Industry Insiders: Chef Ed Cotton, Running the Market

Laurent Tourondel has passed a gastronomically reputable torch to Chef Ed Cotton to run BLT Market, Tourondel’s kitchen of the Upper West Side’s Ritz-Carlton-based restaurant. A fresh blend of market-inspired delights is what this Boston-bred chef brings to the table. After years creating delectable dishes at Daniel and Veritas, as well as working the ovens of the lightening fast-paced Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef America, Chef Ed’s dishes brings new meaning to your average food shopping at the market.

What do you do as chef de cuisine at BLT Market? I’m in charge of running a kitchen with a crew of 12 people. I do all of the ordering and purchasing. I try to find the freshest ingredients and produce. I run service and control the pass. The pass is where the tickets come in, so I can call out the orders, orchestrate them, and then assemble everything on the plates.

How do you go about designing the menu? Laurent and I meet every season and go over what foods are in their peak for that time of year, their availability, and what’s cool. One of us will have gone out to dinner, and we’ll say, “I tasted this great cheese, and it’s from Hudson Valley, and I want you to try it.” We try to find local farmers who are really passionate about their products. We go over the menus and discuss every detail together. I listen to him and he listens to me until we come up with something.

Describe the cuisine of BLT Market. French/American bistro. The name of the restaurant is BLT Market, so it’s definitely market-driven.

What is your favorite dish on the menu at the moment? Right now, I’m doing a house-made spicy lamb sausage with broccoli rabe, pomodoro sauce, and rigatoni. I like making pastas. That dish is brand new, so I’m really excited about it.

What sort of clientele frequents BLT Market? Tony Bennett comes in here a lot. We have a large amount of the Ritz-Carlton hotel guests who come down from their rooms too. Mainly, it’s the Upper East Siders.

How’d you get your start in the restaurant business? I’m a second-generation chef. My father graduated from same culinary school as I did, the Culinary Institute of America. He was an executive chef outside of Boston while I was growing up. So, I basically grew up in the kitchen.

What was the first restaurant you worked in, in New York City? I worked for a lady named Patricia Yo who owned two restaurants, AZ and Pazzo. It’s ironic because now those two restaurants are BLT Fish and BLT Steak.

How’d you get your position as sous chef to Cat Cora on Iron Chef America? When I was cooking at Daniel years ago, a good friend of mine who was working for Iron Chef told me Cat was looking for a replacement. I emailed my resume to Cat’s assistant, and literally 15 minutes later, they called and said, “It looks great. Do you want to meet Cat?” I met with her and have been on the show now for three years

What’s it like cooking on television? After watching the show for such a long time, to actually be in Kitchen Stadium was kind of weird. I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually here.” I was super nervous the first time, but then you get used to these guys running around with cameras while you’re cooking, and cables all over the place. I’m really comfortable with it now.

Favorite restaurants in New York? After work, I like to go to Landmarc in the Time Warner building because it turns into an industry hangout after my working hours. There are so many people that work late that go there. They have a great wine list. I also like going to Nougatine at Jean Georges for lunch. It’s a great deal, and the food is super tasty and awesome.

Who do you admire in the industry? Guy Savoy. He’s a very well-known chef, and he is super-talented. I had the privilege of eating at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas with my old boss Daniel Boulud, and it was a really memorable meal.

What are some positive trends that you’ve seen recently in the hospitality industry? The food styles keep changing. The way food styles keep evolving is the reason why I moved to New York from Boston. There are so many different restaurants. I don’t know if that even answers your question, but it’s true.

Any negative trends? Everybody is doing molecular gastronomy. I do respect it, and I’ll even use a little of it. But as far as using powders and chemicals, I’m not a fan of it.

What is something that people might not know about that goes on in the kitchen of a restaurant? Before service we always get together to talk and brief each other about what is going on that night, like how many reservations there are and how many are VIPs coming in. Here at BLT, between the front of the house and the back of the house, we always have a little pre-meal staff meeting to try and let everyone in on what’s going on.

What do you do for fun when you aren’t in the kitchen? When the weather is beautiful, I’ve been going to Central Park for the whole day and just hanging out and relaxing. Also, I obviously like to go out to dinner a lot.

What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs? I’d say you have to really, really love it. You can’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I want to be a chef.” It really has to come from the heart. You were born with this feeling that cooking is what you want to do. Young aspiring chefs should understand you’ve got to work a lot of long hours, and it’s hot in the kitchen. But you know what? If you really want it, absorb all of that and just do it. Have fun and don’t get discouraged. Keep asking questions and always listen to people with experience. Be a sponge.

What’s your dream spot for a project? I’m torn between NYC and Boston because I really love to be challenged, and New York is definitely a challenging city. Restaurants open and they close, they open and they close. But I could go back home to Boston where it’s a smaller scene, so it might be a bit easier to have a successful restaurant. I just want a cool, funky, straightforward restaurant that serves well-executed food. I want it to be fun and not pretentious with a great wine list. I’d say French/Italian food with handmade pastas. A very industrial-looking place instead of soft seats and plush leather.

Gorging @ Puerto Rico’s 2nd Annual Saborea Festival

Being dubbed the “Gastronomic Capital of the Caribbean” is no small mouthful, so throwing an annual food festival which can boast over 30 of the best chefs in the world is not a bad way to show what ingredients you’re really made of. Puerto Rico’s 2nd annual Saborea festival — which roughly translates to “savory flavors” for all you who are only fluent in Spanglish — was held seaside at the famous Escambrón beach this past weekend. The culinary rendezvous brought out some of the biggest players in the food industry from Puerto Rico and the continental US.

Pastry chef Jacques Torres, mastermind behind the successful chain Mr. Chocolate, collaborated with Puerto Rico’s Gran Meliá Resort’s executive chef Efrain Cruz to create some flavors that aren’t usually a part of our Subway and Chipotle lunch lineup, including a “chocolate rabbit” dish — yes, rabbit covered in chocolate. Michael Psilaskis, owner of Anthos in New York and Bon Appétit‘s 2008 “Chef of the Year” served up savory lamb chops with a little tropical flavor while, The Food Network’s Iron Chef veteran Cat Cora — now executive chef of Bon Appétit Magazine — stole the spotlight with her southern charm before she could even whip out her skillet. There was no shortage of food, Puerto Rican rum, or sunshine, and we learned two very important lessons as the festivities progressed: Don Q is what the locals drink (no more Bacardi and Coke for us), and self-control and a little bit of moderation are key for survival at a three-day food festival. ¡Buen provecho!