FALAI | New York
Florence native Iacopo Falai began his pastry education and
experience in his hometown with courses at the local pastry school
and a two-year apprenticeship at Pasticceria Marisa.
He spent four years working at Enoteca Pinchiorri,
a three-Michelin-starred Florentine restaurant, taking time to consult
for Matsuya in Tokyo. Next Falai traveled to France, collaborating
with renowned Chef Michel Bras as a bread baker at his three-Michelin-starred
restaurant in France, and with Chocolatier Michel Belin, developing
chocolate-making techniques for Fauchon. Before coming
to the US, Falai returned to his hometown yet again to serve as
Executive Pastry Chef of Enoteca Pinchiorri.
Falai enterrred the New York restaurant scene in 2001.
Since then he has been at Le Cirque 2000, where he held
the Executive Pastry Chef position for a year, then at sister restaurant,
Osteria del Circo, before crossing over as Executive Chef
of Bread Tribeca, which was awarded two stars by The
New York Times.
In 2005 Falai ventured out on his own, opening his
eponymous restaurant on the Lower East Side that is also a tribute
to his father, who had owned a similarly named pastry shop in Florence
but died before Iacopo was born. Falai's New York eatery features
homemade pastas, pastry and bread prepareded according to the artisan
techniques he learned in Italy and France.
TR: Who are your mentors? What
are the most important things you learned from them? What were your
most important stages?
learned so much from Michel Belin, I’d have to call him my
mentor. He’s not so well known outside of France, but he consults
and does work for Fauchon’s industrial line. I worked with
him for three years, and used so many new techniques. I wanted to
learn everything possible from him; I wanted to pick his brain!
At first, we didn’t even speak, but it turned into a really
strong relationship. And of course, Riccardo Monco at the three
Michelin starred Enoteca Pinchiorri, in Florence taught me a lot.
TR: What is your
philosophy on food and dining?
believe very much in lightness, in using a light hand when adding
flavors or balancing flavors. For example, if I smoke a fish, I
do so only slightly; when I add the acid, I don’t want it
to overpower. I don’t cook with garlic, and when I do, it’s
only a little. My other big commitment is to making everything in
house: bread, pasta, ice cream, everything! There’s a real
pleasure in this, even in learning from mistakes.
TR: Are there
any secret ingredients that you like to use? What flavor combinations
do you favor?
secrets, I can’t tell you those! I like Campari, the bitter
herb flavor, and I like smokiness too. In New York you can find
very good organic herbs, which need a lot of care. I’m always
looking for how to care of my ingredients, this is the secret. I
find that if you concentrate too much on the end result, and lose
sight of the process, you lose the beauty. There’s a lot of
work before you reach the end result, and you have to enjoy it.
TR: What is your most indispensable
kitchen tool? Why?
believe in measuring everything so I find my scale and thermometer
very important. One carrot is not the same size as another carrot,
and recipes without measurements cannot be consistent.
TR:Is there a
culinary technique that you have either created, or made your own?
try hard to be humble, and most of my food is quite classic. But
I made the pastillage for Michel Bras’ wedding croquembouche.
I put the sugar inside, and this made the crunch uniform. But I
don’t want to be one of those World War I soldiers, still
wearing the medals so many years later.
TR: What is your
favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new
line cook? What answer do you look for? Why?
always ask them why they want to work for me. Because it’s
so hard, it really has to be their passion or they’ll never
survive. They will have to make so many sacrifices: economically,
emotionally, physically, and they will have to survive them. If
they don’t tell me they love it, I know they won’t make
it with me. And also, they’d better shave every morning!
TR: Do you take
TR: What tips
would you offer a young chef who is just getting started?
tell them to stay true to their passion. If cooking is really their
passion they must take pleasure in even the smallest, most menial
of tasks like peeling vegetables or picking bones from the fish.
If they can do this, if they can enjoy coming early and leaving
late, they’ll be happier, more successful cooks.
TR: What were
some of your most influential stages as a young chef?
worked for Luca Carton for only two weeks, but got so much out of
the experience. He’s run the same restaurant for 30 something
years—a very classic, two star. My other stage at Enoteca
Pinchiorri was also a great learning experience. I was there
at the time because my mother had to visit the mayor’s office,
which was in the same building. She laughed at me when I said that
I wanted to work at this three Michelin star restaurant, she said
they’d never take me because although I pastry experience,
I had zero restaurant experience. But the lady there, she liked
me, and they put in the corner right away to make the bread and
do the chocolate work. It was very intense, I learned a lot.
TR: What are
you favorite cookbooks?
Bras’ is a very meticulous writer. His books have such
beautiful pictures, and are a great resource for absolutely everything
from flower cleaning to torchon-rolling. The El
Bulli books are great as well.
TR: What cities
do you like for culinary travel?
love Barcelona for its modern and old-fashioned cooking—and
I don’t just mean El Bulli-- I love the concept of
tapas. In one night I ate at about fifteen restaurants: clams in
one then octopus in another, then squid and so on. When people think
of Milan they think grey skies, and grey people but it’s really
not so. Venice is also very charming because you must go everywhere
by foot or by boat to eat the little croquettes, cod, olives. And
at nine o’ clock when it seems like the city has shut down,
there’s always a secret party going on inside some random
palazza. This is the Italian experience though, I’m not sure
what it’s like for tourists.
TR: What trends
do you see emerging in the restaurant industry?
is being reduced to small portions and called tapas for marketing.
But most of these trends don’t affect Italian restaurants.
TR: Where do
you see yourself in five years? 10 years?
New York! I will always be in New York! I’d also like to open
a place in Paris for competition with myself! My goal is to have
less economical headache in the future. Right now I’m on my
own, and financially, I can’t really count on anyone. I think
if you have someone taking care of that stuff, you feel free. At
40, you cannot still be doing this same work. At 25 it’s different.
Tomorrow I’m signing a deal for a little space on Lafayette
that will serve everything from Falai, from my house. All the bread
comes from the same oven, and all pastries are made in the same
place, this isn’t just more economical, it’s easier
to control and run.
I also have a dream to open a three-star Michelin
restaurant. I’d like the kind of kitchen that has real space.
I don’t want more tables, just better quality of everything,
from the chairs, to the tables to the tablecloths, to the equipment
and set up for my cooks.
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