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An Evening with Chef Nick Anderer

Nick Anderer with his octopus salad.

On October 6th, I had the pleasure of attending the De Gustibus Cooking School’s “Touring Italy” class taught by Nick Anderer, Executive Chef of Maialino, NYC’s own Roman-style trattoria in Gramercy Park.  Prior to opening Danny Meyer’s Maialino, Nick Anderer worked with Mario Batali at Babbo and spent six years at Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, where he became Executive Sous-Chef.  As Executive Chef at Maialino, Nick draws on his time spent studying art history in Rome, an experience that inspires the warm, Roman-esque menu.  Nick sources his ingredients from the local Greenmarket, implementing a real farm-to-table philosophy in his cooking.

Nick’s passion and mastery of Italian cuisine were apparent as he whipped up a mouthwatering, five-course menu before our eyes.  Each dish incorporated the freshest possible ingredients, which were showcased through Nick’s skillful handling, creating an incredible dining and learning experience.  The courses were expertly paired with three delicious Italian wines from the Banfi Vintners portfolio.

The first course was an Octopus & Fingerling Potato Salad with celery and parsley (Polpo e Patate).  Delightfully fresh, the salad was simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and the octopus was cooked to perfection.  The polpo was paired with the Banfi Brut Metodo Traditionale Classico estate bottled sparkling wine; a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc blend with citrus and apple notes, bright acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish.  The Banfi Brut couldn’t have been more complimentary to the dish.

Up next, Nick demonstrated the steps for making fresh pasta for his Pumpkin Ravioli with Aceto Tradizionale & Ricotta Salata (Agnolotti di Zucca).  The delectable freshness of the pasta and squash came together in these edible pillows of heaven.   The ravioli was finished with aged Acetaia Bellei Aceto Tradizionale Balsamic vinegar, aka Italian liquid gold, a real treat!  Again, this course was a perfect pairing for the Banfi Brut Metodo Traditionale Classico.

For the third course, Anderer demo’d another fresh pasta, this time he prepared fresh cavatelli for his Homemade Cavatelli, Pork Sausage & Rapini (Pici all Norcia).  Pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe is one of my favorites, so it was great to see and taste Nick’s take on the classic recipe.  Nick uses stewed tomatoes in the sauce for his Pici, which was something I hadn’t tried before and gives the dish added dimension.  Banfi’s 2009 Fontana Candida Luna Mater Frascati Superiore, a blend of Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia del Lazio, Greco and Bombino, was a wonderful companion for this pasta dish.  Frascati is Rome’s signature white wine, and the Fontana Candida Luna Mater’s robust character and refreshing quality made it the ideal partner for this robust, yet refined, Pici all Norcia.

The fourth course, a Slow Roasted Short Rib with Coco Beans alla parmiggiana and watercress (Costata di Manzo), was a show stopper.  So deliciously rich without being heavy, the short rib practically melted on your tongue.  Nick’s careful preparation steps, including marinating the short rib overnight with salt, sugar, chili and black pepper, enhanced the meat’s flavor to lofty heights.  The dish was incredible with the 2006 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, an elegant estate bottled Sangiovese with aromas of violet and licorice, and opulent flavors of red cherry and spice.

For the grand finale, Nick prepared a decadent Chocolate Torte (Torta di Cioccolato), which paired wonderfully with the Banfi Brunello!

After his enlightening cooking class, I was able to sit down with Nick and ask him some questions.  Behind Nick’s laid-back persona, there is clearly a passionate and precise approach to his cuisine. The Wine Cellarage’s exclusive interview with Nick Anderer is below…

WC: Do you have a favorite Italian wine region, if so, which is it and why?

Nick: I love the wines in Tuscany and Umbria, I’m a big fan of Sagrantino and a big fan of Brunello.  My favorite wine to drink at Maialino is the Rosso di Montalcino Poggio di Sotto, so I have an affinity for that.  But then, who doesn’t love Nebbiolos you know, Piemonte.  It’s a toss up; I’d say one of those two…Southern Tuscany and Umbria, and then Piemonte.  You can’t compete with those regions.

WC: Is there a wine pairing rule of thumb that you go by?

