What are the benefits of a wood-burning oven? Why do you choose
to roast most of your fish and shellfish this way?
WM: What I like is the high heat. It ranges from 625 - 750
degrees Fahrenheit. It's great for fish because it never gets poached,
but it allows for the fish to create it's own juices and sauces.
This is going to sound really weird, but another reason is that
fat seems to pick up the smoke flavor. The wood produces a certain
amount of smoke and the fat under the skin of the trout or salmon
imparts a delicate smoky flavor to the flesh of the fish. One of
our signature appetizers, wood-smoked oysters, absorbs the smoky
flavor through the bit of butter reduction we drizzle on top. If
a fish, like lobster or bass, doesn't have a lot of fat, we'll add
natural juices or oils to help pick up the smoky flavor.
JM: From a quick read of your menu, it seems as though you
do not serve your dishes heavy on the buttery sauce...
WM: Yes, there are hardly any sauces on my menu. When things
are roasted in the oven, take the trout for example, it's tossed
in a mixture of olive oil, lemon, shallot puree and chervil and
is roasted with all of that and a little white wine. It roasts very
crisp, but a jus is made from the natural juices from the fish and
the other ingredients. While a sauce made during the cooking process
accompanies the oven items, some sort of relish, condiment or marinade
are prepared for the grill items.
But, what if someone asks for extra sauce on the side?
WM: Sometimes they do ask and it's hard to do. We've done
it though, with the veal chop. The hard part is when they want sauce
on the side period. The meat or fish doesn't cook right, but we'll
just do it with less oil and not add the juices from the roasting
dish to the plate when done.
JM: A lot of your dishes are seasoned with fresh herbs, do
you have a staple bunch of herbs that you like to use on many of
WM: I have an herb mix that's actually grown for me at Upstate
Farms. I use it for chopped herbs, and for herb salad, which we
serve as an appetizer and as an accompaniment to the grilled steak
entree. The herbs add a clean, sharp and vibrant contrast to my
JM: What kind of wood chips do you use in your oven and grill?
Are they seasoned?
WM: First, we soak them in water. For the grill, I use a
combination of Oak and Ashe and for the oven, I use only Ashe because
it burns very hot and clean and doesn't produce a lot of ashes!
Apple Wood sounds good, and we do use it from time to time, but
we haven't tasted or smelled that much of a difference. I love it
when people say they grill their salmon on grape vines! We've done
a lot of experimenting and it doesn't translate well. The smoke
flavor is very subtle because it doesn't permeate the meat: the
food does not taste "smoked."
JM: How about braising? Do you do any braised meats?
WM: I also have slow-cooked items like the braised rabbit,
the veal and lamb shank. These are prepared a bit differently, the
lamb shank is first grilled instead of seared and served with chopped
fresh mint and grated orange zest and the veal shanks are braised
in a potato broth.
JM: What types of cuisine influence your cooking? I noticed
some Greek, Spanish and Argentine sounding dishes...
WM: My training is French, but my heritage is Lebanese and
Italian and I was raised in New England and Florida. Really, it's
a mix. The food I cook now comes from everywhere they cook with
open fire, which to me would be South America, Spain, Southern coast
of France, parts of Italy and some of the Mediterranean...and I
would go as far as to say my own back yard where I do a lot of grilling
on my wood-burning grill.
JM: What do you cook on the rôtisserie? Why is there
no wood involved?
WM: I cook all birds and the suckling pig on the rôtisserie.
There's no wood in the rôtisserie because I wasn't allowed
to according to New York law. They're very strict about the use
of wood: you have to have separate exhaust stacks for any wood-burning
piece of equipment. In Stamford Connecticut this law doesn't apply,
so we have one there. However, there are other laws you wouldn't
expect: I can't use black granite for the counters because it doesn't
reflect enough light. Not what you'd expect.
JM: At Beacon in Stamford [open June 2000], you will man
WM: Mark LeMoult, my executive sous chef, will be going to
Stamford and my chef de cuisine, Gabriel Sorgi, is staying in New
York. They both worked with me at The Hudson River Club and The
Rainbow Room. I have a great crew that I can't seem to get rid of.
The restaurant in Stamford is a little bit bigger. We're taking
the same wood-burning concept over there, but it will be more simple.
The bread will all be baked in New York, except for our signature
blackened wild yeast bread, which we'll bake in the wood-burning
oven, but bring the dough from New York to Stamford. The bakery
at Beacon is a complete wholesale bakery, so we can supply them
with the dough.
JM: What other kinds of breads do you have?
WM: We have four breads: olive bread, a potato-onion roll and
the wild yeast wood-oven bread. The fourth bread is always seasonal;
right now it's pumpkin-cranberry
JM: What future plans do you have for your more casual Beacon
WM: I would like to open Beacon in a few other cities like
D.C. or Boston. Not to have a chain, but it's a wonderfully simple
concept that can be replicated. The most important factors are the
equipment, produce and a good chef to head it all up and do the
training. The presentation is also very clean and neat and the grilled
or roasted vegetables and starch are served family style. These
side dishes come with the main dish, no matter what. I didn't want
a formal restaurant, but a sophisticated one. I wanted people to
have fun and almost be forced to share the food that's on the table.
JM: And, I see you serve my favorite dessert from Argentina...Panqueques
de Manzana Caramelized Apple Pancakes...
WM: Most people ask for an individual apple tart and we say,
'no, we have a pancake, try it you'll like it!' That's where we
go it from, but we added the cognac ice cream. Martin Howard was
my Pastry Chef at the Hudson River Club; he helped me develop the
dessert menu. He even helped me incorporate the wood and the smoke
flavors in to the dessert menu; we have a gingerbread cake with
wood-roasted pears and blueberries, which changes seasonally. We
also do soufflés as a signature dessert.
JM: Which tools are essential to you, besides the smoking and
WM: Besides the oven, grill and rotisserie without which
the restaurant can't work. I like Wusthof knives and my tongs. I
also designed a rolling cutting board table with a garbage can hooked
to the side...we needed a place to slice meat during service and
we couldn't do it right on the counter or on the grill.
JM: Which purveyors do you depend on the most?
WM: I have great relationships with all my purveyors. I can't
do what I do without their products. I get my trout from Eden Brook
Farm, Upstate Farms grows a lot of produce for me, K&K farms does
all of my rabbit and chicken for me. Their excellent products allow
me to cook simply.
JM: What about a TV series for you? I heard there was something
brewing with PBS.
WM: It kind of got pushed to the back burner. I may do something
with the Discovery Channel...I'm not a clown and I don't know if
I'm really prepared to become one to make a popular television series.
Maybe I'll stick to books, television is a different kind of entertainment.
If I were to do a show, I'd like for it to focus on travel and regions
from where all the products come. Food tourism is a very trendy
these days, there are parts of Spain and England that would be incredible...Maybe
instead of television, I'll do it on the Internet. Forget television!
Why don't we produce it! (He laughs)
JM: I'd love to!