The month of Sept is always a hectic time of year as it's summer's last hurrah, NYFW kicks off Fashion Month, football season begins and fall is embraced with it's transitional style and food festivities! As we finished our final show of NYFW SS19, we found ourselves enjoying Eataly's Chef Series, which is a collaboration of chefs including Chef Daniel Boulud, Chef Marc Forgione just to name a few, with Manzo's Chef Adam Hill. We took some time to talk to Chef Adam to find out about how he got into the industry, his work at Eataly's open kitchen Manzo, sourcing and sustainability and of course the Chef Collaborations.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Tell us when you knew that you wanted to be a chef.
CHEF ADAM HILL: Believe it or not, probably when I was 10 years old. I started watching this show and it was before Food Network. There was a show called Great Chefs of the USA and The World. It was a very dry show and was not at all created for a 10 year old. It wasn’t like Emeril Live and didn’t have any kind of flash to it. I remember one day in particular that my dad went out for a business meeting and he came back a little over an hour later and I was still sitting in front of the TV fascinated by it! I started cooking dinner for my family at the age of 10 or 11. My mom took a job at night and even though I was the youngest in the family, I started cooking for my 2 older brothers, my mom and my dad. From there, I just fell in love with it. I started reading cookbooks at the age of 11 or 12. It got me at a young age!
AM: That’s a huge part of your culinary journey! Where else did you go and where did you train prior to coming to Eataly?
CHEF AH: I started my Lucibello’s in West Haven, CT. I started working there at the age of 16 as a dishwasher and prep cook. I worked there for about 2.5 years while I was still in high school. I ended up working my way up to prep cook full time. From there, I did some line experience also and working the hotline – starting at a young age. I also worked at a Country Club called The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, CT and I was at The Culinary Institute of America at the Rec Center – a student run restaurant called, The Courtside Café. It was simple things for students like burgers, fries, chicken fingers and cheesesteaks. It’s things that students want to eat when it’s not part of the curriculum. Even with that, after working there a couple of months, I became Student Manager – it was a good learning experience because at the CIA every 3 weeks, you have a new class. So you might be PM for 3 weeks and then in 3 weeks you might be learning Breakfast Class which starts at midnight but ends at 8am or 9am. So every 3 weeks, our staffing would change at Courtside so I got very good at teaching people because your staff may change.
Sometimes you go from having 15 available cooks to 10 and you have to figure out how to make it work with the schedule. Maybe someone has never worked a set station and you have to teach them how to do it and to pick it up as quickly as possible. That definitely helps. When I graduated from CIA, I worked at Chipotle for 6 months and I wanted to learn how they ran their business, how they did their ordering and their overall philosophy. It was also a great experience. My whole plan was to work there as that would be the job that would pay the bills and then train at other kitchens when I had free time. But once I became a manager, they said I couldn’t do that because I needed to have open availability and if I was trailing someone when I had a day off and they needed to call me in if someone couldn’t make it – it would be a problem.
Around that same time, Eataly opened and I started working at the Flatiron location when it opened 8 years ago. I started working at Il Pesce as a line cook and became a sous chef there and then I wanted to do something new, and then about a year and a half/2 years later, I came to Manzo as a line cook and worked my way through the stations. After 2 years, I became sous chef and after about 2 years I became the chef here for 3 years. So I have been at Eataly ever since it has opened and I have been able to stay here so long because there is always something new here, a new challenge to learn and everyday, everyweek there is something new and different going on. It’s great to run your own restaurant while fitting in with the Eataly structure.
AM: What’s an average day like for you at Manzo?
CHEF AH: I don’t know if there is ever an average day especially in the restaurant business and especially at Eataly.
On average, I come in and check in with the sous chef to make sure that we’re on the same page as far as running the specials, double checking with what the line cooks are doing, always walking around and talking with everyone tasting everything to make sure it tastes right before we go into lunch or dinner service. Talking with the General Manager to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of specials and changes to the menu. As we go into service making sure that we are expediting service and that food comes together at the same time. Making sure it’s right before it goes out. As we are getting through service, making sure that we are cleaning up and that everyone is taking their breaks.
