This month, chef de cuisine Adam Hill and Ali LaRaia executive chef and co-founder of the chic, fast-casual Italian eatery The Sosta, joined forces to treat a select few to a summer-inspired tasting menu. We all sat around Manzo’s open prep station, in an eager semi-circle, ready to experience the fusion of these two culinary geniuses.
Our first course, from Chef Hill, was slow cooked tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil. As chef explained, each tomato had a different, distinct flavor. He advised that we eat one at a time in order to savor the differences and to scoop up the mixture of olive oil and salt on the plate. He was right, of course. Each tomato had a distinct flavor, one earthy, one sweet, one with a bit more acid. All complement by a Prosecco. The sommelier advised that it was chosen in order to hold up to the acidity of the tomatoes so that neither outshined each other.
Next course, from Chef LaRaia, was a corn agnolotti with an Invincible Summer Farms heirloom tomato sauce. Chef LaRaia spoke briefly to me about how excited she was to be participating in this series in later summer, how she enjoyed the ingredients that flourished at the time; specifically corn and tomatoes. The agnolotti melted in your mouth, each bite had a fresh undertone. The dishes were paired with a rosé, not the kind with the overstated sweet-ness, but a robust yet light kind. The perfect lightness for a summertime dish, but with enough depth to stand next to this complex medley of ingredients.
Up next, a tag-team dish from Ali and Adam, Duo di Manzo; beef two ways with anchovy and hazelnut. The meat was perfectly cooked, with a muted flavor pallet that allowed the meat to shine through. Paired with a delicate Pinot Noir that really brightened the dish, proving to be a sound addition to the dish.
Lastly, from head pastry chef Rebecca Turnbull, a Hazelnut Torta with Moscato zabaione and cherries. The dessert had the perfect balance of sweet and savory that would have anyone craving more. Admittedly, when I heard it was paired with a Moscato I was skeptical, being a self-proclaimed ‘dry over sweet’ kind of girl, but boy was I mistaken. This Moscato had faint hints of sweetness and provided a harmonious ending to a fabulous meal.
The series, From New York to New York, is all about bringing people together and benefitting a worthy cause. A portion of proceeds for the series will be donated to Grow to Learn NYC, a non-profit organization whose goal is to support schools across NYC to grow vibrant learning gardens. From wellness programming to community outreach, hands-on STEM to social and emotional skill building, they believe gardens are an invaluable tool for teaching and learning for the classroom, cafeteria and beyond.
Aside from the ethereal edible journey, I had experienced, I also had the pleasure to chat with both Chef Hill and LaRaia about the New York to New York chef series, their respective venues, and what’s up next for each of them.
Chef Adam Hill
What was your ultimate goal when creating the ‘From New York to New York’ chef series?
For us, the ‘From New York, to New York’ series is a way to do something new and different, and also raise money for charities like GrowNYC. It’s been great to work with other chefs in the city and mix our style with the guest chef’s style of cooking. For guests, it also exposes some of Manzo’s regulars to other chefs and restaurants in the neighborhood, and some of the regulars from the guest chefs restaurant come to Manzo or Eataly for the first time. Overall it has been a fun experience.
As chef de cuisine, what do you feel has been your biggest contributions to Manzo? What of your own personal style have you brought to the restaurant?
I would say my biggest contribution to Manzo has been putting systems in place for sustaining the restaurant. For example, standardizing recipes and having them available for cooks. I’m a big believer in teaching and feeling comfortable teaching your replacement how to do what you do. As a great chef once told me, “If you can’t teach someone to do what you do, you will never move up to the next level.
What have been some of your biggest challenges while at Manzo?
I think one of the biggest challenges at Manzo and in New York has been finding enough good staff. People move around to different restaurants quite a bit. I think most chefs and people in the restaurant business would say something similar about staffing [is] one of the hardest challenges.
How do you feel about Manzo being classified as ‘Adventure Dining’ – with your nose to tail offering? What would you tell someone who is apprehensive of ordering from that portion of the menu?
We have a few adventurous items like the Carne Cruda di Manzo (raw beef) and Testa Calabrese (cooked pig head terrine). If you’ve ever eaten a hot dog, you’ve already had some of the off-cuts that people can be apprehensive about. Through our nose to tail offering, it is our responsibility as chefs and consumers to make sure that nothing gets wasted.
Tell me a bit about the menu revamp, what was your inspiration behind it?
We wanted to change a few things, become a little less stuffy and “fine-dining.” Through the revamp, we wanted to make Manzo more accessible and approachable for everyone. We also wanted to promote more sustainability in working with local farmers and getting in whole animals to incorporate into the menu. Working with whole animals forces you to be more conscious about not letting things go to waste.
Tell me about the heavy Vermouth presence on the menu?
The first Eataly was opened in Torino in 2007 an old vermouth factory. We wanted to recapture some of the history of Eataly but also make it modern by incorporating a focus on vermouth with our cocktail program.
Chef Ali LaRaia
Tell me a little about the dish you’re serving tonight?
My dish features Agnolotti – a classic stuffed pasta – filled with summer corn and topped with basil and an heirloom tomato sauce from Invincible Summer Farms tomatoes. It’s inspired by late summer produce as well as Piedmontese cuisine.
As chef at The Sosta, identifying the needs for high-quality Italian food as a great price, what do you see as the next void to be filled in the culinary industry?
I think the next void to be filled is moderation and re-introducing various whole foods back into diets in the right way in moderation. For example, not being totally dairy free, but enjoying fresh cheese in moderation.
Who has been your biggest inspiration during your culinary journey?
Most of my inspiration comes from female chefs and farmers around the country – like female run farm Invincible Farms – as well as my travels and culinary experiences around the world. When I work on new dishes, I often reference flavor combinations that I’ve experienced while traveling.
The Sosta has been hailed as one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in NYC – how much importance do place on curating a space for social media? Why?
I definitely don’t go out of my way to make my food look Instagrammable. I find that when I’m thoughtful with my dishes and cooking with quality, fresh ingredients, the food will come out looking beautiful and Instagram-worthy on its own!
What does being a part of the ‘From New York to New York’ chef series mean to you? How do you feel that partnerships can help further shape our the NYC culinary scene?
I feel very lucky to be a part of it the “From New York to New York” chef series – especially during the summer – my favorite season to celebrate local New York produce! It’s great to partner with chef Adam as we’re in the same “space” of cooking Italian food in NYC, yet we have completely different backgrounds and experiences, which helps bring different perspectives to one dish or one menu! Partnerships help shape the NYC culinary scene by helping to take chefs out of their bubbles (their own restaurant space) and open them up to different ideas, ingredients, and techniques.