Culinary Extravaganza At The New York Produce Show: Ritz-Carlton’s Executive Chef Mark Arnao Among Super Chefs To Appear On Stage
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 2, 2012
It is already widely recognized that the program for the “IDEATION FRESH” Foodservice Forum is exceptional, but it is far from the only foodservice component of the show. We have our Culinary School programs with students and/or faculty from the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales, Le Cordon Bleu and the Institute for Culinary Education. Many exhibitors focus on foodservice, and some exhibitors have even bought separate booths for retail and foodservice divisions. Many exhibitors bring along their own chefs.
Last year, The New York Produce Show and Conference unveiled its Culinary Innovation Station. Right on the main show floor, the culinary students and their faculty advisors create delicious tastings of produce items prepared on the spot. The students from the culinary schools forage the trade show — in our own version of hyperlocal outreach — to find the perfect ingredients to cook up exceptional dishes.
In addition, also on the show floor — in a centralized area that resembles Central Park — we are pleased to host an assortment of superstar chefs on the Celebrity Chef Stage. This year’s line-up of chefs will be Executive Chef Mark Arnao from the Ritz-Carlton Central Park, Top Chef Master Kerry Heffernan, Executive Chef Ben Pollinger from Oceania and Executive Chef, Iron Chef and Chopped participant Michael Giletto from Bayonne Golf Club.
The Pundit has enjoyed a few nights at The Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South, so we were especially enthused that the new superstar chef at this premier property was going to mount the Celebrity Chef Stage and demonstrate some pretty impressive techniques. We asked Carol Bareuther, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, to find out more:
Chef Mark Arnao
Auden Bistro & Bar
The Ritz-Carlton Central Park
Q: One of the hottest happenings on the Manhattan dining scene this fall was the September opening of Auden Bistro & Bar, a new restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton that features an upscale American-style menu, rich in produce from Hudson Valley farms and beyond. As a 13-year veteran of the hotel chain who has worked locally inspired culinary magic coast-to-coast, we would like to know a little more about what inspires you. What led to your interest in fresh produce and to become a chef?
A: Actually, the two go hand-in-hand. I grew up in Philadelphia and when I was 9, or my Mom say’s 10, I walked into the restaurant where she worked as a waitress and asked the owner/chef for a job. He told me to come back on the weekend and he’d see what he could do. I did, and I stayed until I was 18 and the restaurant closed.
I was running the kitchen by the time I was 13 or 14. It was a little mom-and-pop place located at the entrance of the 9th Street Italian Market in South Philadelphia. When we ran short and needed something, the boss handed me ten bucks to go out on the market. I always looked for the best — the best tomatoes or the best onions or the best of whatever we needed.
Q: And, how did this evolve into you becoming a chef?
A: I was a senior in high school when the restaurant closed. I thought about becoming a chef then but decided I would try something different. So I enrolled in Kutztown University and majored in secondary mathematical education.
The people were great, but then it would be time to work. I hated that part. So, I quit after the first year, and three months later was back in a kitchen. I realized that’s where I belonged. I’ve been with the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott International since 1999.
Q: What is your philosophy regarding fresh produce at your new restaurant, Auden?
A: My goal is to create great food with simple really fresh ingredients. It’s a back-to-basics approach that doesn’t call for masking flavors but instead enhancing them. For example, I think a rutabaga should taste like a rutabaga. I think this is what people are looking for today.
On our current menu, my two favorite entrees are a Pan Seared Scottish Salmon with Sautéed Kale and Coriander Citrus Jus, and Pot Roasted Breast of Capon with a ton of seasonal root vegetables, all braised together in a rosemary reduction.
Q: How do you source your fresh produce?
A: Funny you should ask! When I was planning to open the restaurant, I wanted to source as local as possible so I Googled ‘New York produce’. The New York Produce Show and Conference was like the third listing that came up! So, I called the number to find out how I could get a ticket to find out who I could get to supply me with what I needed. Now I’m participating!
Q: Is it true you source your produce from the nearby Hudson Valley?
A: Yes, we do. The Ritz-Carlton has a give-back program called Community Footprints. For us, that means we partner with a farm in New York State, about two hours north of Manhattan. We go up there and plant vegetables, weed, harvest, whatever needs to be done. Then we buy some of the produce that’s grown on the farm. That’s like lettuce, cabbage, root vegetables, chard, potatoes, garlic and onions.
The farmer has lots of different plots with many types of vegetables planted. The farmer then takes the proceeds from what we pay to buy the produce and donates this to local soup kitchens. It’s really a win-win.
Q: Does the farm supply all of your fresh produce needs?
A: No. We have two larger-volume farms that supply us during the season. One is in Ohio and the other is in Massachusetts, so they are still in our quadrant geographically. Every week, they send a list of what is available. We also still use mass distributors for items like bananas and melons or something like strawberries in January. Still, I like to buy locally whenever I can.
Q: What do you look for in a produce supplier?
A: It all boils down to someone who is a friend, someone who will go out of their way to help. Any produce supplier can source just about anything and anytime. But I look for the person who tells me that next week a certain crop will harvest on Tuesday, and he or she can get it to me on Wednesday.
Someone who will always keep me up to date with what’s just in and what’s happening.
Q: Do you have a favorite type of fresh produce?
A: Yes, all the roots. My favorite time of the year is now, in the fall. Summer has its flavors too, but I’m not a sweet guy, meaning I’m not into a lot of fruits. Instead, I like rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, salsify.
What I like is that once you know how to play with them, the aroma and aromatics are fantastic. For example… braised rutabaga or celeriac whipped with butter and cream into a puree and blended into mashed potatoes or served by itself with fish. I get hungry just thinking about it.
Q: Could you give us a sneak peek of what you’ll present in the Celebrity Chef Demonstrations on Wednesday?
A: It will be something with root vegetables.
It is a constant refrain we hear now: New restaurants and foodservice chains that are growing on the east coast, and retailers looking for local and regional foods, start or jump-start their procurement efforts by visiting The New York Produce Show and Conference.
Some who are focused on retail or even larger restaurant chains may be dismissive, thinking that what a Ritz-Carlton chef does in his white table-cloth restaurant is simply too high-end and small volume to matter to the larger produce industry.
We think back to something we noticed years ago at the Fancy Food shows. It turned out that all the high-volume retailers had a team attend this show, even though most of the products were not suitable for their high volume needs. They came not necessarily to procure but to figure out the trends, to understand where the market was moving, to identify what would be the mass trend in two years.
We are pleased that we could help Chef Arnao set up his supply chain and we are even more pleased to have him doing culinary magic with root vegetables.
Come to The New York Produce Show and Conference, feel the excitement and taste the dishes produced by our culinary all-stars.
You can register for the event right here.