Q & A With Nick Malgieri, Part 2: Faking References, Ceramic Roosters + His Pet Peeve Panzanella Recipe
In the first part of our interview with baking instructor, food writer and cookbook author Nick Malgieri, the baker talked about, well, a lot of things. You'll just have to go read it. We picked up where we left off, when Malgieri suddenly decided to talk about Ferran Adrià. This happens a lot with food people.
Malgieri then segued into his childhood, his long career in baking, and some tangential thoughts about ceramic roosters (as food photography props) and canned salmon (your Monty Python joke here ______). Turn the page for the second part of our interview, and check back later for a recipe from Malgieri's new book, Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking.
Nick Malgieri at work
Nick Malgieri: You know, Nouvelle Cusine and Rachael Ray have a lot in common, because they get people thinking about what food is. And I just read somewhere that Ferran Adrià thinks of himself as a disciple of Nouvelle Cuisine. Yeah. He describes what he does as the natural conclusion of Nouvelle Cuisine.
Squid Ink: I had no idea. So how do you think of yourself, relative to the big flow chart or food time line?
NM: Well, as far as time line is concerned, I was very lucky. Because I went to culinary school instead of going to graduate school, right after college. It was 1971. No one was doing it yet. There was no La Varenne [Anne Willan's French cooking school, founded in 1975]. So, my European experiences were done in a very non-competitive way. There were not 400 other Americans who wanted that job that I finally got. And when I came back to the United States, actually I got mixed reactions. I thought I could sail into some fancy French kitchen in New York and they'd welcome me with open arms. I remember Roger Fessaguet [chef at the now-shuttered La Caravelle] threw me out. He said, Anybody can come in here with falsified stuff like this.
SI: Falsified stuff?
NM: Yeah, he implied that my references were phony. He had a reputation for being notoriously difficult.
SI: So what did you do?
NM: I landed at The Waldorf.
SI: That must have been fun. Or is fun not the right word?
NM: Wild. Absolutely wild. Unmentionably wild.
SI: And had you trained in everything or specifically pastry?
NM: Well, I went to the CIA. Back then it was one program that everyone took. And when I worked in Switzerland it was the same, I went around all the stations. In fact I got to be chef garde manger for two months, because the chef garde manger got sent to his military service. The chef called me in and said, Ja, ja, Sie sind jetzt Chef Garde Manger. And I said, Oh. Oh, danke, Chef.
SI: How did you move into baking and pastry? Did you always want to focus on it?
NM: You know, I was very lucky. My first big break in life, besides having the most wonderful parents in the world... my parents were totally uneducated working people. My mother, for example, at the age of 14, instead of going to high school became the sole supporter of a family of four.
SI: New York?
NM: Newark. You know, they were very supportive and understanding. In college I majored in French, which was the only thing I was any good at in school. I took some Italian and German when I was in college. And when I went to the CIA, my second year Albert Cumin was my teacher. Albert was to become the pastry chef at the White House. He had started in the big Joe Baum Swiss migration, I call it, where they headhunted a lot of very talented people in Switzerland and got them all placements in Canada.
Joe Baum's fortune was built on the Swiss foundation, and his success with Restaurant Associates: people who do it right, get it right, and always get it right; not just people who say, well, you know, I'll try this today. He was my teacher. It was the second year baking class. All the fancy stuff -- decorating. And on the first day of class, he said, Well, is there anybody in here who wants to be a pastry chef? I raised my hand. I was the only one. So he proceeded to direct the entire class at me. And he kind of became my professional godfather.
When I was about to finish school, he said to me, Now what you do is you have to go to Switzerland to work. And I said, Oh, okay. But it was easy then, because the Swiss Hotel Association had a kind of stagiere program, where as long as you graduated from an established hotel or culinary school anywhere in the world, you could go to Switzerland and do an apprenticeship for 6-12 months. And that's kind of how the ball got rolling.
SI: Would you recommend that people go to culinary school or apprentice these days?
Nick Malgieri & Martha Stewart on her show
NM: You know, what happens when you apprentice, unless you go to the kind of apprenticeship program that takes education as part of it, you really only learn... I mean, you might work for somebody brilliant like Thomas Keller, but you know what, I think he'd be the first person to tell you that he doesn't know everything. And especially if what you're interested in is baking, you're going to get a very narrow view of it at that kind of a restaurant. So the thing that school gives you is a vocabulary. Familiarity with equipment. Familiarity with, hopefully, the main techniques involved, whether it's cooking or baking. And you know, it's like any kind of education: it doesn't make you what you're setting out to be merely by getting the education. It prepares you to enter the industry and start at the bottom. And you know, a lot of the bigger culinary schools -- no names mentioned -- tell people they'll graduate as a chef.
SI: Mm. Yeah, the culinary school you're going to speak at later on is getting sued for precisely that reason. Well, allegedly.
NM: The only thing that I can say, and I don't know how it works in California, but I know that the state department of education in New York regulates every syllable that gets stated or written that goes into the hands of prospective students. So that really couldn't happen. The suit would go to the department of education. Every syllable of what we say and what we teach is regulated. [Malgieri is director of the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.]
SI: Better than olive oil, I guess.
NM: I don't know. This is California, so maybe the olive oil is the prime concern!
SI: Last question. Why this book for you now, as opposed to, day, 10 years ago?
NM: Well, 10 years ago; where was I 10 years ago? Back then I felt more inclined to do theme-oriented books. So after How To Bake, I did Chocolate. And then I did Cookies [Unlimited]. And then I did [Perfect] Cakes. And then I did A Baker's Tour, which I loved, which suffered through some really hideous design, which can really do a lot to affect the sales of a book.
SI: This one is beautiful, by the way.
NM: He [photographer Quentin Bacon] was everywhere. A close up of the measuring cup. A close up of an egg, you know? And that's what made some of those candids that are dropped in here and there look really good. What I love about the beauty shots is that the accent is on the food. It's not on propping. Sometimes there's a prop, a coffee cup, but there are no ceramic roosters in the background.
SI: Like the gnome in the front yard.
SI: Getting back to why this now?
NM: When I did Modern Baker, I wanted to do something that was very accessible. And a lot of the recipes in that had really definite short cuts. And I just signed a contract for a kind of sequel to this, which is a book about breads. It's about maybe a third breads, and about 2/3rds things you make out of bread.
NM: Panzanella. I'm going to call the recipe Pet Peeve Panzanella.
SI: Okay, so what's your pet peeve about panzanella?
NM: I was getting ready for a class at a cooking school, I walked into another kitchen to see if I could get a measuring cup and I hear the teacher telling the students, Well, if you want protein in something simple like a bread salad, add canned salmon. And I had to restrain myself from screaming. I mean, come on, if you want to utilize canned salmon, you could probably make a nice salad and maybe some beans or something. Right, not the world's highest quality ingredient, but you can make something edible with it. And you can always serve it at the same time you're serving the bread salad, but you really don't have to throw things into it.
SI: It's not garbage.
NM: Well, that's what Elizabeth David said. I don't know what book it was, but she was giving a soup recipe, and she said, You know, you all think that making soup is opening the cupboard and adding a pinch of this and a dash of that so that really your soup pot has more in common with your dustbin than anything else.
At which point, Malgieri had to leave Euro Pane to return to his hotel room. As do we all, at some point. Be sure to check back later for Malgieri's recipe for TK.
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