Michael White: From Football to Cooking Thanks to the Discovery Channel

White has earned three Michelin stars, a three-star review from the, and glowing praise from culinary titans. White weighs in on expanding New York's transfats ban, respecting ingredients, and the recession's silver lining.
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Michael White, chef at New York restaurants Convivio and Alto has earned three Michelin stars, a three-star review from The New York Times, and glowing praise from culinary titans. White weighs in on expanding New York's transfats ban, respecting ingredients, and the recession's silver lining.

LM: Why did you originally decide to go to cooking school?

MW: I had an injury from football and when I was recouping, I watched the "Great Chefs" series on the Discovery Channel. That's really how it started.

LM: What chefs in particular did you like?

MW: I can't tell you one chef. It was a long time ago. I had the afternoon and I used to watch it. I knew I just wanted to go to cooking school. Food was always important to my family, so my parents accepted that it was important to me.

LM: Ruth Reichl called you the next Mario Batali. How do you feel about that?

MW: Mario is a bit of a culinary god and to be compared with someone like that is very flattering. We're both tied to tradition in New York City and I couldn't be compared to a better person.

LM: You said you wouldn't like to compete on a reality TV show but what about your own food show?

MW: I would love my own food show. I love to teach -it's what I do everyday when I'm working with all of my people in the kitchen. I was lucky to have great teachers in Italy, France and here in America. People, a lot of times, read by recipe and you have to cook by feel. You have to really get into the food you have a passion for and you'll be successful.

LM: Paul Bartolotta and Velentino Marcattilii were your two most influential mentors. What single piece of advice that they taught you has been the most helpful?

MW: Respect for ingredients, hands down.

LM: You make both northern Italian and southern Italian food. What is your favorite specialty from each region?

MW: This is like choosing your favorite child! I can't do it!

LM: Speaking to that, any suggestions or recommendations for our new president concerning the way Americans eat?

MW: He loves Spiaggia and that's my alma mater where I started. If you think of a restaurant in Chicago, it's Spiaggia. We'd have a few things in common to talk about right away!

I think the way that transfats are banned in New York City should expand to the whole United States, and the same with calorie postings. I think it's also important to teach portion size, and take the time to teach young people about food. I have a daughter who is five years old and she loves to eat. We teach her how to cook. Cooking brings people together, and provides an opportunity to talk. Also, no canned vegetables. Use fresh vegetables whenever possible.

LM: Chefs like David Chang have suggested that in the future people will not be able to eat as much meat. What do you think Americans should be most concerned about regarding the food industry?

MW: I think that people should be most concerned about what goes into the packaged foods they may be eating and really pay attention to what they put in their bodies. This is why I think it's so important to eat fresh so you really know what you are putting into your body.

LM: Do you foresee any silver lining to the current recession with regards to restaurants and chefs?

MW: I definitely see a silver lining for diners. Because of the recession, people are being very picky about where they choose to spend money while dining. This means that restaurants are competing to make sure they truly give guests a fantastic experience to make them want to return. I would also encourage everyone to eat out. I know these are unprecedented times, but we still want people to come out and enjoy themselves.

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