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5 ways Marc Forgione is harnessing past experiences to rebuild for the future

The fine-dining chef and restaurateur shares strategies for sparking inspiration and optimism despite the challenges of the last two years.
Marc Forgione
The wood-burning hearth is the heart and soul of Chef Marc Forgione's menu at Peasant./Photo courtesy of Peasant

“To be a chef, you have to be a psychiatrist, too,” said Marc Forgione, and starting out as a psychology major before turning to hospitality management—along with an enduring love of food and cooking—helped him get through the last two turbulent years.

As chef-owner of two New York City restaurants, Michelin-starred Restaurant Marc Forgione and neighborhood favorite Peasant—which he relaunched at the beginning of March, 2020—he sees the next 12 months as “the year of a big rebuild.”

During a recent Menu Feed podcast, Forgione talked about how he’s blending his past experiences with his excitement about the future to make that happen.

Be in touch with your ingredients to nurture inspiration. As the opening chef for BLT Market back in 2007, one of the brands in Chef Laurent Tourondel’s collection, Forgione reignited the joy and inspiration he drew from ingredient-centric cuisine. Creating full, composed dishes instead of the steakhouse-style plates he had been doing at BLT Steak made him realize how much he wanted to go in this direction. A year later, he opened Restaurant Marc Forgione, initially called “Forge,” and ingredients have since informed his menus—even with recent pandemic and supply chain challenges.

Stay true to your mission. When Forgione looked back on his notes to open that first restaurant, his goal was to create a neighborhood destination that serves fine-dining food in a welcoming atmosphere. Despite its Michelin star, Restaurant Mark Forgione is still that restaurant. “It sounds fancy, but once you get there, it’s the epitome of a New York City neighborhood restaurant where you can come and sit at the bar and have a tomato salad and roast chicken and leave, or you can sit down and order a tasting menu,” said Forgione.

As is Peasant, a cozy Italian restaurant with a wood-burning hearth that he took over from retiring founder Frank DiCarlo in January 2020. He is remaining true to Peasant’s legacy and both chefs’ devotion to ingredients. “It’s a wood-burning grill and a wood-burning oven,” said Forgione. “You focus on beautiful ingredients and let the smoke and the char do their magic.” He uses as many local products as he can and treats them the way an Italian chef or home cook would.

Elevate your team. Forgione was blown away by the Laotian food cooked by his sous chef, Soulayphet Schwader. He partnered with him to open New York City’s Khe-Yo, a downtown restaurant focusing on Lao cuisine, which is still going strong. Forgione lent his support so Schwader could realize his vision, but bowed out of day-to-day operations.

More recently, he promoted his sister, Kara Forgione, to general manager of Peasant. “Kara is the face, the brains and hospitality behind Peasant. I’m so proud of her,” said Forgione

This year, he hired more people than he has in the last five years to spur the rebuild. “The fresh faces, fresh ideas, and fresh attitudes are inspirational,” he said.

Embrace humility. Forgione admits that the pandemic has humbled and changed him to take things less seriously. He noticed the same thing is true with most of his customers.

“Customers have gotten less finicky,” said the chef. “You can feel the humility … people are more humble and respectful, realizing that people have worked really hard to prepare the food and serve it.”

Like Forgione, guests have learned to relax a little more. “We’re working together to be happy instead of the other way around,” he said. If a customer gets impatient, the team will send over a free drink or appetizer, and Forgione encourages everybody to “stop and smell the roses.”

If you manifest greatness, greatness happens. This fall, he is opening a new spot with his father, Larry Forgione, a pioneer in ingredient-focused cuisine at his famous An American Place restaurant.

Pre-pandemic, the two wrote a business plan to create a little restaurant based on how the Forgiones eat at home. “We all stand around in the kitchen, making antipasto and putting it out on the table as it’s ready. Lots of little tastes,” he said.

Originally, they scouted locations in Brooklyn, but in the middle of Covid, Marc Forgione was driving to Peasant, made a wrong turn and saw a “space available” sign in the window of Otto, Mario Batali’s since-closed pizza and bar concept. The open kitchen jutting into the bar was ideal for serving pinsa, the dough base for a variety of Italian-style tapas.

“The universe sometimes puts you in the right place at the right time,” said Forgione. The restaurant, which the father-son partners are calling One Fifth, will open later this year.

During the last year, “I laid down the tracks and now I’m ready to race on those tracks,” Forgione said. “I’m now looking forward to excelling after the rebuilding.”

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