Chef Arik Bensimon started cooking at the age of 11 at his Aunt and Uncle's restaurant, Pasta Prego, on 45th and 5th Avenue in New York City. He has been in the kitchen ever since and there's no place he'd rather be (other than a yoga studio). As Napa and Company's Executive Chef he has created a menu that spans the culinary globe while staying close to the farm. Passionate and surprisingly understated, Chef Arik recently sat down with CTbites to answer a few questions about what makes him tick.
If you had unexpected guests arriving at your home for dinner in 1 hour, what would you whip up? Pasta. I always have really good buccatini in the house and a can of really good tomatoes. I'd probably do a salad to go with it…with fresh greens and I love shaved fennel.
What is the last dish you cooked for yourself? Whole grilled Bronzino with olive oil and lemon juice. I was cooking at my mother's house.
What are your guilty pleasures in terms of food? Cereal. Kashi (any kind) with almond milk is da' bomb.
Ingredient you could not live without? Lemon, actually...really any kind of citrus.
Chef you'd most like to meet? Pierre Gagnaire. He is such a creative force, and from his interviews, he seems like such a humble, nice guy. He worked hard to get where he is and he prevailed. His creativity is really insane.
Worst kitchen nightmare? I've been to the ER 15 times in my career. The worst was an incident at Le Cirque where I was placing a pan of sweetbreads in really hot clarified butter into the oven. Somebody knocked into me and I burnt everything off my hand. The owner's son sat with me in the ER for 6 hours. I'd say I'm in there once annually.
Most useful kitchen tool or appliance? My Vitamix blender. It is really powerful. Great for soups, purees, completely liquefies anything in seconds. (While I was doing this interview, Arik was unboxing a new Vitamix. The excitement was palpable.)
What dish on your menu most defines you and your cooking style? The Halibut I made for a recent bloggers dinner really defines my style. (For those not in attendance, this was a perfectly cooked halibut fillet with hen of the woods mushrooms and a clean rich broth with strong mushroom undertones.) I enjoy cooking light, seasonal, and anything with mushrooms.
What defines an outstanding meal for you? It's all about the company. I can be eating a simple meal, but if I'm with good friends or my family, (whom I'm very close to), the meal is elevated to something wonderful. If you are surrounded by great people the meal will follow.
Who do you like to cook for the most? Friends and family for sure, but it is also very rewarding to cook for people you don't know.
Extracurricular activity you enjoy when not cooking? I do Vinyasa yoga every day at a studio in Riverside.
People would be surprised to know that you... have Run DMC as my phone's ring tone.