INTERVIEW WITH WAYNE NISH, Executive Chef and co-owner
of March in New York City and author of Simple Menus for the Bento
Box, William Morrow & Company, 1998 by Laura Lehrman
LL: You started your cooking career about
16 years ago, what did you do during the preceding years?
WN: I didn't become a professional chef until I was 32 years old
after taking many side roads and detours. These included starting
as a journalism major in college; taking off two years and working
as a cook for college fraternity houses; going back to school
and studying architecture and then working with an architectural
firm which now 22 years later I'm using for my restaurant's expansion.
In the 1970's, during a seven year detour, I owned and operated
four retail printing stores. Yet, I was always interested in cooking
for enjoyment and was an avid avocational cook. I set up my schedule
so that I worked a four day week and could leave work at 3:00
pm to go food shopping at gourmet markets like Balducci's, then
go to the meat market district, then on to Chinatown.
LL: What was the progression to opening your restaurant, March?
WN: The turning point in my professional life came in 1980 when
I took a trip to Switzerland and ate dinner at Freddy Girardet's.
I was 28 years old, had never seen lobster out of the shell or
eaten foie gras. Gray Kunz was working there at the time. I had
a nine course meal and still vividly remember each course. In
1983, I attended the fairly new, New York Restaurant School and
upon graduation joined the staff of the now closed, but certainly
not forgotten Quilted Giraffe. Barry Wine, the owner of The Quilted
was the mentor who taught me about high-end dining; and I was
privileged to work with him and his talented staff for the next
three and a half years.
From there, after a brief hiatus working as a private family chef,
I went on to become the chef of a sleepy little New York City
bistro, La Colombe d'Or. At the time, it was not a ‘white tablecloth'
restaurant. I stayed there two years. We were fortunate enough
to receive a lot of press and the restaurant was awarded three
stars by The New York Times after I had been there for only four
months — the first time a bistro of this sort had received such
a high rating. When the opportunity to open my own place occurred,
I joined forces with Joe Scalice who was the General Manager at
La Colombe d'Or and an expert on the management side of the business.
LL: What is the origin of the name March?
WN: The media had regularly referred to me as a French chef. I
am not French and I don't think of myself as a French chef. I
wanted to give the restaurant a name that had no ethnic reference
at all, a name that was kind of ambiguous. The word "march" has
different meanings, it's a noun and a verb. It originated in the
Middle Ages from the Old English word meaning frontier or boundary.
LL: How did your background effect the development of your "New
WN: I grew up in a working class Irish neighborhood in Queens,
New York during the ‘50's and ‘60's. My mother was from Malta
and my father was Japanese-Norwegian. Multi-ethnic food experiences
have always been normal to me. When I was growing up, when we
went out to eat, it was for Japanese food at one of two places
near Columbia University or we went to Astoria for Greek food,
or to Flushing for Chinese restaurants. The 1990 Census reported
that there were 193 separate ethnic groups in Queens alone, making
it a cross-section of the world.
I have always drawn my inspiration from the cultural mosaic of
New York City — traveling around town, frequenting the mom and
pop ethnic markets and restaurants. It is important to me to use
the sources and experiences from my background in the constant
refinement and growth of my cooking philosophy.
I do, however, rankle when I'm called a fusion chef. I'm not happy
when I'm being pigeon- holed. Even though fusion is sometimes
an apt term, it's gotten a bad name. I hope that I'm having an
effect in changing that. I think of what I do as simply being
American. There's no reason that fusion cuisine should be synonymous
with bad food and odd combinations.
LL:What are some of your favorite cookbooks or food references?
WN:1) Larousse Gastronomic— It was given to me as a gift in 1977
and I spent the next three days reading it cover to cover and
being totally fascinated.
2) Simple French Food — This one by Richard Olney was very influential
to my thinking about the philosophy of food as it relates to lifestyle.
3)The Simple Art of Japanese Cooking— By Tsuji was a benchmark
4) Science of Eating Well— I greatly respect Pellegrini Artusi's
LL:Name the most essential equipment for you in the kitchen.
WN: At March, we cook as domestic cooks do, in the sense that
our food is made to order as we cook for one person at a time.
Therefore, I favor excellent quality smallwares such as half sheet
pans and small appliances which meet commercial standards. The
other important tools are:
and a pair of tongs
LL:What are five key ingredients for a New American Cuisine pantry?
WN: I'd love to have truffles, caviar and foie gras, but always
have the following on hand, ingredients which are almost universally
useful and versatile:
1) White vermouth
2) Fresh chives
3) Coriander seeds
4) Roast tomatoes
5) Confit of garlic
LL:What's in your culinary future?
WN:1) Expansion of March — We'll be breaking ground soon to do
a $1 million plus expansion which will add 25 seats turning the
restaurant into a 75 seater. It's all very exciting and we think
it will attract a lot of attention in the food world.
2) Open an Old New York-style casual bar — We are only in the
beginning stages of exploring this concept. The bar would have
an extensive whiskey, beer and wine list and serve hamburgers.
3) Write THE WAYNE NISH/MARCH COOKBOOK — Another planned project
is a book which would incorporate more of my interests. It will
have essays including one which defines American food as I see
it as well as my photos and recipes.