Gail Simmons knows great food. The Top Chef judge (for 15 seasons and counting!) and ICE Culinary Arts graduate has a taste for adventurous eating and the passport mileage to prove it. But what does she cook when she’s in her own kitchen? Which recipes does Gail rely on again and again when she’s on her home turf? Readers will discover Gail’s time-tested and totally doable favorites in her new cookbook, Bringing it Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating. We couldn’t think of a better gift to give the food lover in your life. But still, we were curious — what is the Toronto-native gifting the people on her list? As it turns out, food isn’t the only thing Gail knows well — check out her great gift recommendations. 

Gail Simmons

Photo by Johnny Miller

For the kitchen gadget whiz: Joule by ChefSteps

I’m not a big gadget person — I’m more a basic tool person — but one thing in the gadget category that I have totally fallen in love with is the Joule. It’s a really sleek, tiny immersion circulator tool. You can clip it on the side of any pot, set the app on your phone to the exact degree that you want to cook and sous vide almost anything. It is so easy and amazing. I used to scoff at the idea of a sous vide machine for the home cook and how modern chefs are so crazy for them, but I found so many great uses for the sous vide. It’s also a great way to cook with kids because they can’t burn themselves and it is easy to understand and use with them. I have made everything from poached lobster, steak and chicken to crème brulée with the Joule.

For the ace baker: Supernatural Kitchen Baking Products

Right now I am really obsessed with a new line of all-natural baking products just launched by Supernatural, a company created by a friend of mine. They make coconut sugar, which I love and use in all of my baking. Don’t get me wrong — it’s still sugar, but it has a lower glycemic index than regular refined sugar and I love the flavor. The other product that I recommend for bakers is Supernatural’s line of natural, plant-derived food coloring. They are vibrant, gorgeous, amazing colors and there is nothing bad in them; there are no artificial colors or preservatives. They have this amazing color called Magic Blackberry, which is a really deep blue. It can become almost black, but you can also adjust the amount so it becomes pinkish. It is great for baking with kids, obviously, because it is all natural, but they also do sprinkles and sequins in all natural colors, star confetti [“starfetti”] and rainbow sprinkles.

For the curator of beautiful things: Ceramic Pitcher (That Doubles as a Vase)

I love beautiful ceramics that are functional — like a beautiful ceramic pitcher that can also be used as a vase, so it is very multi-purpose.

For the host(ess) with the most(ess): Marble and Copper Monogram Boards

For friends who are entertainers, I would get a beautiful marble slab from Williams Sonoma. Their version has a copper monogram on it, so it’s a nice personalization. It’s also great for taking pictures of your food on.

The cookbook collector: Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating by Gail Simmons

So my book, I think it’s the best possible gift. I worked really hard on it. It was two years in the making but really a lifetime. It has recipes that are meant for the real home cook. It has recipes that I actually cook all the time, for all levels of cooks. There are some ambitious recipes, but there are also a lot of simply delicious dishes that anyone could make — that’s what I look for in a cookbook. There are over a hundred recipes that I have created and developed from my lifetime of traveling the world and cooking with some of the greatest chefs. It was a real labor of love.

It’s also perfect for the holiday season: there’s a whole chapter in the book called “Party Time,” which is all snacks and food that I love serving when I have people over, but not for a seated meal. I do different dips like muhammara, a Syrian-inspired dip with roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranates. Then there’s a great basic hummus that I serve with preserved lemon and fennel seed. In that same chapter, I have amazing fried pickles and crispy baked chickpeas. Or my latke Reubens, which is what I will be serving for Hanukkah this year. I used my mom’s latke recipe and then I make a great play on Russian dressing with spicy sour cream and I serve it with pastrami slices and a really fresh, bright apple-celery slaw on top.

