Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Zach Goldman Cracks a New Egg

In the kitchen of his whitewashed “Bed-Stuy” brownstone, 21-year-old Zach Goldman tests recipes on friends as he contemplates aloud the merits of pecans (versus hazelnuts) and plays with the magenta hue of his freshly made pasta.

“How do I prevent butter from masking the flavor, while retaining the color?” he implores his guests, dicing the nuts with dexterity.

After refining the dish, adding pecorino, pine nuts and arugula, Goldman’s Beet Linguine found a home on the menu at Melt, the popular Park Slope eatery where he’s worked as a line cook for six months. 

In the past year, despite high rates of unemployment and a capricious job market, Goldman has rappelled into the NYC culinary scene with remarkable success. While many of his peers are staying in school, racking up degrees and student loans, putting blind faith in the imminence of an economic upswing, Goldman has chosen the kitchen over the classroom. If his career trajectory is any indication, this young cook exemplifies the possibility of success through nontraditional means... 
“Zach never went to culinary school, but he got his first New York job at Al Di La, an incredible Italian restaurant. Then he got fired,” Goldman’s brother Alex, 18, says. “After that, my aunt said, ‘Zach, you can’t handle it. This is a terrible time to get a job, in this economy. Just go to school.’ He didn’t take her advice, he stuck it out, and now he’s at Melt. If he wants something, he just goes for it.”
In a matter of days, Goldman will start his next endeavor, line cook at the newest monosyllabically titled, Brooklyn hotspot: Egg. Renown for its brunch (expect to wait at least an hour for a table on weekends), Egg uses produce, milk and eggs from its farm upstate.

While Melt’s former head chef, Andres Valbuena taught Goldman some of today’s most popular food technologies—think sous vide foam and meat glue—the complex, presentation-centered menu at Melt didn’t quite fit Zach’s culinary vision. 

Since his apprenticeship under Chef David Wurth, proponent of seasonal food from the Hudson Valley Green Market, Goldman learned to get creative with a limited palette, emphasizing the basics of a dish—partly why he’s so eager to begin at Egg.

“I’m all about simple, unpretentious food. It takes 45 seconds to cook at egg, and when I’m flipping one over-easy, thinking, ‘No one is going to pay eight dollars for a broken yoke,’ now that’s pressure,” says Goldman.

To hear Goldman speak about the craft of cooking, his commitment is undeniable.

“As a cook you have to be thinking, feeling and doing. You have to have your heart in it. It’s a sixth sense. You panic, but then you feel your way out of it. It’s a muscle memory you develop,” he says.
When Chef Valbuena gave his resignation at Melt in late August, Goldman was offered the chance move up.
“It was like an audition. The owner sits down and you serve a five-course tasting. And you see if they understand your food. I was respectfully let down, but I had a great time preparing for it,” Goldman says, and while he confesses it would have been irresponsible to give a 21-year-old the position of permanent head chef, he was asked to stand in during the interim week before the new chef began.

“Being everyone’s boss, it’s no longer just about the cooking. I pulled it off, but was relieved when it was over. I had nightmares about fish not being delivered. There’s just no margin for error,” Goldman says.

Growing up in rural Lakeville, CT, cooking always played a significant role in Goldman’s family dynamic. On Thanksgiving, the crew still fiercely competes to make the perfect piecrust.

“Mom always wins,” says Goldman, with a sigh.

Goldman graduated high school in 2006 and spent three months traveling Europe alone. While visiting England, he built a guitar from scratch.

“It was about creating, carving down the wood with your hands. I get the same feeling from cooking,” he says.

Despite an appreciation for the culinary arts, Goldman’s family still urged him down a more academic road. So upon his return, he settled on a compromise that suited both him and his parents.
While receiving college credit, he first went east to Bali and India with a group of students. He then settled alone for several months in Cambodia to teach English in a Buddhist school. It was abroad that this affable New Englander with earnest blue eyes cultivated a taste for curry leaves and lemon grass.
Now in New York, when not at the restaurant, Goldman’s apt to be testing new flavor profiles on roommates, or cruising the farmers markets and Trader Joe’s for fresh ingredients.

Five to 10 years down the road, Goldman would like to be “running a place, to be head chef.” At 60, he fantasizes of joining the ranks of restaurateurs, spending his days in his “own gorgeous kitchen,” making prototypes for a team of chefs.

While many of his peers are still figuring out what calls them, passion and confidence have been Goldman’s biggest allies.

“Zach grabs it. This isn’t a time when people get jobs doing what they love. But he has,” Alex Goldman says. “He’s got great drive."

No comments:

Post a Comment