The best way to explain the difference between being a cook and a chef is that a cook is a player on the team, but when you are the chef, you have to be the coach and it’s hard for some people to make that adjustment because when you’re the chef, it’s no longer about being the best player, it’s about making sure that your players are doing the best that they can and that your cooks are as well prepared as they can be. Making sure that as a chef, we’re always teaching and always having people think about the next step and training the person behind them to make sure that they are getting ready for a new station. For example, today walking kind of slow so that the person who is on salad station is learning on veg station and maybe the person on veg station learns how to grill meat and the person on meat station begins to learn on pasta. Some of the more advanced people can do the chef thing. It’s all about teaching and making sure that the cooks know that it’s not just a job to them, but that they are learning as much as they can while they are here. In this business, when people aren’t learning, they will put in a year on their resume and they will go elsewhere. The more that you can keep them invested and buying in, it keeps them engaged and hopefully you have a good succession plan so that you have a full circle of training happening.
AM: We truly enjoyed attending a recent Chef Collaborations dinner at Eataly where the menu was created by you and Chef Gabriel Kreuther. What is the purpose of the chefs series that took place there and how did it mold the menu as you partnered with different chefs through this series?
CHEF AH: We had this idea about a year ago as we had done a renovation of Manzo’s dining room. The kitchen is now in the dining room and it was an idea to help cross promote Manzo as well as the guest chefs, with some of the proceeds going to charity. It was a great opportunity for our guest chefs as well as for me to work with them to learn different styles of cooking.
The style of food and chefs definitely brings a different flavor each time. We recently changed the format because when we first did it we had the guest chef’s dish and a dish from Manzo’s menu, but as we continued through the series in the next round – we changed it to be a 4 course menu. So it was a dish of ours, either on the menu or off, a dish from the guest chef, the main course was a collaboration between the 2 chefs and then having the dessert course. This way was much better for the series to run for example at the dinner you attended, Chef Kreuther and I had a great overlap as he is from Alsace and there is some overlap with Alsace cooking and Italian cooking. One of my favorite things on the menu is Testa (it translates to Head Cheese in English, but it’s Pig Head) and I wanted to showcase this as it’s about responsible sourcing and eating sustainably and sometimes using just the pork chop or just the pork tenderloin – everytime an animal dies – the whole animal should be used. To utilize pigs head, it goes along with that ethos. If an animal is going to lose its life, no part of the animal should go to waste. That’s a big part of Alsatian cooking and Italian cooking. For the first course, I wanted to do a mix of Alsatian style and Italian style so the Testa was already Italian and Italian cooking uses a lot of sweet and sour components, which is also true for Alsatian cooking with the German influence. So I wanted to do the sweet and sour cherries and then for the main course, it was a similar idea. We wanted to a trio of pork – the braised pork is kind of Alsatian by braising it in beer which is also common in Northern Italian cooking. The polenta and green tomato sauce was a little sweet and a little sour. When you ate it, it didn’t feel forced there was enough of an overlap between the Alsatian and Italian cooking that it comes together naturally. That’s what those dishes should feel like and if you do a little digging into it – it makes sense historically and the customer finds it enjoyable, accurate and traditional.
AM: What was it like for you to create and work with these chefs throughout this series?
CHEF AH: There have been different challenges. It’s interesting to see the chef’s different styles and influences. Like, Chef Marc Forgione’s influence was a late night French Dip, but deconstructed so there was a carpaccio of dry aged rib eye and there was an au jus component – there was a horseradish sour cream component to it and it still felt natural together. But when you heard the story behind it, it was like cool that makes sense. Culinary-wise there is always a different technique, so there was a dish with Chef Daniel Boulud that was made with clams and andoulie which was very popular. We did a pork belly with kimchi that was pretty successful – so it was interesting to see the techniques and sometimes when we would get the recipes, they were more informal, where others were more precise down to the gram. Overall, it has been fun to learn about the chef’s history, their inspiration for the dish and their style of cooking. In every one, there has been a different learning experience.
