Industry Insiders: Marc Forgione, Master Forger

Marc Forgione, chef and owner of TriBeCa restaurant Marc Forgione, is up and running again after averting a costly trademark infringement lawsuit (his restaurant was once called Forge, as is another dining establishment in Miami Beach). He spoke with BlackBook about his celebrity chef father, Navajo rites of passage, his death row meal, the irresistible nature of suckling pigs, and REM’s nuanced palate.

Who have you cooked for lately? One of our regular customers is D.L. Hughley, the comedian. He’s a lot fun to be around and always says, “Yo, whassup chef? This is my fave restaurant, man — put the suckling pig back on or I’ll kill you.” And Michael Stipe came in last week. It really made me feel old when half my cooks didn’t know who he was. You could tell that he likes food. He was sniffing his wine and then quaffing his dish before eating.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? It’s so cliché, but I genuinely love to cook. I love the business as a whole because it’s fun. Every day is totally different and new.

What is your food trying to tell us? Be open-minded. Have fun. Like my foie gras lollipops — it’s having fun with classic stuff. Anyone can do an oyster with a mignonette. Why not throw a different flavor in there? I do one with fresh pineapple juice, habanera pepper jelly, and mint leaf.

How are you different from your father, the great Larry Forgione? He’s a lot quieter than I am. Obviously, everything in his restaurant is completely American, from the olive oil to the chairs to the salt. I’m not as dedicated to that principle. If my favorite olive oil happens to be from Calabria, then that’s what I use. My dad helped put America on the map, but I feel like my cuisine is more New York and more melting pot. My dad laid down the tracks, and now I feel like I’m riding where those tracks haven’t been yet.

Who are some of the newer chefs you admire? The chef de cuisine at Casa Mono — I eat there all the time. Pinot Maffeo sort of “fell off” after he won Food & Wine’s Best Chef award, but whatever he does next will get noticed. Also, I have a great meal every time I go to this place called Market Table — the chef’s name is Mikey Price. It’s nothing fancy, but always great food.

What draws other chefs to your restaurant? I always have at least three or four dishes that are on the menu just for chefs — like crispy deep-fried bone marrow with caviar. Chefs like that type of thing. Plus, a lot of chefs on the high end have very formal dining rooms. At my restaurant, you can wear flip-flops and still get quality food.

What is it with you and suckling pigs? How can you not? Believe it or not, I just took it off my menu, but it’ll be back on soon. It’s a great product. The way that we came about doing the original one was kind of by accident. We tried it a bunch of different ways, and the best one was cured for two days and then cooked in duck fat for a day. You don’t have to chew it, I swear.

What future trends do you see in New American food? Sad to say, it’s recession menus. I’ve already added a value plate: Hampshire pork tenderloin — confit and crispy belly — with cornbread puree and barbecue Maui onions with chili oil emulsion. We serve it for $24.

You’ve already survived a lawsuit. What are some of the challenges you face now? It’s been an absolute roller coaster of a year. We opened to crowds flocking the place, and everyone was making big plans. Then we got sued and the economy fell on its face all within three weeks of each other. It was like standing on a blanket and having it yanked out from under you. But I’m not here wondering, “Why me?”. You just have to make it work. I think a major challenge is realizing how much you can cut your staff, lower your menu princes, and sacrifice what you need in order to stay a place that people rely on. The people in the dining room just want good service and a good time, which they deserve.

What’s in your refrigerator at home right now? Cured meats and a bottle of red and white wine. I live in Little Italy now, so I always have really good olive oil. I have this hot sauce that I found when I was in St. Croix called “Miss Anna’s.” I’ve had it for two years, and we still haven’t gone through the bottle — that’s how spicy it is. There are always eggs in my fridge and either Pecorino or Parmesan, red pepper flakes and olives to chew on when I’m working.

That sounds pretty Italian. My grandfather, who just passed away, was the only 100% Italian in the family, but I’ve found that as I get older, I just naturally lean towards Italian. In fact, I just put a Florida red snapper puttanesca on the menu. People ask me what my death row meal would be, and it’s so easy: homemade pappardelle with really fantastic Bolognese sauce. Nothing else.

What do you listen to back in the kitchen? It’s called “shuffle” these days — there’s a lot of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and Pearl Jam, Thievery Corporation, and lately I’ve been listening to A Tribe Called Quest and MGMT. Every day at 5 o’clock, I play “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. It started back in the kitchen, but now I have it out on the floor, too. During the day, the cooks like to play these George Carlin skits. It keeps everyone happy.

What’s up with the matching tattoos on your forearms? I saw this piece of Navajo art in the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. It stopped me in my tracks, and I went straight to the tattoo shop in Georgetown and got it done. It’s called “the man and the maze”: the maze is all the decisions you’ve made in your childhood, bad and good. The man stands outside it because he’s ready to be on his own. At the time I was at a crossroads — I knew that I wanted to do my own thing, but wasn’t sure if it was the right time.

What are you doing tonight? I’m cooking a seven-course dinner that I designed for the underwater restaurant of the Conrad Rangali Island Resort in the Maldives.