For the in-law who you will impress this year: Food-Inspired Jewelry from Delicacies

I try to get my in-laws something that they wouldn’t necessarily get themselves. My father-in-law is tricky, but he’s a sports guy so hockey tickets are what I generally go with. Hockey tickets or a really nice pair of gloves. For my mother-in-law, there is this jewelry company called Delicacies that makes elegant, food-inspired jewelry, and gives a portion of their proceeds to hunger-related charities; until the end of this year, they are donating a portion of the proceeds from all purchases to City Harvest. They make these beautiful, diamond-encrusted eggs that are pendants for necklaces or bracelets, or they have gold and silver eggs, too. I love the egg because it’s a beautiful symbol for its shape and it’s symbolic of fertility and renewal and the New Year. They also do a line of pasta-related jewelry, which are really fun. I have a farfalle necklace that I wear all the time — that would be perfect to give my mother-in-law.

Wildcard: Essrum Egg Cups

Speaking of eggs — because I love an egg and I think they are a fun gift to get people: little egg cups. I collect egg cups and not a lot of people own them. I have a great recipe in my book for soft-boiled eggs with buttery soldiers that I serve with two different kinds of butters — these egg cups could be great for that.

Interested in learning where a Culinary Arts diploma can take you? Learn more about ICE’s career program.


Looking for the ultimate gift for the food lover in your life? Try a gift card for a cooking, baking, wine or mixology course at ICE. From homemade pasta and creative macarons to Tuscan wines and New Orleans–style cocktails, there are so many courses to choose from. Even better: when you buy a gift card, you’ll get a gift card worth a 20% discount. Then maybe you and your loved one can make something delicious together. 

To redeem this offer, enter the code ICEHOLIDAY17 during checkout.

This promotion is available beginning at 12am on December 15th and ending at 11:59pm on December 26th. This code is not valid for previous orders and cannot be combined with gift card orders.

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By Caitlin Raux

In the words of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat.” When Andrew Massetti (Hospitality Management ’14) was offered a position as Community Manager at Spotluck, the rapidly expanding restaurant app that solves the age-old diner’s dilemma, “Where should we eat dinner tonight?” he didn’t hesitate — he got on board. “We launched in New York with 250 Manhattan restaurants. Now, 8 months later, we have over 100 more, and we’ve expanded to Brooklyn, Queens and Hoboken,” Andrew tells me one afternoon at ICE. With a broad smile that rarely turns off, it’s pretty clear that Andrew is fueled by his job. Andrew’s willingness to take a risk on an idea he believed in, combined with his ICE education in hospitality and all things restaurants — from food production and kitchen management to sales and marketing — made him uniquely qualified for this burgeoning area of the startup world.

Andrew Massetti

Andrew Massetti, Community Manager of Spotluck

The idea behind Spotluck is simple. In a city like New York, where you can’t Uber a block without passing a slew of restaurants, the decision of which restaurant to choose can be a challenge. Spotluck provides a sort of restaurant roulette: take a spin on the mobile-friendly wheel and score a discount for the restaurant where you land. Andrew comes in at the point of access between the restaurants and the app — he introduces Spotluck to restaurant owners, explains to them how it works and shows them how it can improve their businesses. “Every restaurant in New York City has been acquired the same way — by personal touch. I’ve been to every single one and they know me by name,” says Andrew. Rather than chains or corporately owned restaurants, they focus on local, family-owned businesses, where the service they provide can actually make an impact. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. “I work with each restaurant independently, because each has different needs,” Andrew explains. “If they have higher food costs, then I work with them on the discount amount. We want to bring in as many people as possible, but make sure it’s smart for each restaurant.”

Andrew wasn’t always on the hospitality path. The Long Island native received a business degree from SUNY Oneonta, and for a time, considered a career in finance. His mother was a banker and his father a teacher, and as his twin brother had already gone the teaching route, the finance world seemed logical. After college, however, Andrew started seriously reflecting on where his passions lay. “I loved restaurants, I loved traveling, so I figured I’d do something that took everything I loved and combined it into one.” He decided to research hospitality programs, which led him to ICE. “It wasn’t too long, it wasn’t too expensive, it wasn’t a Masters program. It was just the right amount of school to give me a basis in the industry.” Andrew enrolled in the hospitality program at ICE, where he started laying the foundation for the dynamic career ahead of him.

