Art of Food's Meet The Chef: Todd Mitgang, Chef at Crave Fishbar


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How did you get started in the food biz?

I was in undergrad at the University of Buffalo, and western New York is known for some fantastic supermarkets, which I didn't know about, growing up on Long Island: Tops and Wegman's.

I don't want to knock my mom, but growing up with her, I learned the basics: buying a box of rice pilaf and making it. It proved good enough my freshman year of college. We'd all pitch in a couple of dollars and would host these dinner parties, and we'd end up eating something delicious. That is part of what pushed me into the kitchen, because while there is a lot of great, fine dining in Buffalo, the greasy spoons were really greasy spoons. If you went in to order a sub, it was automatically on garlic bread with oil and vinegar and the guy behind the counter was like: “Hey, do you want mayonnaise on this too?” So I really got started cooking in undergrad.

When did Crave get started?

I started Crave Ceviche Bar, which used to be right across the street. Right now, Crave Fishbar is here at 945 2nd Ave. The ceviche bar was 946 2nd Ave. It was a ceviche-only restaurant and we were having a lot of fun, but it closed because of the crane collapse. It devastated the building we were in and we were put out of business.

We're here now, right across the street. And nine months ago, we opened up another Crave Fishbar on the Upper West Side.

You were at the Art of Food last year.

We had a lot of fun. Chefs like challenges, and what was unique about it was coming up with a pairing that somehow was inspired by the piece of art. Last year, our artwork Roy Lichtenstein's “Thinking Nude,” so our dish was Naked Salmon. When we go to these tasting events, we get the chance to create something totally unique.

Any cooking advice?

I love to cook. That's why I'm in this industry. My number one tip is to have fun in the kitchen. If you learn some very basic techniques: how to use salt, how to roast, how to broil. Stick with one technique. Learn how to fix a mistake or make something even better than you had originally sought out to. That's the fun part of cooking. You don't necessarily need to follow a recipe to the T. Taste as you go, and so long as you know what each ingredient is going to add, you can always end up with something that is going to be delicious.

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