Industry Insiders: Marc Forgione, Master Forger

Marc Forgione, chef and owner of TriBeCa restaurant Marc Forgione, is up and running again after averting a costly trademark infringement lawsuit (his restaurant was once called Forge, as is another dining establishment in Miami Beach). He spoke with BlackBook about his celebrity chef father, Navajo rites of passage, his death row meal, the irresistible nature of suckling pigs, and REM’s nuanced palate.

Who have you cooked for lately? One of our regular customers is D.L. Hughley, the comedian. He’s a lot fun to be around and always says, “Yo, whassup chef? This is my fave restaurant, man — put the suckling pig back on or I’ll kill you.” And Michael Stipe came in last week. It really made me feel old when half my cooks didn’t know who he was. You could tell that he likes food. He was sniffing his wine and then quaffing his dish before eating.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? It’s so cliché, but I genuinely love to cook. I love the business as a whole because it’s fun. Every day is totally different and new.

What is your food trying to tell us? Be open-minded. Have fun. Like my foie gras lollipops — it’s having fun with classic stuff. Anyone can do an oyster with a mignonette. Why not throw a different flavor in there? I do one with fresh pineapple juice, habanera pepper jelly, and mint leaf.

How are you different from your father, the great Larry Forgione? He’s a lot quieter than I am. Obviously, everything in his restaurant is completely American, from the olive oil to the chairs to the salt. I’m not as dedicated to that principle. If my favorite olive oil happens to be from Calabria, then that’s what I use. My dad helped put America on the map, but I feel like my cuisine is more New York and more melting pot. My dad laid down the tracks, and now I feel like I’m riding where those tracks haven’t been yet.

Who are some of the newer chefs you admire? The chef de cuisine at Casa Mono — I eat there all the time. Pinot Maffeo sort of “fell off” after he won Food & Wine’s Best Chef award, but whatever he does next will get noticed. Also, I have a great meal every time I go to this place called Market Table — the chef’s name is Mikey Price. It’s nothing fancy, but always great food.

What draws other chefs to your restaurant? I always have at least three or four dishes that are on the menu just for chefs — like crispy deep-fried bone marrow with caviar. Chefs like that type of thing. Plus, a lot of chefs on the high end have very formal dining rooms. At my restaurant, you can wear flip-flops and still get quality food.

What is it with you and suckling pigs? How can you not? Believe it or not, I just took it off my menu, but it’ll be back on soon. It’s a great product. The way that we came about doing the original one was kind of by accident. We tried it a bunch of different ways, and the best one was cured for two days and then cooked in duck fat for a day. You don’t have to chew it, I swear.

What future trends do you see in New American food? Sad to say, it’s recession menus. I’ve already added a value plate: Hampshire pork tenderloin — confit and crispy belly — with cornbread puree and barbecue Maui onions with chili oil emulsion. We serve it for $24.

You’ve already survived a lawsuit. What are some of the challenges you face now? It’s been an absolute roller coaster of a year. We opened to crowds flocking the place, and everyone was making big plans. Then we got sued and the economy fell on its face all within three weeks of each other. It was like standing on a blanket and having it yanked out from under you. But I’m not here wondering, “Why me?”. You just have to make it work. I think a major challenge is realizing how much you can cut your staff, lower your menu princes, and sacrifice what you need in order to stay a place that people rely on. The people in the dining room just want good service and a good time, which they deserve.

What’s in your refrigerator at home right now? Cured meats and a bottle of red and white wine. I live in Little Italy now, so I always have really good olive oil. I have this hot sauce that I found when I was in St. Croix called “Miss Anna’s.” I’ve had it for two years, and we still haven’t gone through the bottle — that’s how spicy it is. There are always eggs in my fridge and either Pecorino or Parmesan, red pepper flakes and olives to chew on when I’m working.

That sounds pretty Italian. My grandfather, who just passed away, was the only 100% Italian in the family, but I’ve found that as I get older, I just naturally lean towards Italian. In fact, I just put a Florida red snapper puttanesca on the menu. People ask me what my death row meal would be, and it’s so easy: homemade pappardelle with really fantastic Bolognese sauce. Nothing else.

What do you listen to back in the kitchen? It’s called “shuffle” these days — there’s a lot of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and Pearl Jam, Thievery Corporation, and lately I’ve been listening to A Tribe Called Quest and MGMT. Every day at 5 o’clock, I play “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. It started back in the kitchen, but now I have it out on the floor, too. During the day, the cooks like to play these George Carlin skits. It keeps everyone happy.

What’s up with the matching tattoos on your forearms? I saw this piece of Navajo art in the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. It stopped me in my tracks, and I went straight to the tattoo shop in Georgetown and got it done. It’s called “the man and the maze”: the maze is all the decisions you’ve made in your childhood, bad and good. The man stands outside it because he’s ready to be on his own. At the time I was at a crossroads — I knew that I wanted to do my own thing, but wasn’t sure if it was the right time.

What are you doing tonight? I’m cooking a seven-course dinner that I designed for the underwater restaurant of the Conrad Rangali Island Resort in the Maldives.

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