I loved restaurants, I loved traveling, so I figured I’d do something that took everything I loved and combined it into one.

When he started at ICE, Andrew was sure about one thing: he wanted to work in hospitality. But as he progressed through the Hospitality Management program, he was able to home in on where in that vast industry he wanted to be. Through his externship and class field trips to notable New York hotels, Andrew realized that he wanted to work in a “lifestyle” property — a hotel that offers high quality service in a more casual setting. “Our class took a trip to the Ace Hotel and I thought, ‘This is somewhere I can see myself working.’” With that in mind, he landed his first post-graduation position as a guest services agent at the Refinery Hotel, a hip boutique hotel housed in a former millinery factory and tea salon. There he cut his teeth on front-of-house operations, gaining experience doing something that seems to come natural to him — interfacing with clients. He knew, however, that his long-term goals were in another part of hospitality. “I used my front desk experience to propel me into sales and marketing,” says Andrew, who transitioned to a role as sales and marketing coordinator at the Knickerbocker Hotel, the famed hotel originally constructed by John Jacob Astor IV. It was an ideal position, and one he had no plans of leaving, until he was approached with the opportunity to join Spotluck. The Maryland-based startup was on the brink of expanding into the New York market and needed a person on the ground to form relationships with local restaurant owners. Andrew believed in Spotluck’s mission and took a leap of faith.

Spotluck

Spotluck in action

During his school days, Andrew took inspiration from ICE’s campus — New York City. “I loved being in the city, loved being in the hustle and bustle. I would walk around the hotels and see what restaurants were around. I was learning about the industry from just being there.” Today, a large part of Andrew’s role as Community Manager is hitting the pavement. “I’ve put in a lot of miles. I’ve walked probably every street in the city,” Andrew says with a laugh. Perhaps not every city street (Ed. note: figures estimate around 120,000 blocks in the five boroughs of New York), but he’s done an impressive amount of firsthand research on each neighborhood where Spotluck has a presence. He figures out what the needs are and combines those observations with his knowledge and training from the hospitality program to help local restaurants to bring diners in. “During the restaurant operations class, I learned about food costs, revenue per seat hour and all the math involved in operating a restaurant. For every restaurant, their goal is to fill each seat and turn each table as many times as they can. I learned that at ICE.” In a time when more and more customers are opting for delivery services, convincing diners to forego Netflix and takeout for a traditional restaurant experience is more challenging than ever. That’s why the service provided by Andrew and Spotluck is so valuable — to restaurants and diners alike.

A key player in a growing restaurant startup may not be where Andrew expected to be, but in retrospect, each step prepared him for the next. And he seems nothing if not thrilled with where he ended up. For him, the intersection between startups and hospitality is the perfect fit. “It’s a unique job. If I go out today and add another restaurant to the app, we’re doing good for the restaurant and for the community,” Andrew tells me. “The most rewarding part for me is knowing that what I do every day is having a direct impact on the company.” Oh, and the perks. Of course, there are excellent perks: “Our restaurants are great — they love to feed us.”

Ready to get on the path toward your dream career? Learn more about ICE’s career programs. 

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To celebrate the release of her highly anticipated cookbook, My Rice Bowl, James Beard Award nominee Chef Rachel Yang will visit ICE on November 10. She and co-author Jess Thomson will reflect on their careers, provide insights for culinary business owners and discuss the process of getting a cookbook published. Attendees will have the chance to win a free copy of the book, which features 75 recipes based on Rachel’s deeply comforting Korean fusion cuisine. Below, Rachel shares one of her favorite recipes from My Rice Bowl.

