I am both an Entrepreneur and the Casserole King…
I am a born and bred New Yorker whose first day working in a restaurant came at the age of three. My great grandfather, Jacob Harmatz, opened Ratner’s Restaurant, the venerable Lower East Side institution, in 1905.
Ratner’s Restaurant, however, is not where I learned food. Thank god. My mother, an accomplished chef who kept me at her knee in kitchen, served as my first culinary school. I was raised around traditional French technique – so much so that I thought Escoffier was an uncle who lived in Paris.
At the age of twelve, I attended my first “official” culinary school at the Inter-Continental Hotel. There I learned a true appreciation for the process of cooking and the intricacies of the kitchen at a very early age. After graduating from Emory University, I worked as research assistant in the Art world. Sadly, the art world purged me of my unheard of inability to toady. So I jumped into the family business and turned my relatives’ famed eatery’s back room into The Lansky Lounge, a Lower East Side restaurant and bar, in 1996.
From there it was culinary adventuring in a Chevy Geo I bought for $400 from a lesbian who’d heard of Sapphic goddesses in Hawaii. I ended up in Taos, NM teaching skiing for a year, until I looked around and realized I was the only neurotic Jew within 100 miles of me. Upon returning from this whirlwind tour in the Geo, I enrolled and completed with top honors the NECI (New England Culinary Institute) program, qualifying me to make tuna salad, 20 lbs. at a time. The world beckoned and I found myself at Blue Hill at Stone Barns learning the intricacies of Dan Barber’s renowned finesse with the earth’s natural bounty – and relishing my dalliances with carcasses in the butcher shop.
I began at Blue Hill at Stone Barns under the tutelage of Dan Barber and Michael Anthony, now the chef of Gramercy Tavern. At Blue Hill, I felt most passionate as the butcher’s apprentice. I learned the importance of ingredients’ simplicity and how to maximize their potential. I then went to Maine and work at Hugo’s with Rob Evans, a winner of Food & Wine’s Top Ten Chefs and veteran of The French Laundry where I was learned a reverence for technique. Following Hugo’s, I became the charcuterie chef at Fore Street in Portland, Maine. Using my own recipes, I was responsible for making all salamis, sausages, pates, terrines, cured meats and smoked products.
In 2008, I returned to New York dreaming of another hit like Lansky’s. I had the plans, the name, the space, and most importantly the money. That is until the bottom fell out and the money went with it. More painful is what followed: my recent inheritance from my grand mother, which was going to be the foundation for the restaurant project, had been lost by none other than Bernie Madoff. To say I was depressed and bewildered is an understatement. So here I am bouncing back, joining the fray and writing a blog about what I know: Food and Restaurants. I hope my real life experience can make this blog worth reading. Restaurants: It’s about love because it is really hard work.
I almost forgot to mention. In the aftermath of the collapse, I became a competitive chef – I am a three four five time champion, having won the Casserole Crazy competition, the S’Mac Down, the Chili Takedown, the Chowder Slam, and Cassoulet Cook Off. I am unstoppable… I am the Jewish Rocky of Competitive Cooking….I am the Casserole King!!!
Having retired from competitive cooking, I now put my energies into throwing the best cook-offs in New York, The Food Experiments.