AM: For you dishes that you created, how did you go about deciding what it was going to be and what ingredients that you would be using? Do most of them come from Eataly that can be purchased there?
CHEF AH: For the most part, yeah! I would say that when I do a dish, you can purchase the products here at Eataly, but it also depends on the flow of the guest menu that the chef wants to do. If they want to do an antipasta, then maybe we do a pasta. If they want to do a pasta, then it doesn’t make sense for us to do a pasta for the four course tasting, so we will try to do an antipasta. The collaboration is always the main course and it’s about finding that balance and that the flow of the menu is natural.
For this month, the whole menu had a country feel to it. Chef Kreuther’s dish had the apple cider braised rabbit with saffron butter, so we liked this idea of refined rustic cooking, and I love Testa so I thought that would work and he loved it too. So we agreed on this dish which flowed well with the rabbit and then for the main course, pork 3 ways was simple and elegant and continued the sweet sour play.
When we did the collaboration with Chef Akshay Bhardwaj from Junoon it was very natural. We tried to incorporate some thing that were very common in Indian cooking and in Italian
cooking. Naturally, you wouldn’t think that they would go together, but we did a Saffron Risotto with yellow lentils and lamb cooked two ways and this was really successful and I liked the dish a lot. It was because the lamb that we did, one part of it was Sicilian style and the other way was an Indian style where we had marsala and chili peppers and a lot of depth of flavor. We had Sicilian style lamb belly was cooked with garlic and herbs. The risotto was obviously Italian, but with the saffron in there it had the Indian approach along with the yellow lentils. When you ate it all together, it didn’t feel forced, you just loved the taste
playing well together.
AM: Although this series has come to an end, will there be another?
CHEF AH: I’m not sure. I mean, I know that the rest of the year maybe not, but perhaps next year. I know there is an Eataly launching in Las Vegas so maybe this is something that we could do there. It will be a new concept in Las Vegas so maybe getting people to be aware of this location, they can bring in other chefs that are established in Las Vegas through this series. Overall, we loved the concept and I think that going into the end of the year, we will be more focused on truffles and getting our menu ready for the winter.
AM: How many times a year does the menu change at Manzo?
CHEF AH: Constantly ha! It’s an organic thing. You change the menu based on seasonality, availability, for example we recently took off summer squash because it’s fall and even though it’s a bit early to put winter squash on the menu, we can’t call out to summer squash because it’s not summer. Tomato season is winding down so even though we love selling heirloom tomatoes and caprese, we can’t run it all year and it’s not true to the Italian cooking philosophy.
Somethings that are on the menu are mainstays and they don’t change too much like some of the steaks we have – it doesn’t go out of season. But it’s the garnishes that might change and as we go into the winter, we want to make our menu more comfort friendly, so tomato based pastas aren’t so friendly with truffles so we do more butter and cheese sauces because it goes great with truffles. Just keeping the menu flexible for things like that is key.
AM: What are your favorite dishes that you like to create at Manzo?
CHEF AH: Well that’s a tough question! I like doing something that is traditional but a little bit different. A good example of this is the lamb shank that’s on the menu right now. In the spring
time in Italy, much like we do a barbeque here in the US with a whole roasted pig on a spit, they will do lamb in the same way over an open fire. You eat it as soon as it comes off the fire.
You dig into it when it is so hot that it burns your fingers and it’s so hot, but you eat it any way because it is so delicious. The dish translates to “lamb that burns your fingers” – we do a version of that, but it’s not the whole lamb because we’re not going to sell a whole lamb. So we do lamb shanks and it’s marinated with white wine and olive oil, thyme, rosemary, lemon zest and a little anchovy. These are all traditional flavors and we slow cook the lamb for 24 hours and then we cool it down. When the customer orders it, we coat it with salt and sugar and we roast it so it gets crispy on the outside and when you cut into it, it’s crunchy and juicy
and falls off the bone. When you dig into it, it burns the roof of your mouth or your fingertips and it pays homage to the original. There's a story to it and it’s kind of modernized in a way that makes it appropriate to sell into a restaurant. You might sell 10 a day or 2, but if you cooked a whole lamb everyday, that wouldn’t be sustainable.
