What makes a distinct dining experience for me? It is the cuisine, the atmosphere and conversations with someone special. Usually, though, we don’t get to meet the people who work behind the scenes to create these unforgettable meals. Several weeks ago, I sat with Chef Richard Farnabe at the famed Petrossian restaurant at 182 West 58th Street, New York, NY 10019. The French-born chef has a resume par excellence, punctuated with the names of restaurants that draw gourmands and stars to New York from around the world— Restaurant Daniel, Jean Georges, Lotus, and the Soho Grand Hotel and The Tribeca Grand Hotel, among others. Chef Farnabe is charming as he speaks to me with a radiant smile about his home away from home—Petrossian.
What makes a chef?
Passion. You have to be passionate for what you do or you will never be a chef. You have to love what you do.
What do you like about being a chef?
For me, teaching people in my kitchen how to be a chef, showing my passion, and demonstrating the techniques that will help them grow.
What is a perfect day in the kitchen?
Every day is a perfect day. I love waking up and coming to work. I love my job. I love what I do.
How long have you been a chef?
How did it come about?
I started when I was twelve–years-old. I am Parisian-born. As a young kid, I was cooking for my brother after school because my mother was working late. I got to love cooking, and found a passion for cooking.
Where did you acquire your experience in French cuisine?
I went to school in France. I worked for a wonderful chef for ten years—Jacques Maximin.
What makes Petrosssian a classic French restaurant?
Petrossian has been an institution since 1920. They have the best caviar in the world. Of course, we encapsulate the French technique in a classic restaurant like Petrossian with an American flair.
Petrossian is an elegant restaurant. Is there one word you can use to describe what it is like being in your kitchen?
My kitchen is like the restaurant: You can eat on the floor. My kitchen is spotless. Everything has to be spotless. I am OCD about it.
Is there a secret to making pastries?
Pastries are like chemistry. You have the ingredients: flower, eggs and sugar, and everything is precise. When we create a new pastry, we just try and try again to get it to perfection.
Do you make your croissants daily?
Yes, every day. We have a gentleman who has been making our croissants for fifteen years. He is here at five o’clock in the morning.
What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to become a chef?
Be patient in learning. In France, we go to school for three years. Here, some people attend a culinary school for three months or six months. They watch cooking shows on television and think they can be a chef. Cooking is about patience, because you don’t learn everything overnight. It is precise. So, be patient and understand that every dish is different. There are hundreds of sauces and different ways to cook fish and vegetables. I say, learn the technique and relax. Being a chef is not only cooking. It is managing the kitchen, the restaurant and, at the end of the day, you have to make money.
Do you like caviar?
What is there not to like? We have tourists from Russia, Japan, Europe, and of course, New Yorkers who come for our caviar.
Do you cook at home for your family or go out?
I cook. I love going to the market and making a nice meal at home.
Thank you Mr. Farnabe