Behind the Line With 32 East's Nick Morfogen
Slow food's gathering momentum has transformed it from solely a movement to its own culinary genre, celebrating what chefs have known before the movement even emerged. Among the white-coat society, kept under their toques, the secret to flavor nirvana was always passion and respect for ingredients.
Nick Morfogen thrives in the slow-food genre at his bistro, 32 East, in Delray Beach's historic downtown district. For Morfogen, the principles of slow food are something he's grown up with; the very foundation of his skills. "Greeks don't cook things quickly; everything takes a long time," he says, chuckling.
"It's the complete opposite of fast food. It's my kids coming home to a chicken in the oven and the smell of lemon and garlic all throughout the kitchen. Slow food is about respect to the artisans who made these ingredients."
Morfogen subtly implements his rich background into 32 East's continuously changing menu. Proteins are cooked on a charcoal and wood-burning grill, giving them a rich, natural wood flavor. Making everything from bread to ice cream in-house and maintaining a microwave- and freezer-free line are integral practices in creating the restaurant's celebrated dishes.
Florida does present challenges for a chef of "Seasonal American" cuisine. The seasons aren't as obvious in the Sunshine State; produce like tomatoes and corn, normally summer crops, are abundant and in their peak in the winter months here. "Summer comes and there's not much growing. Didn't make sense to me, but you learn to appreciate and use what's available. It's part of the challenge of running a successful business." The rich citrus and fresh seafood is a culinary trade-off. "There are fish here I've never seen before, things like queen snapper, pumpkin swordfish -- it's amazing."
Since the movement began in 1989, slow-food chapters continue to educate and tantalize their communities' palates, bringing artisans, chefs, and patrons together to share their passion for delicious, fresh foods. "My passion is more seasoned. When you start out, it's unknown. I love the smiles and compliments."
New Times: Of the places you've lived, which was the best place for you as a chef?
Napa Valley, no comparison. New York is diverse, culinary-wise. The product in California, there's no comparison. There, you got people who grow stuff that day and will have it to use that night. There's nothing like it. I had a farmer about 15 minutes away call and ask what salad mixes we wanted to use for service that night. We served warm salads that night. The wine tastes better; it's a whole different culture. They would barter over like in Europe, someone would trade bottles of labelless wine for veal stock. There's nowhere else in the country like it. People go there just to eat and drink. Even the people that live there are interested in the food and wine.
What advice would you lend to young chefs?
Travel! I read this awhile ago, but it goes, "I am not the same since having seen the moonshine on the other side of the world." Travel gives you such an edge in life. You experience different food, the way it's prepared, the way it's enjoyed. You learn to appreciate things a lot more. Don't just go to visit but to work. Some of the best places are never hiring, but you go and do whatever to get in. I remember reading in David Chang's book he was working at one place but would volunteer to answer phones at another place for free just because he wanted to work there.
What trends do you look forward to in 2010?
I don't follow trends. We [chefs] don't really like that word. I like that my cliental are more adventurous. They want new flavors and bolder dishes. I'm not an artist held up in my studio; I have to appeal to what people want. They trust me now, and I can give them things like wild boar, elk, sweet breads.
Where do you go out to eat?
Casa D' Angelo in Fort Lauderdale. Angelo does traditional food, what you would find in Northern Italy. Chris' Taverna Greek Restaurant in Lantana, I'm going back there for sure. The way the lamb was roasted, I couldn't tell the difference in that and my mom's. Taco Al Carbon in Lake Worth is traditional food, great. I'm anxious to try Michelle Bernstein's new place in Palm Beach.
Who would you like to go up against in an Iron Chef Challenge?
I think it would be fun to go up against one of my former bosses ([aughing]. Michael Chiarello would be fun. Mario Batali impresses me very much. He's so talented and funny.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.