The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner on Batali, Beatrice, & Bono

Sune Rose Wagner, the raven-haired member of Danish rock duo The Raveonettes, was without his blonde songbird Sharon Foo when he called the BlackBook offices for a chat. Having released their last LP Lust, Lust, Lust, over a year ago, Wagner didn’t have much to promote save for a slew of upcoming performances including a show this Friday at Webster Hall. Instead we talked about Jack Kerouac tattoos and Helena Christensen dinner parties. You know, the usual.

When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grow up? A tennis player. I was a semi-professional tennis player for awhile.

Do you have any tattoos? Yea, I have two. I have a picture of Jack Kerouac, and then I have a small little anchor.

Why did you get Jack Kerouac? I used to enjoy his books tremendously, and there was a certain restlessness and energy in his books that I liked when I was younger, and that’s when I decided to travel a lot.

Are you superstitious? I am, yeah.

Can you give me an example? Every time I fly, I have to do this certain motion with my hand, like a cross, otherwise I think the plane is going to fall down.

Have you ever been arrested? No I haven’t been arrested, but I have been interrogated once in connection with some graffiti stuff that we got caught for in Denmark.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Teleportation. It would make traveling so much easier. I hate traveling … I can’t stand it. Well, I like driving, I don’t mind taking trips, but I hate flying. I hate going to the airport, I hate everything about it.

Have you ever been starstruck before? I’ve been starstruck many times with many different people. When I met Jay-Z I was pretty starstruck. With Q Tip I was starstruck because I love him … Bono from U2, I was pretty starstruck right there, Julianne Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Where do you tend to meet these people? I met most of them at this little Christmas dinner party that Helena Christensen was throwing. Sharon and I, we went there and it was basically a lot of these people, and it was a pretty surreal experience at first, but after a while it’s not a big deal. You’re just standing in the kitchen with Bono drinking a glass of wine, and he’s just a guy.

What would you always watch that’s on TV if you’re channel surfing and you come across it? I actually don’t have TV. When we’re in hotels and stuff, I’ll watch it, but I decided not to watch it at home because I know that it’s such an easy thing to fall into, especially over here with all these channels. I mean, I miss it sometimes because I like to watch documentaries a lot, and it’s nice to have the news on, but when you have the Internet, you can pretty much do everything online anyway.

So do you spend a lot of time online? Yeah, I probably spend too much time online, like most people do. I should go out a little bit more I think, because I tend to think that the Internet is sort of my eye into the outside world, but I should just go for more walks.

Do you spend a lot of time on Facebook? No, I don’t, and I’m lucky in that way because I know other people spend way too much time on there. I don’t really use it that much, mostly for checking out events. Because there will always be friends DJing. Sometimes I use it for just catching up with people in Denmark, or anywhere else in the world, friends I don’t see that often, all of a sudden they’re online and you just chat with them.

What are some of the places in New York that you like to go out to either party or eat? I have a lot of favorite restaurants here. This town is so good for food. I like Mario Batali’s restaurants a lot, I go there all the time, to Lupa or Casa Mono or Babbo, and I like the French bistro style of eating, so I’ll go to Balthazar. And sometimes I’ll go to a place called Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar in the East Village; it’s a very nice little place to sit and eat … they make the food right in front of you. There’s a little Spanish place on the corner of where I live called Tía Pol, which is a little tapas bar. They have good wine there.

What is it about Batali’s food that you like? I like the simplicity of it. It’s just really a simple, almost rustic kind of food, and it’s incredibly tasty.

What kind of nightlife do you have in New York? I don’t have that much of a nightlife. I like to go restaurants a lot, and we’re party smokers, so if we go out, we need to find places where we can smoke, and unfortunately there are not a lot of those places left. So we’ll go to a bar called Motor City for instance … they’ll let you smoke there usually. Yesterday we went to Lit. I was DJing at the Glasvegas after party.

And what about the Beatrice Inn? You can smoke in there too. The Beatrice Inn … I go there a lot and you’re right, it’s good for smoking. So I mean, there’s some places you can find, but I don’t really explore a lot of new places, and I don’t go to clubs or anything like that.

New York: Top 10 Tapas Restaurants

1. Alta (Greenwich Village) – Alta, as in “high,” as in “haute,” at this sexy Village tapas spot. 2. Degustation Wine & Tasting Bar (East Village) – Mannered tapas more about multiple changes of silverware than half-gallon pitchers of sangria. Put on a classy costume. 3. Flor de Sol (Tribeca) – Sexy Spanish tavern with the best sangria in the hood.

4. La Nacional (West Village) – Subterranean Spanish haunt hosts the most authentic tapas experience in NYC. 5. Casa Mono (Gramercy) – Man’s man’s tapas. Meat good. Make happy. Grunt. Grunt. 6. Oliva (Lower East Side): Basque home cooking that’s as wonderfully odd and complex as the language itself. Plus best sangria in the hood. 7. Tia Pol (Chelsea) – Basque in the glow of top tapas. Small plates = small waists. No reservations = long waits. 8. Boqueria (Union Square) – Realest Valencian paella in town courtesy of a guy named Seamus. Melting pot and all that. 9. Mercat (Greenwich Village) – Seared Catalonian tapas as solid as the brick, marble, and wood that make up this market-inspired NoHo newcomer. 10. Harbour Drive (Soho) – Spanish seafood in luxe yacht interior evolves into a rockin’ Marbella party boat.