Gary LaMorte can’t stay out of the action. When he’s not flying around the country to help open restaurants as the VP of Michael Mina’s Mina Group, you can find him off-roading in his jeep with his Olde English Bulldog, Lando, or meditating with his-ever growing collection of guns on his adrenaline-filled Instagram feed, where he’s adopted the moniker “Gary FX LaMorte”. (Francis Xavier is actually his middle name.) We recently sat down with Gary to talk about his journey, inspirations, and another favorite of his: Star Wars.
Gary, how did your culinary journey begin?
Cooking at home as a little kid in NY, my older brother and I used to tape paper over the window of the kitchen and try to prepare romantic dinners for my parents. We would use recipes from my grandma that were on little index cards in a plastic recipe box. I still remember it very clearly.
What’s the biggest mistake a young chef can make?
Its integral that we take out time to build task mastery. In today’s information age it’s very easy to have a shallow understanding, so becoming a specialist is the best way to increase your worth and unique value.
You gained recognition in the past for your creative uses of offal. What are some underrated meats you’ve worked with recently? What’s your creative process?
My process for work and play are very different, at home or with friends I’m 100% product driven cooking. Whatever the best ingredient available is will become dinner in one way or another. When developing a restaurant concept there is a much wider bandwidth of concerns and responsibilities to take into consideration.
Recently beef tail & mushroom udon was a favorite. I also think chicken tails have an amazing texture and ephemeral richness if you can capture it.
“A modern chef’s path is going to transcend many properties and teams, it is integral that we as individuals
connect with the communities around us and build our brands as a foundation for our careers…
You’re the Vice-President of the Mina Group – operating upscale and innovative restaurant concepts. How would you describe a typical Mina Group restaurant?
The Mina Group is a big family so the first thing we have in common is our relationships with each other. Secondly our operating principles are the same regardless of price point and business style and lastly a commitment to continuous improvement and the exploration of the hospitality experience keeps us all on all on a similar journey.
How did you first meet Michael Mina?
I knew of him long before I actually met him. Our actual first interaction was in Baltimore. I was introduced by his corporate chef at the time David Varley.
What’s inspiring you in the culinary world at the moment?
I smelled a ponderosa pine tree yesterday and I really want to cure some duck legs with it. I also really appreciate the integration of fine dining chefs into the field of cooking at much more casual concepts. Most important trend in cuisine is a respect for the basics and food for the people.
How do you combat burnout – both in yourself and in the people that work for you?
As a full time chef you need to manage your sleeping and eating patterns actively to stay healthy physically and intellectually. Understanding the workload peaks and valleys in advance and trying to find some personal time is important to staying with a company for any extended period of time. As well, I have recently come to the conclusion that your time off needs to be more intense than your time at work if you are to truly achieve the mental dose of action necessary for a healthy mental re-set. In short don’t nap your day away, go find some pajarete and then climb a mountain. You’ll go to bed exhausted but be more charged up than any NETFLIX binge can give you.
You have been in charge of opening various restaurants within the Mina Group. What do you look for in your staff and cooks in preparation for a grand opening?
The individual property needs and the team strengths themselves are constantly in flux, so adaptability wrapped around skill sets and culture fit as a global goal. Success is a team sport so building based upon the strengths of each other is essential.
It’s no secret that you love Star Wars… If you could get the rights, would you consider opening a Star-Wars themed restaurant?
Hahaha, Maybe a Cantina but honestly No Way. Star Wars is from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away and should not be mixed with restaurants unless it’s a philosophical or inspirational.
What are your goals for the next few years?
Develop operational procedures that improve the capacity of professional chefs
Grow & promote mentality management practices that improve the quality of life for chefs
Execute three secret projects that I can’t tell you about.
Who’s someone we should be keeping our eye on?
Brian Howard of (soon to open) Sparrow & Wolf, super intriguing food and soon to be a big deal. He’s also a good friend.
Finally, what is the meaning of your Chef’s Roll?
A modern chef’s path is going to transcend many properties and teams, it is integral that we as individuals connect with the communities around us and build our brands as a foundation for our careers. Chef’s Roll is a great tool in achieving those ends.