Chef Waldy Malouf
Jocelyn Morse: Being that your kitchen has a rôtisserie, wood-burning oven and wood-fired grill, how do the stations in your kitchen compare to those of a typical French or American kitchen?

Waldy Malouf: For one thing, the kitchen is right in the dining room. There are four stations, and each one is directed by the piece of equipment you're using. There're not the typical poissonier or rôtissier stations. The line consists of the rôtisserie, grill, wood-burning oven station and then there's a small sauté station for mostly appetizers and vegetables. So, the cooks typically do fish and meat from the same station. The cold, or garde-manger, and dessert stations are in the back kitchen. The line is not a show kitchen, the food is really prepared there.


JM: 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.

JM: 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 your dishes?

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 dishes.

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 the fires?

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?

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 concept?

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.

Which tools are essential to you, besides the smoking and roasting equipment?

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!