and Ocean Liner Dinner with pals Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud.
HL: You came up through the ranks working with Daniel Boulud. What was that like?
AC: I was 28 years old when Daniel hired me to be the chef de cuisine at Café Boulud. I’d had 10 good years under my belt cooking all over, including Italy and France, and I thought I was ready to go off and do my own thing. What Daniel really taught me about the most was the business end of being a chef. He really let me run the kitchen and I learned so much over the course of those six years about growth and maintaining quality and identity.
HL: You were his Chef de Cuisine, what do you look for when you hire a Chef de Cuisine for your restaurants?
AC: It’s very challenging, the biggest part of it is finding someone that can relate to your vision, adopt it themselves, and execute it seamlessly. It’s about finding someone who is really on your wavelength.
HL: Is it different cooking at a restaurant you own as opposed to work for?
AC: Sure, it’s the meaning of being invested, literally. I am a chef and owner in all of my restaurants.
HL: As a chef you have risen to the top, what separates good chefs from the truly great chefs?
AC:The truly great chefs are life-long students.
HL: What is the most important thing in the kitchen?
AC: Fire! And respect.
HL: You’re from Ohio, does that play into your passion for good American food?
AC: I owe it to my family most of all. I went on road trip adventures with my dad to and from his family’s place in Florida. My Grandma’s sour orange pies made from her trees out back down there. I also enjoyed when my uncle’s garage that became a salumi and grappa making den every year, and all those trips to Cleveland’s West Side Market with mom. All of those things contributed for sure.
HL: What is your favorite “coupe” of champagne?
AC: It’s all delicious but we really love Billecart-Salmon.
HL: How are you going to work with the other big names on the roster at the Ocean Liner Dinner?
AC: We’re going to have a lot of fun, I’m making old-school Pithivier of Pheasant for my course.
HL: What do you enjoy about / take away from the SOBEWFF?
AC:I’ll say this – nothing sucks about having to leave New York City in the middle of February to go to South Beach for five days.