By Rachel Yang, ICE Graduate and Chef-Owner of Joule, Revel, Trove and Revelry

For me, the best moment of cooking the food we cook is catching a customer trying to figure out what’s happening in their mouth. They take a bite and chew thoughtfully, but they either don’t find the flavors they expected or they can’t identify what they’re tasting. They take another bite and in a storm of discovery, they chat with their fellow diners about what’s happening. By this point, they’re already hooked — there are smiles and nods and reaches for another bite.

umami-packed potatoes

These potatoes are a prime example of a dish that creates that kind of experience. Tossed with a blend of Kalamata olives and soy sauce, they look like they’ve been coated in barbecue sauce, but somehow the combination of salt and butter with the deep umami flavor comes across like dark chocolate in the first bite.

But don’t take my word for it — try making them yourself!

Hot Potatoes with Black Olives and Soy Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

For the potatoes

Ingredients:

2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole coriander
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

For the sauce

Ingredients:

½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
1 tablespoon Korean chili flakes

For serving

Ingredients

3 tablespoons canola oil
½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter, divided
½ cup Thai basil, leaves picked and packed

Preparation:

  • Cook the potatoes. Put the potatoes, salt, coriander, peppercorns and bay leaf in a large pot. Add cold water to cover, bring to a boil, then cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the fattest potato. Drain the potatoes, halve lengthwise and spread on a baking sheet, flesh sides up, to cool.
  • Make the sauce. In a blender, whirl together the olives, soy sauce, mirin and chili flakes until smooth. Set aside.
  • Fry the potatoes and serve. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of the oil, then half of the potatoes, cut sides down, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until browned and crisp. Turn the potatoes and cook for another minute, then pour off the excess oil and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter has melted, add about half the sauce and cook, stirring and turning the potatoes, until the sauce has reduced and the potatoes are well coated. Stir in half the basil, transfer the potatoes to a serving plate, wipe out the pan, and repeat with the remaining oil, potatoes, butter, sauce and basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Reprinted with permission from My Rice Bowl: Korean Cooking Outside the Lines, by Rachel Yang and Jess Thomson.

To register for Rachel’s talk on Friday, November 10, contact: rec@ice.edu or call ICE Customer Service at 212-847-0770.

Interested in studying the culinary arts at ICE? Learn more about our career training programs.

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By Danielle Page

It’s no new news that New York City is known for its incredible eats. Manhattan’s restaurant scene is a constantly evolving mix of avant garde concept restaurants, storied and respected, high-caliber eateries and hidden, hole-in-the-wall gems. And while each borough offers up something unique, every few years or so a new section of the city experiences a fresh wave of restaurants, bringing a resurgence of inventive new fare to the area.

New York City’s latest restaurant hotspot? The East Village. No longer are the village’s best eats limited to the quick, cheap grub on St. Mark’s Place. With restaurants opening by seasoned and up-and-coming chefs alike, getting a reservation in the East Village is quickly becoming a challenge.

Not surprisingly, many chefs and owners behind the latest and greatest East Village openings got their start at ICE. Here are just a few ICE graduates who are at the helm of these noteworthy eateries in the neighborhood.

Simone Tong

Simone Tong, chef and owner of Little Tong Noodle Shop
Culinary Arts, Restaurant & Culinary Management ’11

Little Tong Noodle Shop, Simone Tong’s first restaurant, opened in the East Village this March. “After traveling to source international inspiration from countries like Moscow, Copenhagen, Brussels, Shanghai and Taipei, it really hit me that Chinese culinary stories and cuisines still remain largely underrepresented in the western world,” she says. Tong embarked on a three-month long culinary research trip through the Yunnan Province, which is the cuisine Tong’s restaurant is devoted to — specifically Mixian, a type of rice noodle.

“I spend my days mostly in the kitchen and dining room – preparing dishes, coming up with new dishes, getting to know our customers and interacting with them,” says Tong. “I am always thinking about ways to offer special new dishes and make seasonal updates to each of the Mixian noodle bowls, which pay homage to the beautiful Chinese province of Yunnan.”