Nick: Not really, I’m not a wine geek and not one of those guys that says “This has to be paired with this, that has to be paired with that.”  There are so many ways to go with so many dishes and I think it’s all about balance.  Acidity and sweetness. But, I think at the end of the day, my rule of thumb is that if you enjoy drinking it, and it’s not interfering with the food, then go for it. A lot of times I’ll taste a wine when we’re doing pairings at the restaurant and I’ll be like, “Well, this brings out this in the dish, and this brings out that” then I’ll taste again and think, “this is just so freakin amazing” and then I’ll taste the food and think, “and that’s freakin amazing”, and it’s not necessarily the textbook pairing, but it still works.  So, would I pair a really, really dry Sagrantino with a really delicate dish? No, because it would be killing the dish.  But so long as it isn’t interfering with the food and vice versa, if you like it, drink it.

WC: At what point in your life or career, did you become interested in Italian cuisine?

Nick: It had to be my junior year of college when I was studying art history in Rome.  That was 1997, and it was the whole experience of seeing the way that the people there treat ingredients with respect and seeing how Italian homes eat.  I was fortunate enough to always be brought up in a family that had big meals together.  There’s almost an obsessive way that Italians think about food and it met my obsessions.  I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool.  There’s a whole culture of people that share my same crazed notions of what you should be eating on a daily basis. Your whole life is revolving around what you’re going to eat next.”  That’s where it happened for me, in Rome in 1997.

WC:  Growing up, did your family cook a lot?

Nick: A lot. Every night.  And I think that my earliest Italian food memories are with my mom, she cooked Italian food.  One of my best friends in grammar school was an Italian kid named Miquelien from Bologna.  His mom was a cooking instructor and she gave my mom cooking lessons.  Through that, she started introducing a lot of Italian food into our regular family meals.  We cooked every night and that was definitely part of the reason that I became a Chef.  People become Chefs for different reasons; some people become Chefs because their parents were such bad cooks.  I became a Chef because my mother showed me what good food could actually be.

WC: What has been your greatest culinary achievement to date?

Nick: Creating Maialino has been my greatest culinary accomplishment because it’s the first restaurant that I got to create from scratch and I get to see it from the ground up.  All the way from the rubble and construction to the team that we put together.  It was really rag-tag to start and then it ended up being one of the greatest teams I’ve ever worked with.  There’s a lot of pride involved with creating something from the ground up, literally creating a restaurant.

WC: What is your biggest inspiration when creating a new dish for Maialino’s menu?

Nick: Mother Nature.  The market, farmers, food purveyors, they give me inspiration because they take so much care.  Without their care, my food wouldn’t be what it is.  Basically, I try to take the greatest hits of our favorite purveyors and do as little as possible to alter them.  I don’t want to mess them up.   Take them, respect them and put them on a plate.  That’s my inspiration, the people that prepare and grow and harvest all of the stuff that we use.

WC: If there’s a wine you could drink every day, what would it be?

Nick: Everyday… Man. There are so many that I’m going to have to leave out. Rosso di Montalcino, that’s the first one that comes to my head. It’s not even the high-end wine, Brunello. It’s the Rosso.

WC: What is your favorite ingredient this month?

Nick: I’d say this month, I would go with either the baby rapini or the turnips from Jeffrey Frank at Liberty Gardens.  He is a super star in my opinion, especially when talking about inspiration for dishes.  He’s the man.

WC: Where do you see food trends heading in the future?

Nick: This might be a boring answer, but hopefully where they are heading right now.  I think that people are taking the time to care about where their food is coming from and the more and more people do that, the more and more close America’s going to get to Europe in the way that we think about food.  And I think that what’s trendy now is the Farm-to-Chef experience and I think that’s cool.  It’s not cool when people use it as a catch phrase and it’s overdone, like bow down and kiss Alice Water’s bible, it shouldn’t be held up as a curse in anyway.  When people are actually caring, when people go out and shop and care about shopping somewhere other than Food Emporium, then something good is happening in America.  I think that getting good food to everyone is a really hard thing to accomplish in the United States of America.  Without being too political about it, I’m just hoping that people care about where their food is coming from.

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