Q & A With Nick Malgieri, Part 2: Faking References, Ceramic Roosters + His Pet Peeve Panzanella Recipe
In the first part of our interview with baking instructor, food writer and cookbook author Nick Malgieri, the baker talked about, well, a lot of things. You'll just have to go read it. We picked up where we left off, when Malgieri suddenly decided to talk about Ferran AdriÃ . This happens a lot with food people.
Malgieri then segued into his childhood, his long career in baking, and some tangential thoughts about ceramic roosters (as food photography props) and canned salmon (your Monty Python joke here ______). Turn the page for the second part of our interview, and check back later for a recipe from Malgieri's new book, Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking.
Nick Malgieri: You know, Nouvelle Cusine and Rachael Ray have a lot in common, because they get people thinking about what food is. And I just read somewhere that Ferran AdriÃ thinks of himself as a disciple of Nouvelle Cuisine. Yeah. He describes what he does as the natural conclusion of Nouvelle Cuisine.
Squid Ink: I had no idea. So how do you think of yourself, relative to the big flow chart or food time line?
NM: Well, as far as time line is concerned, I was very lucky. Because I went to culinary school instead of going to graduate school, right after college. It was 1971. No one was doing it yet. There was no La Varenne [Anne Willan's French cooking school, founded in 1975]. So, my European experiences were done in a very non-competitive way. There were not 400 other Americans who wanted that job that I finally got. And when I came back to the United States, actually I got mixed reactions. I thought I could sail into some fancy French kitchen in New York and they'd welcome me with open arms. I remember Roger Fessaguet [chef at the now-shuttered La Caravelle] threw me out. He said, Anybody can come in here with falsified stuff like this.
SI: Falsified stuff?
NM: Yeah, he implied that my references were phony. He had a reputation for being notoriously difficult.
SI: So what did you do?
NM: I landed at The Waldorf.
SI: That must have been fun. Or is fun not the right word?
NM: Wild. Absolutely wild. Unmentionably wild.
SI: And had you trained in everything or specifically pastry?
NM: Well, I went to the CIA. Back then it was one program that everyone took. And when I worked in Switzerland it was the same, I went around all the stations. In fact I got to be chef garde manger for two months, because the chef garde manger got sent to his military service. The chef called me in and said, Ja, ja, Sie sind jetzt Chef Garde Manger. And I said, Oh. Oh, danke, Chef.
SI: How did you move into baking and pastry? Did you always want to focus on it?
NM: You know, I was very lucky. My first big break in life, besides having the most wonderful parents in the world... my parents were totally uneducated working people. My mother, for example, at the age of 14, instead of going to high school became the sole supporter of a family of four.
SI: New York?
NM: Newark. You know, they were very supportive and understanding. In college I majored in French, which was the only thing I was any good at in school. I took some Italian and German when I was in college. And when I went to the CIA, my second year Albert Cumin was my teacher. Albert was to become the pastry chef at the White House. He had started in the big Joe Baum Swiss migration, I call it, where they headhunted a lot of very talented people in Switzerland and got them all placements in Canada.
Joe Baum's fortune was built on the Swiss foundation, and his success with Restaurant Associates: people who do it right, get it right, and always get it right; not just people who say, well, you know, I'll try this today. He was my teacher. It was the second year baking class. All the fancy stuff -- decorating. And on the first day of class, he said, Well, is there anybody in here who wants to be a pastry chef? I raised my hand. I was the only one. So he proceeded to direct the entire class at me. And he kind of became my professional godfather.
When I was about to finish school, he said to me, Now what you do is you have to go to Switzerland to work. And I said, Oh, okay. But it was easy then, because the Swiss Hotel Association had a kind of stagiere program, where as long as you graduated from an established hotel or culinary school anywhere in the world, you could go to Switzerland and do an apprenticeship for 6-12 months. And that's kind of how the ball got rolling.
SI: Would you recommend that people go to culinary school or apprentice these days?