Why the East Village for her first venture? “The East Village is a fun, vibrant neighborhood with an inimitable energy and bustling restaurant scene,” says Tong. “There is a younger demographic here full of students, artists, musicians, young professionals, young families and foodies – which Little Tong Noodle Shop really resonates with. Like Little Tong Noodle Shop, the East Village has a humbleness and authenticity to it that we appreciate.”

As for her advice to ICE grads looking to open up shop in the East Village, Tong says to seize the opportunity this neighborhood has to offer. “ICE grads considering locations in the East Village shouldn’t be afraid to look outside of their day-to-day cuisines and at dishes that aren’t often seen in the city and find ways to approachably introduce them to a willing East Village audience,” she says.

Catherine Manning, owner of Villanelle
Restaurant & Culinary Management ’15

Manning opened her artisanal New American restaurant, Villanelle, in the East Village this past March – which had many advantages for this ICE alum. “First, it was important to me that my restaurant be near my home so I could always be available on short notice,” she says. “East 12th Street is situated in a busy commercial, educational and residential corridor with plenty of foot traffic, which was very appealing. We are a vegetable-forward establishment using local and ethically sourced ingredients, so having the Union Square Greenmarket in our backyard has been a fantastic resource for us as well. The multiple subway lines coming into Union Square make it very convenient for our guests and staff to reach us.”

Manning oversees all operations of the restaurant. “The beauty of this business is that there are infinite opportunities to innovate and create and push the envelope with the reward being smiling guests who return regularly,” she says. “It’s very gratifying to work with the team we have who share this same goal. We live and work for those smiles.”

While you’d think that having many businesses competing in one space wouldn’t be the recipe for supportive neighbors, Manning says the East Village has been very welcoming. “It’s a very nice community to work in,” she says. “We know our neighbors by name and we help each other out. I think there are unique opportunities to grow and learn and participate in building something that comes with the types of establishments, like ours, that proliferate here.”

Guy Vaknin

photo courtesy of Beyond Sushi

Guy Vaknin, executive chef and owner at Beyond Sushi
Culinary Arts ’07

Being a resident of the East Village prior to opening his restaurant made this location an obvious choice for Guy Vaknin. “I lived in the area for seven years prior to opening and was always drawn to the neighborhood and its community,” he says. “I opened the first location of Beyond Sushi five years ago on East 14th street.”

Vaknin’s day-to-day duties include creating menus, running the operations of the company, overseeing food quality and managing the chefs. “Our specialty is vegan sushi,” he says. “It’s also a fast-casual concept that focuses on clean eating, using fruits and vegetables as star ingredients.”

Why does Vaknin think the East Village has become the new restaurant hotspot? “The East Village is a dynamic place to be,” he says, “[with] diverse residents, and it’s always changing.”

 

Chef Miguel Trinidad

Miguel Trinidad, executive chef and owner at Maharlika Filipino Moderno and Jeepney Filipino Gastro Pub
Culinary Arts ’07

Miguel Trinidad grew up in the East Village, which he says made it a logical location to open his restaurant. “I opened the restaurant with my partners eight years ago,” he says. “The East Village has always been a mixture of great food. It is the perfect place to showcase a new cuisine.” While there are plenty of diverse restaurant offerings in the area, Trinidad says the fact that there aren’t many Filipino options in the East Village also gave this location appeal.

Trinidad’s daily duties include everything from menu development to kitchen management and administrative tasks. One piece of advice he has for ICE alums interested in opening up shop here? Get used to tight quarters. “Make sure your skills are honed as you will be working in small kitchens,” he says. Despite the minimal work space, there is still plenty of room for opportunity in this lively NYC neighborhood.

Ready to carve out your space in today’s vibrant culinary scene? Learn more about ICE’s culinary and hospitality career programs.

