Forging your own identity as a chef is critical to becoming a great chef and is what separates the good from the great. You can graduate at the top of your class, but it’s what’s inside that really makes the difference. The culinary world can be brutal, and though anyone can learn to cook and practice their skills, only those who have the soul of a chef can really become one of the greats. That soul is what carried Chef Marc Forgione to where he is today.
Maybe you’ve been to one of his restaurants or seen him on television competing on “Iron Chef America.” While a lot of young chefs hope to become celebrities, it was never Forgione’s plan.
Despite being the son of a culinary legend (his father Chef Larry Forgione helmed the acclaimed An American Place), his dad didn’t push him into the culinary world and he didn’t go to culinary school. Forgione’s kitchen experience began when he needed money as a teenager. He started working for his dad during the summer, washing dishes, busing tables, helping out in the front and back of the house in different ways. “I’m sure if he was working in a hardware store I would have worked the summer at a hardware store,” he says.
After graduation, he spent some time traveling. Upon his return, the elder Chef Forgione needed help at the restaurant and called his son to fill in temporarily for someone that had quit. That temporary post ended up changing the course of Marc’s life. He even remembers the date: August 21, 2001. “I went to work, I got bit by the bug and never stopped.” His journey brought him to France and back, working under great chefs like Michel Guerard and Laurent Tourondel.
Chef Forgione attributes a lot of his success to ingenuity and creativity he developed in the early days of his career. He worked his way up the ladder, working hard, asking questions and learning as he went. He helped open restaurants like BLT Steak, which was inexplicably outfitted only with a wood-burning oven that he had to figure out how to grill meat in.
In 2008, he opened his restaurant in New York City, just a couple months before the financial crisis hit. An initial hit, things changed almost overnight and he suddenly had to find a way to keep the place afloat and bring in customers. The call from the show “Next Iron Chef” came at the right time.
Though admittedly not a big fan of TV shows, “Next Iron Chef” was a little different. “I really enjoyed the fact that it was just about cooking and there wasn’t any drama in the house.” He jumped at the chance to join the show. By this point, he was used to doing a lot with a little and his creativity proved to be a big advantage when facing the show’s challenges.
That type of ingenuity is something Chef Forgione thinks a lot of younger, less experienced chefs lack these days. According to him, the key to becoming a great chef is to learn how to trust your gut instincts and be yourself rather than trying to copy anyone else. Admittedly, this may not always lead to success, but he says, “At least if you screw up, you screw up doing something that you wanted to do, not what somebody else wanted you to do.”
Some of the best advice he can offer to younger chefs is to hone their creativity and find their own voice. In a time where anyone can find any recipe online and learn to perfectly replicate the dishes of other people, “the copycat plague” as he calls it, it’s important to step back and try to find your own way to do things. As Forgione puts it, “Just get a piece of meat and look at it and figure out what you want to do with before you Google ‘what can i do with it?’”
Next on the horizon for Chef Forgione is a new restaurant he’s working on opening in New York City with his father, Chef Larry Forgione, that will be featured food like pinsa, a type of ancient Roman-style pizza, cooked over a massive wood-burning grill. You can also catch him at ChefConnect: Atlantic City on February 25, 2019, where he will lead a discussion about finding inspiration within yourself.