The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2014

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34  /  the tasting panel  /  july 2014 CHEFS: ONE-ON-ONE WITH MERRILL SHINDLER W ith his full head of salt-and-pepper hair, his classic Roman profile and his bemused grin, Ralph Scamardella, Corporate Executive Chef of the TAO Group, New York and Las Vegas, could have stepped out of an epic by Federico Fellini. And then he speaks, and he's a guy from Brooklyn, with a wonderful voice that sounds like the old neighborhood. Ralph is the son of Italian immigrants, who studied cooking at New York's Technology Institute (he couldn't afford the CIA), managed to land a job in the kitchen at the Plaza Hotel and then went on to work with Daniel Boulud. He joined the TAO Group in 2007, where he oversees the highest-grossing restaurant in America. And it all began with the American version of a Horatio Alger story… Merrill Shindler: Was Brooklyn a cool place to grow up? Ralph Scamardella: Not when I lived there. I grew up in Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Bensonhurst—tough neighborhoods. My father was a longshoreman. I was an altar boy at the church across the street. What was food like in your house? We used to grow everything we ate. We never owned a car. We had a backyard garden that in the summer was full of tomatoes, arugula, eggplant, peppers, grapes. It was like living in Italy. You learned to cook from your mother? Everything she made was good. I loved her braciole, her meat- balls, the things she could do with pork. The first dish I cooked was lentils and macaroni. I was 12 years old. I loved cooking. For a guy who loves everything Italian, you spent a lot of time in French kitchens . . . Whatever background you have, to know the French kitchen gets you 99 percent of the way in a fine-dining restaurant. It's the roots, and we keep coming back to it. You have two small children. Do you cook with them like your mother cooked with you? My daughter is a complete carnivore—lots of steak and fish, and no vegetables. My son is the complete opposite, a natural vegetarian. But pasta works for everyone. What city would you like to eat in right now? Of all the cities I've been to, Singapore is the best. I love the hawker markets. Last time I was there, I watched a guy making dosa. I watched him so much, he thought I was a spy. And what do you eat late at night? I love ice cream. I love Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia—cherries with chocolate chips. Perfect. Ralph Scamardella TAO, NEW YORK AND LAS VEGAS Ralph Scamardella. PHOTO COURTESY OF TAO GROUP

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