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By Caitlin Raux

“During the Qin Dynasty, a scholar was studying for an exam. He went to a park on an island to study. The scholar’s wife wanted to bring him noodles for lunch and she had to cross the bridge.” Simone Tong (Culinary Arts, Culinary Management ‘11) was filling me in on the legend behind “crossing the bridge noodles,” also called mixian (mee-syan), the Yunnan province specialty that New Yorkers are eagerly slurping at Simone’s new East Village restaurant, Little Tong Noodle Shop. “She discovered, because she was very smart — smarter than her husband, obviously,” Simone continued, with a chuckle, “that a layer of chicken fat covering the broth would keep the noodles hot while she crossed the bridge. And then she cooked the raw food in the broth once she arrived.”

Ingenuity, it turns out, also finds its way into the kitchen of Little Tong, where Simone’s impeccable technique and reverence for each ingredient is met with her own brand of creativity and humor. The result is dishes like the “Lijiang old town grandma-inspired” Grandma Chicken Mixian: an addictive combination of light chicken broth, tender chicken confit, black sesame garlic oil, tea-steeped eggs, house-made fermented chili and pickles, finished with a smattering of bright flowers. Simone, who cooked with Chef Wylie Dufresne at wd~50 for nearly five years, explained, “I want my food to be seriously tasty, but also have a hint of elegance, a hint of humor and a hint of surprise.”

Simone Tong

Simone Tong during dinner service at Little Tong Noodle Shop (Photos by @caseyfeehan)

On a recent Wednesday morning, while the shutters of Little Tong were still drawn, Simone and I chatted about her path from the kitchens of ICE to wd~50 to her own bustling downtown restaurant.

Little Tong Noodle Shop

Salted Cucumbers with Bang Bang Sauce and Mint

What inspired you to enroll in culinary school?

The first real inspiration came from my mom. My parents are art dealers, so they had a lot of beautiful paintings. My mom had the idea to create a restaurant where they could hang some of their paintings, mostly renaissance period, and she could sip coffee all day. She had no idea what owning a restaurant entailed, so she hired a chef and opened a restaurant called Café Firenze. One day a French chef walked past the restaurant and he thought the restaurant was decorated in good taste, so he wanted to become the chef. I was home from college for the summer, so I helped translate his French-accented English to my mom in Sichuanese. He went into the kitchen and started cooking these beautiful, classic French dishes like tomato concasse. That was my first inspiration.

Then after I graduated from college, I saw a show called “After Hours with Daniel.” Chef Daniel Boulud would visit different restaurants, talk to the chefs and bring his own ingredients. The first episode of the first season was wd~50 with Chef Wylie Dufresne. I was so wowed by it — the combination of art, science, cooking and food. It seemed so fun to be a chef. You get to sit around, drink, talk about food, taste food.

I did extensive research. Where is wd~50, how do I go there, how do I learn what they do? Then I researched the different culinary schools in New York and I visited three of them. I realized I could get two degrees from ICE — Culinary Arts and Culinary Management, which economically made sense. The other big factor was that at ICE, we would do an externship. So I decided to enroll at ICE. I wrote my first cover letter to wd~50 — I knew I was going there.

Where is wd~50, how do I go there, how do I learn what they do?

Did you use what you learned in ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program to open your own restaurant?

The thing about New York is it’s so crazy. I don’t think you’re ever prepared to open a restaurant — you just do it. But if you’ve never been in the industry, you want to learn from a school that draws the best examples of how to run a business. And that’s what they do at ICE.

Banna Shrimp Mixian

Banna Shrimp Mixian

How did you know it was time to open your own restaurant?

I always wanted to open restaurants. But the opportunity came when a mutual friend introduced me to my business partner, Simon Xi. His background is more finance — very numbers-driven, which is a huge contrast to a chef. But we shared a passion for opening a restaurant that served modernized Chinese cuisine, to bring new memories to New York. We wanted to build upon our memories of Chinatown and Chinese takeout and lo mein.

Little Tong is on the same block as Momofuku Noodle Bar – does that draw comparison?

