Art of Food's Meet The Chef: Daniel Holzman, Chef at The Meatball Shop


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Tell me about how you got started in the culinary world.

There was a Mexican restaurant on 3rd Ave. and 82nd Street called San Mulitas that hired me as a delivery boy when I was 13 or 14 years old. But doing delivery was cold—it's always hot or cold here in New York! It's a nightmare. And I was attracted to the kitchen. The guys are all tattooed and tough and macho, you know? Everybody says “yes, sir” I thought it was cool.

So I found my way into the kitchen. I worked in a lot of different, fancy restaurants—a lot of French restaurants.

When did you realize meatballs were your calling?

I had moved back to New York to open a restaurant, and we weren't sure what kind of restaurant we wanted to open, but I knew I wanted to serve the type of food I wanted to eat; something customers could relate to. And I wanted it to be a place where we could have fun at work. Meatballs kind of lend themselves to that.

Also, it was like—what in New York is missing? There were a lot of great meatballs, but no definitive best meatball in New York, and we thought we could get there. Plus, my brother is a huge meatball hero guy.

Favorite place to eat on the Upper East Side?

I really like Daniel. I think that's a great restaurant. If I could pick anywhere on the Upper East Side to go, it'd be there.

The Meatball Shop was at the Art of Food last year.

We were there—we did pizza balls, which were inspired by our art, a lovely painting of the Statue of Liberty. Très New York.

We don't know what we're getting paired with yet this year! I hope it's something weird and abstract.

Are you into art yourself?

My mom is a painter. She does a lot of still life work and some portraiture and collage. She's a prolific artist. I have a painting of hers right on the wall over there.

You have a ton of old pictures up on the walls in your restaurants. Who are these people?

A lot of them are random, but some of them are real people. On Bedford Avenue is where I have the most family. This shop on the East Side is mostly random people. One of our original investors who passed away is on the back wall. People give us pictures of their family members and say things like: “This is my aunt, she was the life of the party. Can she live in your restaurant?” or “This guy really loved meatballs.”

You have a bunch of Meatball Shops scattered around the city. Any plans to expand outside of NYC?

We have one in Brooklyn. We talk a lot about moving out of the city. Hopefully next year or the year after that.

Number one cooking tip?

Relax. Breathe deeply. Don't get stressed out about it.

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