AM: That sounds really good – we’ll have to try it!
CHEF AH: Well you should come in soon as we’ll be taking it off of the menu soon as it is more of a spring or summer dish.
AM: Oh no!
CHEF AH: Realistically, we probably could change the garnish on it to make it feel more wintery, but the overall story of eating lamb in the spring or the summer time outside in the piazza where people gather around – is just like having a suckling pig for a barbeque – you think of it as more of a summery thing.
AM: Are you constantly thinking of different dishes and coordinating with the sommelier as well as your pastry chef?
CHEF AH: Yeah usually for pastry, there is some sort of collaboration between the party chef and myself, but I try to leave Chef Rebecca to have more creative freedom there and just make sure that it is something that we can execute consistently. As far as coming up with a new menu, we work with Central Kitchen. It’s like a group of chefs that oversee all restaurants at Eataly. I’m the Chef at Manzo, but then there are a team of 5 chefs at Central Kitchen which oversees all the restaurants as another set of eyes. If we weren’t all under one roof like Chef Wolfgang Puck who has 10 restaurants, Wolfgang isn’t in every restaurant every day, but he has a trusted team of people he meets with I’m sure that make sure things are going to plan, food costs are looked after and that the menu makes sense. The same can be applied here with our Central Kitchen, as they are not in everyday but they are making sure things are ok.
AM: How do you define your cooking style and how does that marry with the ethos of Eataly?
CHEF AH: That’s a good question. I like simple food that is well prepared. I like making something that is the best version of something that you have had before. Like, finding what it is that people don’t like about food or something that they could potentially like. A lot of people say that they don’t like mushrooms and when I was younger, I had a lot of bad mushroom – just thrown on pizzas with no seasoning and they got squishy and it’s a texture thing that grosses people out. I love mushrooms now and what changes them is when you get them a little crispy and mix them with a little garlic and butter and thyme. There are only 3 or 4 ingredients but it makes a lot of difference. Eggplant is another one if you eat it and there isn’t enough salt and you roast it – again, it’s a texture thing. If you get it a little bit crispy and roast it in a really hot oven, a good amount of garlic and oregano – people will eat it and the hugest compliment to me is when people tell me that they don’t even like eggplant but they ask me what I put in it to make it taste so good. I like to keep it simple as you don’t need to throw the kitchen sink on eggplant but if you find the right flavors to highlight it and to make sure the texture is correct – people can change their minds about it.
At home, I would say that I don’t cook strictly Italian. I cook some different things. The other day, I was kind of sick so I made some noodles with a lot of garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce – because when I’m sick I want to eat a lot of garlic which is good for your immune system. That’s not traditional anything – just ingredients that I like to cook with. My style is very simple and focuses on seasonality and it matches up with Eataly because our whole style of cooking is about paying respect to the traditions of Italian cooking.
AM: When you’re not cooking, how do you take time for yourself?
CHEF AH: I like watching football a lot and now that it’s football season, I’m very happy! I’m a Steelers fan. I like to go out with friends and it’s tough in the restaurant business as we don’t all have the same time off. Usually, when we get out of work at midnight, we’ve been cooking all day so we want to eat now because we haven’t all day. Sometimes we’ll go out for late night drinks and to grab a bite and since we're close to Koreatown, we go there as it’s open super late. A lot of people who don’t work in the industry are surprised that when we get out of work we don’t want to cook fancy food, we want comfort food. Like a pot of rice and bulgogi is great. Different kimchis and vegetables that are just stripped down and it’s not messed with too much. You want to be full and happy. I love Bonchon late night with their fried chicken wings. We try to go out once a week to go to the bars which turns into going to Koreatown for some Hot Pot or Korean barbeque. Late night tacos are a go to for me as I love Mexican food.
If I have a day off, I’m just doing laundry and relaxing. I’ll clean the house and if it’s on Sunday, then I am going to be a lazy couch potato and watch football!
PHOTO COURTESY | Eataly Flatiron