Today’s guest post features a Q&A with Maximo Lopez May, executive chef at Wall & Water restaurant at the Andaz Wall Street. Besides running the full-service restaurant, he oversees the city’s only hotel-run farmers market during the summer, and integrates goods from that market into his monthly cooking classes. Through it all, Lopez May is changing the way people think about the Lower Manhattan dining scene.
How did you end up as a chef?
Food was so important in my childhood home in Argentina. I really realized my passion for food at 14, when I discovered the art of cooking while working as a delivery boy. Between orders, I used to visit the kitchens of each restaurant and help out because I was bored! I was attracted to the heat, stress and energy of kitchens. I started to realize that kitchens are fun, exciting places. It all fell into place naturally from there. My first professional experience was at the Restaurant Llers in Argentina. I worked under well-known chef Fernando Trocca.
My career has taken me across South America, the UK and Australia to develop the art of preparing sophisticated, high-end cuisine. Upon returning to Argentina, I opened numerous prestigious restaurants including Las Cañitas, Posadas, and La Corte, which was named the “Best Restaurant of 2004” by El Gourmet magazine. In 2005 I joined the staff of Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt Buenos Aires and assumed the responsibility of Executive Chef at the Gioia Restaurante & Terraces. I was named “Best New Chef 2005” by Cuisine Magazine and was honored as “Chef of the Year” by El Gourmet Magazine in 2006.
My lifelong passion for food has provided me with the opportunity to host numerous popular Latin American television shows. I have hosted the popular “Rescate Gourmet, 4 Chefs,” “4 Ingredientes,” “Comando Gourmet,” “Maximo Clasico,” “Parilla al Maximo,” “New York Gourmet,” and “Con Maximo.”
Following my success in Latin America, I launched my career in NYC at Azul Bistro on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I then launched the exclusive Soho House New York as Senior Sous Chef. In addition to my work at Wall & Water, I have been participating in top food festivals and have been featured on LXTV and the Martha Stewart Living Radio show.
What’s the basic philosophy behind Wall and Water?
We offer market-to-table comfort food, sourced from local Hudson Valley farms and markets in a modest and elegant setting. Our seasonal menus emphasize traditional cooking methods, simple presentation and exceptional flavors. We don’t use heavy sauces or creams on anything, so our dishes are naturally robust and flavorful. I also appreciate the value of traditional cooking methods. I like to use cast iron pots and pans, a mortar and pestle, and hand slicers. I don’t need the latest gadgets and trends to prepare my dishes.
With your already busy schedule, how did you decide to take on the classes?
I enjoy sharing my passion for food with others! I take my students outside to our Andaz Farmers Market and together we hand-pick our ingredients. I then demonstrate various cooking techniques that we use in the restaurant so guests can create fresh gourmet meals at home. I encourage my guests to be creative and we always end up having a great time creating new dishes together!
Who usually attends the classes?
We get a nice variety at our classes. Each class has a different theme and we highlight a seasonal ingredient or cooking technique. For example, this year we are offering “Mommy and Me,” “Smoke,” and “Thanksgiving Prep” classes, which will appeal to a variety of tastes and preferences!
What are some of the dishes you’ve featured in classes?
Pumpkin was one of our featured seasonal ingredients last fall, so we offered a pumpkin soup with barley, rosemary, chili, guanciale and crème fraiche. Last winter we created a beautiful gingerbread home. We have also offered a tomato class! We poached and juiced tomatoes to create five different dishes.
What dishes are on the horizon at the classes?
In addition to the classes listed above, we are offering “Dairy” and “Flowers” themed menus, with some pretty creative dishes. You will be surprised how many entrees you can create from flowers. For example, we are making a zucchini flower risotto with pear, pancetta and clams and we are creating a salad with blossoms, sprouts, herbs, and parmesan. You will have to sign up for a theme that interests you!