MAS (FARMHOUSE) | New York
Galen Zamarra, who was born in Switzerland and raised in
California, learned to cook at a very young age. “My mom was
a single mom, and she didn’t cook,” he explains, taking
to the stoves out of necessity at first. “But being a chef
was always something I dreamed of.”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America,
Zamarra began his restaurant career at the original Bouley
as garde manger. He was beginning to work his way up the ladder
when Chef Bouley closed the restaurant to renovate. Zamarra left
the US to stage at assorted Michelin 3-star restaurants in France:
Michel Bras, Georges Blanc, and L’Arpege,
where he cooked for one defining year.
Zamarra’s year at L’Arpege working
under renowned Chef Alain Passard was an experience that defined
him as a chef. “The restaurant’s philosophy was very
influential in the way I cook today,” he says. “L’Arpege
is French for arpeggio, a musical term that describes how
notes work together to make harmony, and that is how the chef described
food, as putting the notes of flavors together to make harmony in
After L’Arpege, Zamarra returned to
New York and worked at Union Pacific before resuming his
post with Chef Bouley at the newly renovated Bouley Bakery.
He rose through the ranks to Chef de Cuisine, earning a coveted
Rising Star Chef award from The James Beard Foundation in 2001.
In the years since Bouley Bakery closed its
doors after the catastrophic events of 9/11, Zamarra searched for
a place to call his own, where he could showcase locally farmed
seasonal ingredients. He opened Mas (Farmhouse) with partners
Hugh Crickmore, formerly of Marseille, and Tom Wilson,
formerly of Nice Matin. At Mas, Zamarra draws
on his classical French training to create a collection of seasonally-inspired
AT: How did you enjoy your
experience at CIA? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring
GZ: There were certain parts
that I really enjoyed, but on the whole I didn’t enjoy the
experience. I would have dropped out if my mom hadn’t made
me stay. You spend a lot of time and money there and do very little
cooking. I would tell other cooks to go work in good restaurants
for free and read up wherever they can. Culinary school gives you
a recipe and either you can make the dish or not. But that is something
you can do at home, so save the money. You can learn basics at a
restaurant if you ask the right questions.
AT: Who are your mentors? What
are some of the most important things you’ve learned from
GZ: I did my CIA internship
at Bouley, which was a wonderful experience. I learned
so much from David Bouley; he is definitely my mentor. So much of
my style and theory come directly from him. I was only nineteen
when I worked there, and I liked his philosophy on flavors. I was
also inspired by Michel Bras and Alain Passard.
AT: How did you arrange your
GZ: Bouley’s old restaurant
had closed and he was gracious enough to set up stages for a lot
of his cooks in France. He set one up for me with Michel Bras and
George Blanc. I instantly loved Michel Bras, but I was only there
for a month. I worked very hard, but the atmosphere was so calm
and the food was ridiculously amazing. It was very different, very
fun. I got my stage at Arpege with Alain Passard (in Paris)
because a friend of mine was working there. I went in to stage just
for the day, but I ended up working there for a year! You can always
go over unpaid and volunteer your time, but for me, it was the hardest
I’d ever worked in my life. When I got there my French was
really bad and it limited the work I could do. As it improved I
was able to work in pastry, as garde manger, and as entremetier
on the line. I could do more and I learned a lot of intense cooking
AT: What is your philosophy
on food and dining at Mas?
GZ: Everything starts with
the basic quality of the ingredients. I try to do as little as possible
with the ingredients and make them come together harmoniously in
AT: Are there any secret ingredients
/flavor combinations that you especially like? Why?
GZ: I tend to use citrus zest
in a ton of things. It may seem unnoticeable, but to me, it can
enliven the palate in a very subtle way. We do a lot with juices
AT: What is your most indispensable
GZ: Something I like to use
a lot is my Champion vegetable juicer. And if you took away my Vitamix
or Robotcoupe, I’d be helpless. We use juice in a lot of ways:
vegetable juice is the best way to extract flavor from a vegetable
in a liquid form, better than a vegetable stock which alters the
levels of sweetness. When you use a juicer, you retain the inherent
properties of the vegetable. I use the juice for sauce, vinaigrette,
soup, ice-cream, tons of things!
AT: Is there a culinary technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
GZ: The Tuna l’Occidentale
dish comes out of my time spent in Japan cooking at the Suji cooking
school. It comes from a Japanese style of preparing sushi but I’ve
adapted it to fit my needs and my flavors. The way we do the sauce
is to hit the fish with some very hot brown butter, but leaving
AT: What’s your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
GZ: I like to ask them what
their goals are. Not everyone wants to be a superstar chef. Some
want to write cookbooks, run catering companies. It’s interesting
for me to see which area they lean towards. It determines how they
are going to perform. Of all my cooks, I think only one is going
to be a chef in the next 10 years. And whatever it is they want,
hopefully we can work together towards that goal. I’m so proud
of former employees for going on and fulfilling their dreams, whatever
they may be. A person who doesn’t have any goals, I wonder,
why are you here?
AT: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
GZ: I’d stress how much
you actually have to cook, and how important that is. Also, I encourage
them to get cookbooks, read them, cook at home on your time off
– really bust your butt. I know people who’ve worked
in 4-star restaurants for 10 years and they know how to heat up
vegetables and then they know how to cook a fish, but they don’t
know how to fillet it! It’s really important that people cook
a lot, and volunteer.
AT: What are your favorite
restaurants –off the beaten path – in New York City?
GZ: I love Homara Ahn
– it’s a soba shop on Mercer and Houston. It’s
one of my favorites; so elegant and totally classy, but the food
is outrageous and innovative. I also love 360 in Red Hook,
Brooklyn, and Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard.
AT: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
GZ: One thing I’m noticing
is people’s willingness to pay more for good food. People
thought that Per Se and Masa would never make
it because they are expensive, but they’re all doing well.
They don’t realize how expensive it is to cook good food in
a restaurant. I mean, Mas is not cheap, but we’re
just scraping by. I wish I could charge more. I wish I could afford
to give my cooks insurance.
AT: Where do you see yourself
in 5 years?
GZ: As much as I really love
Mas, it’s also really small for me, especially the
kitchen. I miss the equipment and size kitchen staff I used to have.
Do I want to be a chef who’s always cooking at a place, or
be more of a restaurateur? I’d like to put on more events,
and do more projects with Slow Food. And I’m really interested
in sustainability, getting restaurants back to nature, and supporting
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