Cooking Dinner with Jonathan Waxman

The Obi-Wan Kenobi of chefs shares how his family cooks dinner and recipes from his new cookbook

Jonathan Waxman, the successful owner of Barbuto in New York City, talks about his newly released cookbook. Called Italian, My Wayit’s filled with approachable and delicious recipes to make at home for both weeknight meals and special occasions. Learn how he balances cooking for his kids, wife, and himself, why he decided to have black and white photographs, and more.  

 

Since your cookbook includes many recipes meant to be cooked at home, I think it would be interesting to know how dinner is made at your household. Who shops for the ingredients? Do you plan the meals ahead of time?

My wife and I have a pact. I’m not allowed to clean up, because I do a bad job at it. She’s been relenting lately because I’ve been getting better. She goes to the farmers market twice a week, obviously this time of year doesn’t work, but starting around the middle of April until almost the end of the year, and fills the fridge and the whole counter. And she lets me cook what I want to cook. And that’s how we work it. Sometimes she calls ahead and does what she wants to do. She doesn’t ask me what I want to buy and it’s kind of funny because we don’t really communicate on what she buys. I just cook with what’s there.

 

How do you balance making meals for yourself and your kids?

We have what we call the à la carte menu at the Waxman house. We have three kids, my wife and I, so there are five different voices screaming something different about what they want to eat, plus the cat. Like this morning, one of my sons had bacon and a buttered English muffin. The other one had a farm fresh green egg fried sunny side up on toast with sausage. It’s a complete toss up on who eats what. Like last night for dinner, the one who never eats anything asked for lamb chops and was nibbling on the bone for 25 minutes.

 

For the cookbook and many of the dishes served at Barbuto, how do you come up with them? Do you test them out on your friends or family first? Or at the restaurant?

It’s kind of a good combination of both. A lot of the recipes from the book are things that we cook at home, that’s why we thought they’d work well. Barbuto is, let’s face it, an uncomplicated restaurant so a lot of what I do at home translates to the restaurant. We meant for the book to be user-friendly, and we didn’t want to complicate it with too many ingredients or garnishes, and there’s very little cream and butter in the book. It’s the kind of cooking that I call the quasi-Italian style or my way.

 

Who do you trust to tell you if a dish is good or not?

I always listen to people when they tell me that they don’t like something, but some people are always sticklers about some things more than others. My wife doesn’t like fish that’s medium rare and my Italian partner hates when the pasta is anything more than al dente.

 

Your salsa verde seems to be used pretty frequently throughout your book and at the restaurant, how much do you go through at the restaurant daily you think?

Well, we use it a lot for the chicken. Do you know how many chickens we buy? We buy a minimum of 300 a week and in the summer it’s 500-700 chickens a week. I buy them from Bell & Evans, they are good quality chickens. Not entirely free range but I’ve found that during this time of year, free range doesn’t really happen.  

We also go through a ton of pasta, gnocchi! Oh my god so much gnocchi, especially just with the New York Times article that came out, we probably sell any given time up to 80 orders of gnocchi a night.

 

What’s your favorite recipe from your cookbook?

It’s always difficult for me to choose my favorite child, and recipes are the same way. I’m really happy with this book. I wanted to write it myself and wanted it to be from the heart, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

 

Why did you decide to have the photos in black and white?

The original agent and I discussed the book extensively. We thought the book should be rustic but elegant, simple but not cookie cutter. It should have a distinct quality to it. We talked about doing illustrations but thought it was little hokey, and it can be difficult to get what you want from illustrators sometimes. We talked about photographs, and I’m not sure if it was her or me, but we both settled on black and white. I think it’s very earthy, sexy, and more indicative of what food really looks like. I think with color, it’s more eye candy than constructive. Black and white can be very visceral. You have an almost tactile feeling about it. It almost jumps off the page and has a dimensionality that color doesn’t have. I have a fashion photographer friend who says black and white is the only way to shoot. It’s what separates the good photographers from the best. It’s the only way to do if you can manage it.

Christopher [Hirsheimer] is great and really knows what she’s doing. She and Melissa [Hamilton] were wonderful through the whole thing. Actually, a lot of the shots were shot on the floor. I guess the depth of lighting or something? Oh I probably shouldn’t give that away. But that’s why they have such great depth in them. They really pop. I was like, what are you doing over there? And she kept doing her thing. We worked a lot with the publisher, they had all this fancy stuff on it, and we wanted something more simple. So we ended up with the red color that we hope looks like wine.

 

Was there anything that you wanted to put in the book that you couldn’t?

No, absolutely not. In fact, I liked the fact that we limited it to 100 and some odd recipes. We didn’t want it be some huge tabletop book. I wanted it to get grease on it and vinegar on it. Something that gets used.

 

Click here to see the JW Chicken al Forno and Salsa Verde recipe.

Click here to se ethe Hanger Steak with Salsa Piccante recipe.

Click here to see the Lobster all Piastra recipe.

 

 

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