Sometimes. Food writers either say it’s similar but a different style, or they say “good for her for being so close to this legendary icon.” I worked for Chef David Chang briefly, but we also met when he came to wd~50 from time to time. He’s been very generous and very kind to me. He sent me a text to congratulate me and brought beers over.

Little Tong Noodle Shop

Extra Chili Oil

Tell me about your style of noodles.

They’re called mixian (mee-syan): it literally translates as rice threads. It’s from the Southwest region, a Province called Yunnan, which translates as southern cloud. It’s a very beautiful place, almost like a fantasy world. Not many people have discovered it; people in China only started traveling there in the 1990s. Now it’s popular, because people talk about how beautiful it is.

I was born in the Province next to Yunnan, Szechuan, which is known for spicy cuisine. I didn’t truly discover Yunnan until my research last year — I was there for 3 months — but my passion for mixian developed when I was very young. Mixian is like the foster child of Yunnan cuisine. Everybody knows about mixian in the rest of China. Even restaurants in New York, like in Chinatown or Flushing, serve mixian or “crossing the bridge” noodles. It’s a bowl of rice noodles with 20 plates of different ingredients, and you dump what you want in — kind of like Vietnamese pho. In China they add raw chicken, pork, fish or beef; then some sausage, pickles, lots of vegetables, boiled eggs and tofu. That’s what I grew up eating. You can find this in New York, but there’s not as much raw protein because of health department regulations.

I don’t think food should be something just to show off your technique. It should be wholesome. It should make you smile when you eat it.

What do you add to this traditional dish?

All of the dishes on our menu are inspired by dishes from the region and recreated in our own way. A classic example is the Grandma’s Chicken. It’s our most popular, most written-about dish. I discovered Grandma Chicken at a restaurant that only serves chicken mixian in Lijiang, an old town in Yunnan. We spun that dish around and did something new. We cook the broth for 36 hours. We sear the chicken skin so it’s more dynamic in flavor. We add a lot of aromatics and we also make a black garlic oil with black sesame so it’s toasty and aromatic. We ferment our own fresh chili and cook the chicken in its own fat, which is what they did in Lijiang as well. We use antibiotic-free, cage-free chicken. Then we add a tea egg that’s been steeped in tea and spices, and finish with fresh flowers. If you look at the dish, it’s very spring, it’s very Yunnan. But the flavor is reinvented slightly.

Grandma Chicken

Grandma Chicken Mixian

Do you have any advice for people opening their first restaurant?

With millennials, you can’t be hard on them and chastise them. They will just quit. They don’t see value in putting their head down and working. Inspiration is really the thing and a little sense of humor. [Ed. note: a waitress on duty when we visited the restaurant confirmed, “Simone’s hilarious.”] Sometimes you walk into the kitchen and you can sense that everyone is mad at each other — you can feel the passive aggression. How do you turn this passive aggression around? I’ll find myself shouting orders and they’ll delay five seconds in reading them back. Then I realized I need to try to relate to them and say something humorous to bring them out of their own misery. Refresh them. Then let’s get back to work. Sometimes, though, you have to tell them directly what’s the right thing to do. I have no problem being direct.

I think the most difficult part of having a restaurant is managing the people. How do you build a team from strangers? How do you make sure they’re professional? How do you make them do the right thing? How do they carry the spirit of your restaurant and keep the energy up? It’s everyday mentoring. We’ve changed about 12 dishwashers now. It’s crazy how hard it is to find a good dishwasher — someone who consistently shows up to work. That’s a challenge. It’s all about the people and how to get them to produce the same quality every day.

What is your culinary voice?

I used to watch that show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and I always liked when the ballet dancers turned into break dancers and changed the genre. I want my food to be seriously tasty, but also have a hint of elegance, a hint of humor and a hint of surprise. I want to create something more amusing than serious. I don’t think food should be something just to show off your technique. It should be wholesome. It should make you smile when you eat it.

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