Old World, New Cookbook: Mark Ladner

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Published April 5, 2010

PHOTO BY JULIA TURSHEN

 

Tomorrow marks the release of Mark Ladner’s his first cookbook, Molto Gusto (Ecco), which he coauthored with Mario Batali, his mentor and frequent business partner. The book is based on and inspired by the food at Otto, a Batali restaurant that Mark has had a heavy hand in and which he describes as “soulful food, off the cuff.” Mark’s been at Del Posto (whose $29 prix fixe lunch might be the best deal in town) since it opened four-and-a-half years ago and is both the Executive Chef and a partner. He works hard and often—”never less than five days a week, but never more than sevenm” and he cooks with a palpable connection to his food. He’s not much for fanfare, but we got to sit down with Ladner recently to find out a bit more about the book and about cooking and eating in general. We left a little inspired and a lot hungry, and curious about the place of condiments in our spice racks.

JULIA TURSHEN: How’d you find the process of writing recipes for Molto Gusto?

MARK LADNER: I tried to be pragmatic and approached everything in ratios.  Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] really taught me that, years ago.  It could be a thimble, it could be a milk jug, whatever.  As long as your ratios are correct, your reference point is solid.

TURSHEN: Where did you write the recipes?

LADNER: Mostly at the New York Public Library and I tested them at Del Posto.

TURSHEN: Do you have an Italian background?

LADNER: No, but it’s my favorite food to cook. The romanticism associated with Italian food is magical.

TURSHEN: What most excites you this time of year at the farmers’ market?

LADNER: That’s an easy one: the yarn from the lamb man.

TURSHEN: Where do you get your coffee in the morning?

LADNER: For convenience, I go to the 11th Street Café. It’s mom-and-pop, it’s humble, it’s community oriented. Those people are so sincere and everyone adores them. For espresso, I go to Sant Ambroeus. That place is like the quintessential Italian snackbar. I feel special when I go there; I stand up to drink my espresso even though they try to get you to sit down. 9th Street Espresso in Chelsea Market is good too. I get an iced Americano with milk and sugar.  I definitely take my coffee American. Oh! Also, Auggie’s on Thompson Street. It’s where all the people who live in Williamsburg went when they lived in Manhattan.

TURSHEN: What three ingredients can you not live without?

LADNER: This has to be condiment-driven.  Deli mustard, mainly Hebrew National or Gulden’s. I put that on everything. Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.  It’s got good acidity, that tomato viscosity and it’s not too hot. And of course olive oil—I can drink olive oil from the bottle … is that weird? I usually have oil from three climates on hand. Always something in the Ligurian style, which is light and has and artichoke, almond thing going on. And a Tuscan—spicy and grassy, a real meat-and0beans oil. And I love Sicilian oil—it’s overly fruity and full-bodied and just divine.

TURSHEN: What was your favorite thing you ate last week?

LADNER: At the Cochon 555 event, a competition that celebrates heirloom pork, Adam Kaye from Blue Hill made this thing that was like two bacon chips sandwiched together with chocolate. It was so awesome.

TURSHEN: What was your favorite thing you cooked last week?

LADNER: I’m currently obsessed with a hundred-layer lasagna. It’s made with thin, eggy pasta and the key is to serve it at ambient temperature.

TURSHEN: What’s your favorite kitchen utensil?

LADNER: Mezzaluna choppers, especially old ones with two blades.  I love them.  They’re so crude. All the kids are fascinated with new stuff these days. Mezzalunas keep me grounded. The most important thing about Italian food is to preserve its soul. Old tools help in the preservation.