Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Things I Like: The Kitchen At Maialino

Sorry for the delay in posting! We have had a hectic household this past week, with one kiddo having her adenoids removed and a lot of cooking happening in the evening when photo-taking is not ideal (you missed a pretty amazing short ribs braised in Barolo from Gourmet, which is being reissued in the upcoming book Gourmet Italian being published by Houghton Mifflin in May–I highly recommend!).

But I wanted to share some photos I took last week during an impromptu visit to the kitchen of Maialino, the wonderful Roman-style trattoria located in the Gramercy Park Hotel in NYC.

Kathy, my cookbook partner, and I were having a lovely winter lunch of prosciutto with bufala mozzarella, fried artichokes, octopus, and pasta, when the executive chef, Nick Anderer, visited our table. Kathy is working on a cookbook with Maialino’s sister restaurant—the venerable Gramercy Tavern—hence the visit from Nick, and after some chatting we were able to finagle a guided tour of the kitchen! This is Nick and his very cool chef’s jacket.
Getting a kitchen tour is the ultimate thrill if you are a complete food dork, sort of like a theater geek getting a backstage tour by Patti Lupone after a performance of Gypsy and getting their Playbill signed. Kind of. Although instead of a dark warren of dressing rooms, cigarette smoke, and sparkly chorus girls, you are navigating a very brightly lit space crammed with stainless steel counters, steaming pots, and chef’s with knives tattooed on their forearm (Which looked very cool…can I get away with this? Yeah, I know the answer.).

What also makes this a breathtaking experience for someone like you or I, is that you can see how much preparation goes into making the food you so blithely devoured only moments before. Yes, we all know that high-level restaurant cooking is very different in terms of the amount of prep involved and the level of technique required, but it’s also inspiring to see first hand how this suckling pig:

and these people cleaning arugula:

and this talented lady making perfect pasta with just eggs and flour in a cool back room:

will turn into this:

Maialino’s perfect signature pasta dish: Malfatti al Maialino (pasta ribbons with braised suckling pig and arugula).

Touring the kitchen of a professional kitchen (and I don’t mean your neighborhood Applebee’s where everything is being defrosted and nuked) also makes you admire how much labor goes into each dish, while affirming that your humble kitchen does not include a dude with a sharp knife trimming fennel and preparing the mise en place— so good for you for just getting dinner on the table all by yourself!

Nick was very proud of the food and presented many treasures from the walk-in, including this prepared porchetta.

And this housemade sausage. Beautiful.

But most impressive was the labor and care that goes into the pasta, specifically the ravioli, which called for two women with incredible upper body strength working some very stiff dough (no oil, no water) into these gorgeous orbs filled with a combination of Di Palo ricotta and spinach. These photos are more “stylized” because I took them on my iphone and then posted them on Instagram (Are you on it yet! If not, why not?!). But you get the idea, they were gorgeous.

Here is the sheet of pasta after each ravioli circle had been marked precisely and the filling placed.

Here is the second sheet being laid on top of the filling like rows of babies being tucked into bed.

Now the ravioli being cut out–notice how there is barely any rim, just the bare minimum of pasta to enclose and seal the filling so it will dissolve in your mouth.

Now they are placed on a sheet and cooled before serving at the dinner service. Nick recommends always chilling or freezing your pasta dough as well before using, which is recommended for so many doughs or batters, from cake to pancakes. I’m sure Harold McGee could explain why… I will just say that it has to do with gluten settling and magic.

That was our tour! Hope you enjoyed. And if there’s a very nice restaurant that you enjoy going to and would like a tour of the kitchen then why not send your regards to the chef after dinner one night (I’m sure he or she would like that) and then use your considerable charms to get in that kitchen! I would love to hear about it.

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