We're underway at the 2008 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, where our first stop was a panel discussion at the Amex Trade Program featuring Bobby Flay, Dave Chang, Barbara Lynch and Marcus Samuelsson titled, Meet the Masters: How I became Me (with moderator Steve Dolinsky). Now, when festivities the night prior include a mezcal tasting with 11 PM kickoff, an 8:15 AM start the morning after is brutality. Nevertheless, these four put on a good, if a tad sedate, show. The dialog:
On mentors and early influences...
Bobby Flay: "Jonathan Waxman was the first person to teach me what good food was. He gave me an appreciation for fresh ingredients...he taught me to respect the ingredients. He was also the first person to show me southwest cooking, which I'd never seen before. And that's how Mesa Grill was born...Now I look at the United States as a menu, as ingredients."
Dave Chang: "Jonathan Benno, for sure. I was struggling on the line [at Daniel] and he pulled me aside and said, You better get used to this because it's only going to get harder."
Marcus Samuelsson: "So many people helped me along the way. Cooking in Gutenberg, Sweeden my goal was to just get to Paris. It turns out it was New York and not Paris, but I just did what I needed to to get out. "
Barbara Lynch: "I started working for Mario Binello when I was 14. He let me wait tables when I was 17 or 18. From when I was 14 I knew I wanted to be a chef. And I was looking at my life -- [in inner city Boston] I was a bookie, stole cars. I said I have to get myself out of this...then at The Harvest I met Todd English, who was young and crazy. He taught me Italian. Alain Duscasse through his books taught me French."
On the early days and the keys to success...
Dave Chang: "The most dangerous guy in the room is the one that has nothing to lose...[At Momofuku Noodle Bar] we didn't want a lack of effort to be the reason we didn't succeed, which allowed us to try lots of different stuff...You have to trust your people, take risks."
Bobby Flay: "There's always something that's not going your way...But if you do something just for business reasons it's never going to be as good as it can be...We've been working on a more affordable restaurant concept for three years now and it's going to work not because we have a good business plan, but because we really believe it it...Everything [Dave Chang] does, it seems to happen really organically. They're doing what they want to do. They're just having a good time. I miss that part of it."
Marcuss Samuelsson: "Aquavit basically closed in 1995. We just got a bad review, so my partner said do whatever you want. He was fearless. Now, then, I didn't know the difference between Food & Wine and the Times, so I just cooked. We had nothing to lose."
On Media and PR...
Dave Chang: "We never had PR...Unfortunately every journalist in New York has my cell phone number."
Bobby Flay: "You have to do smart TV. It's the things you don't do that make you. I was offered a Burger King endorsement, for example. I don't have anything against Burger King, but it's not me. I wouldn't do it for any amount of money."
Takeaway sound bites...
Dave Chang: "I'll never say we're good at anything except that we're good the really big mistakes..."
Bobby Flay: "If I don't put my whites on and inspire in the kitchen, it's not going to happen."