Ouest’s Tom Valenti
At Ouest (2315 Bwy.) Tom Valenti serves complex and hearty fare like foie gras agnolotti in an intimate atmosphere of leather booths with jazz playing in the background. Valenti first gained acclaim when he became the first executive chef at Alison on Dominick St. Valenti tells it why it’s better to skip the Twinkie and what he cooks for himself at home.—Sascha Brodsky
Any tips for entertaining at home?
Prepare ahead. It should be about being with your friends and not being tethered to the stove any more than you have to. You can reheat blanched vegetables, pre-sear fish or meat, make pasta sauce ahead of time and reheat it or you can warm up pre-made stews and soups.
Where is your favorite place to eat in the city?
There are too many to count. There are so many talented chefs in New York City—more so than in any other city, I think. Gotham Bar and Grill, Dino BBQ, Daniel, Peasant, Babbo are probably my top five.
What do you cook for yourself at home?
I almost always make a piece of simply prepared, grilled chicken, fish or meat. I eat it with a beautiful salad and a little piece of cheese. My favorite cheeses are ones that are perfectly ripe—or anything that Steve Jenkins of Fairway recommends.
Which ingredients should everyone have in the kitchen?
Salt, pepper and a great olive oil such as Iliada – a Greek kalamata olive oil.
When going out, how much do you tip?
Usually 20 percent. Often when I dine at a friend’s restaurant dishes will be sent out on the house and the staff gives us special attention. I try to respect the grace and effort that they’ve exhibited and tip more in those circumstances.
Any tips for getting a good dinner reservation?
What makes a good meal?
Quite often the company you keep.
What is the best meal you’ve ever had? The worst?
It is hard to conjure up because I’ve had so many. Whether it was a picnic in a park or an anniversary dinner at Daniel, it is difficult to define. I’ve been so fortunate to have so many. And again, the best meals are made by the best company. The worst meals I’ve had have had to do with being at a restaurant where the staff has an attitude that they are doing the diners a favor. There is nothing worse than that and it has ruined a number of good meals.
Do you have any memorable stories from the kitchen?
I have more than I can describe but the most memorable are related to moments when I’ve been in the kitchen with one of my peers such as Thomas Keller, Alfred Portale, Bobby Flay and Mario Batali. Cooking with friends who are such stunning cooks and being with any chef of that caliber where we can do what we do best have led to some incredible experiences that are too few and far between.
What is the most common misconception about eating out?
Eating out and spending money and being in beautiful trappings is wonderful, but take time to smell the roses and find delight in food everywhere. There can be beauty in a great loaf of bread if we can stop ourselves long enough from our harried existence to appreciate it.
I recently tasted cherries off of an organic farmer’s truck while standing on Broadway surrounded by the sights and sounds and smells of New York. After I ate one I stopped dead in my tracks, appreciated them for what they were – fresh from the country, pure and delicious. Sometimes you have to skip the Twinkies and go for a beautiful piece of fruit.
Valenti’s Pea Soup with Parmesan Flan
2 cups chicken stock
8 cups frozen baby peas
½ onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 whole eggs
2 ounce grated parmesan
(1 ounce for flan, 1 ounce for crisps)
2 slices thick cut smoked bacon
Extra virgin olive oil
For soup: In a sauté pan, sweat the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. In a sauce pan, add onion and garlic to pan, add stock and peas. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and puree in a blender, in batches if necessary. Once blended, pass soup through a chinois. Taste, and season with salt and sugar to taste. Set aside.
For flan: Combine cream, eggs, 1 ounce parmesan in a bowl and whisk together. Pour mixture into 2 ounce aluminum ramekins coated well with a pan release spray. Place ramekins in a shallow pan, add enough hot water to come ¼ inch up the side of the ramekin. Cover pan with aluminum foil with a few small holes poked into the foil. Set in a preheated 325 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and check for firmness, if center is still soft, set back in oven for another 2-3 minutes.
For crisp: Sprinkle just enough parmesan onto a baking sheet to make about a 2 inch circle. Place in a 300 degree oven for about five minutes. Remove pan and using a small spatula, pick the still soft crisps and place on a flat cool surface to cool.
For bacon crisp: Dice bacon and cook to just crisp. Set on a towel to drain and set aside.
To assemble: Place warm or re-warmed flan upside down in the center of a soup bowl. Remove ramekin. Pour soup around flan coming half way up the flan. Push one of the crisps into the flan. Spoon a little bacon dice on to the top of flan. Add a few pea tendrils and a very light drizzle of olive oil around the soup.