Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Spotlight on Josh Massin, Executive Chef of Nobo Wine and Grill

Photo Credit: David Zimand

Chef Josh Massin, of Nobo Wine and Grill in Teaneck, NJ is one the most creative chefs working in the kosher food industry today. He will also be CKCA’s first guest at “The Chef’sTable”; a class offering foodies, connoisseurs and gourmands the opportunity to experience an intimate evening with a master chef practicing his or her craft. 

How many years have you been in the food business?
11 years

How would you describe your education in culinary arts and how you got to where you are today?
I trained at Johnson and Wales and graduated in 2004.  I went in with an interest in professional cooking, but was still unsure of my career path. The program exposed me to culinary and professional influences that really motivated me towards where I am now. At the time, the culinary movement known by some as molecular gastronomy, or modernist cooking, was in its nascent phases in the US. It’s a highly disciplined, science-based cooking method with an emphasis on creativity and it really appealed to me.

What is the inspiration for what you do?
I am always reminded of a quote from celebrated chef Thomas Keller, “Excellence is a process, not a place”.  Ergo, it’s important to orient yourself towards this direction, knowing full well you might never get there.  I always keep my eyes on where I want to be in the future, not just where I am now. What also motivates me is the satisfaction of balancing so many variables and coordinating many moving parts. I wear a lot of hats, and sometimes it amazes me how much one man can juggle. It’s very gratifying. One moment I’m developing the menu; another I’m handling strategic business issues; all the while functioning as the fountainhead of information from the industry at large to my team at Nobo. And the list of “hats” goes on.

What was your first job in the food business? 2nd job?
I worked at Grill Street in Teaneck, New Jersey as a server and then also became the mashgiach.

In one sentence, describe what you do in your current position.
I do everything except the books: I’m chef, partner, COO, CEO, CCO. I’m in the kitchen, hands on, from 9am to 6pm most every day. In the evenings I work on development, as well as spending a lot of time connecting with customers. Working in the front of the “house” is critical because I can bridge the gap between food and service.

What do you find most rewarding about the work you do?
A good day is overcoming impossible odds. Managing the human elements, supply issues, operational issues, etc. The job is very dynamic—I never do the same things over and over. The skill sets are the same, but every day is different.

What do you find the most challenging?
Managing the human resources. I like to hire bright people. I hire for desire and ability, not necessarily experience. The downside is managing a room full of independent thinkers! Everyone is an individual and needs to be dealt with in a way to keep them happy and working to their potential.

What is the most important lesson you ever learned on the job?
“Prep today, for tomorrow we may die”, so to speak—in an often chaotic working environment, having options is critical.  By staying in front on things that I can control, I have much more flexibility in dealing with the curve balls.

What is the most unusual thing that has happened to you on the job?
Years ago, a defining moment in my career was when the line cook developed a brain tumor and I needed to stand in for him. He had to leave for 8 weeks and I stepped into his higher-level role which for me was a watershed moment.

Photo Credit: David Zimand

What are you passions outside of cooking / baking?
I play electric guitar, collect firearms, I forage for edible things like mushrooms, wild plants, herbs and edible flowers.

What do you want to be known for in the culinary world?
As a master of evidence based progressive cuisine – meaning, a chef that is thoughtful, practical and does things based on evidence rather than machismo and bravado.

Describe the best meal you ever had…
When I was much younger, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I attended my uncle’s wedding reception at a classic, old school, elegant restaurant on the upper east side of Manhattan. It was classical French in terms of service, hospitality and the environment. There was service on crystal, artwork on the walls – real old school European sensibility. That experience showed me how elevated dining could be. The attention to detail changed the way I looked at food.

What advice do you have for someone who is interested in becoming a chef?
Figure out what your priorities are, make sure you’re willing to commit to your craft and know it takes a lot of sacrifice to be a chef. If you’re in a full service restaurant or catering you must be “hands on”. Know that you can’t outsource the passion. Sometimes you need to do a gut check in order to make tough decisions about balancing your work life and your personal life.

How do you think kosher food will change over the next 5 years? 10 years?
Two ways: there will be a lot of “noise” in the kosher food market, both in the digital realm, as well as in the multitude of new restaurant openings.  It’s only going to get worse before attrition makes it better.  Also, there is a macro-economic piece. The commodities market--vis-à-vis the meat industry--is making the cost environment increasingly impossible.  Margins are getting tighter.  The net result, I believe, will be two categories of consumer: Those with enough disposable income to afford fine food regardless of price, and those with less marginal income who will need to focus on less meat-centric cuisine.  It just won’t be affordable.

Photo Credit: David Zimand

Favorite food to eat? Raw fish, anything cured, dried or fermented… kimche, beer or meat. I’m not interested in food unless it takes at least two weeks to make!
Favorite food to cook? I love to butcher meats, make charcuterie like sausages, bacon and beef jerky.
Favorite Cookbook?  On Food And Cooking” by Harold Magee
Favorite Cooking Show / Celeb Chef? I’m not really a fan of cooking show’s but I must admit that it’s nice to see Gordon Ramsay and others who wear my hat get screamed at.

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