Interview with Chef Michael Lomonaco of Noche – New York, NY

October 2011

Darren Dahl: Michael, you are a chef, but are you an eater?

Michael Lomonaco: Have you ever seen me?! Yes, I love to eat.

DD: Did a particular person or event influence your passion for food?

ML: Growing up in an Italian-American family, the family social structure revolved around food, the table was where the family came together. After exploring an acting career, I realized the creative potential of becoming a chef, and have loved every minute since.

DD: What would you be if you weren't a chef?

ML: I love music, I'm an avid amateur guitar player. If not music, I would love to be involved in some sort of 'creative art', like landscape architecture or photography. If I had stayed in theatre, I would have aspired to write and direct.

DD: What was the biggest mistake you ever made, in the kitchen or otherwise, and how did you go about fixing it?

ML: Surprisingly, I get asked this question a lot. I truly don't focus on what goes wrong, simply on what I'm doing right. Planning is a key ingredient to successful cooking, and I pride myself on doing it well.

DD: Is there a particular skill that sets extraordinary chefs apart from the rest of us?

ML: The most talent chefs have the least inhibition and the most creativity, achieving a fine balance between good taste and free expression. I think that Nobu is a great expression of this. I also believe that great chefs have to be great teachers, like Julia Child, where they possess the ability to pass their knowledge along to eager students.

DD: Do you cook for your family? If so, what dish do they request most?

ML: When I cook for the extended family, it usually is at holidays and family events, so most of my requests are for our traditional old family recipes from my mother and grandmother. My wife Diane likes quick meals, like fish and pasta served Sicilian style.

DD: Like a painter or sculptor, do you favor particular ingredients or techniques in your recipes?

ML: Good question. I always feel a strong desire to search and try new things. But my favorite technique is brazing, where deep flavors are rendered to the surface, allowing disparate ingredients to merge into a new unique flavor. As far as ingredients, I actually approach a recipe like I would a menu. I start with the main course, or the heart of the recipe, and work out from there, usually knowing what things not to add first.

DD: Is there a kitchen tool/utensil that every chef should spend the extra dollar on?

ML: Absolutely, on hardware - pots, pans, and a knife. Make the investment in the best product you can afford. I believe that with a good pot, pan, and knife, I could make just about anything.

DD: What draws you to Latin American culture and cuisine? How does Noche represent this?

ML: The idea of Noche is inspired by Latin, Mexican, and South American music. Brazilian, Afro-jazz, Mexican guitars - New World music that inspires a culture of family, friends, and fun. One of my favorite books was by Felipe Rojas Lombardi, a James Beard disciple who owned 'The Ballroom', called 'The Art of South American Cooking.'

Noche the reality was 2 years of research, reading, cooking, and sampling from menus in Manhattan's 5 boroughs, Los Angeles, Miami, Arizona, and New Mexico. Noche blends New World music and culture with its cuisine.

Next on my horizon, coming soon, is a new space of my own, small and comfortable, where I'll cook contemporary American cuisine.