Cookbook Profile

Interview: Waldy Malouf,
Chef/Co-owner, Beacon Restaurant

by Lisa M. Brefere, Karen Eich Drummond, and Brad Barnes


Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Beacon?

A: We opened the first Beacon five years ago in Manhattan. I was the Director of Operations and Executive Chef at The Rainbow Room with the Baum Emil Group at the time when we decided not to renew our lease for various reasons. Mostly it was just too expensive. Joe Baum and the group came to me and I told them I wanted to open two restaurants, a casual one, and then later on, a more formal one.

The first restaurant, Beacon, would be casual and based on the sort of foods that I enjoyed and had experienced in my travels to places in the Mediterranean and South America. I had this concept of high-quality ingredients, simply prepared yet still sophisticated, and cooked with open-fire grills, wood-burning ovens, and rotisseries. At the time, the market seemed to warrant something more like that, as opposed to a more formal, expensive restaurant. The Baum Group agreed, and I became a partner with them. We opened Beacon to excellent reviews. We' ve enjoyed the good fortune of success. We just got over the five-year hump and I know it will continue to be successful.

Q: I know you're involved in more than Beacon. Tell us what else you do.

A: In addition to operating Beacon, I do a lot of other things. I'm in the process of opening a small pizzeria on Sixth Avenue. This is a prototype pizzeria using a wood-burning oven.

I've written two cookbooks, and I'm in the process of writing a third one. The first cookbook, Hudson River Cookbook , was based on my cuisine at the Hudson River Club, where I used products and produce from the Hudson Valley. High Heat is about grilling and roasting, the common cooking methods at Beacon Restaurant. It is geared toward the home cook more than the first book. The publishers have asked me to do another grill cookbook, in a dictionary format listed by ingredient. Lastly, I am also working on Slow Burn , which is about braising and slow cooking.

I have a consulting company called Waldy Malouf Hospitality Concepts. I work on independent consulting jobs for food companies, restaurants, hotel chains, resorts, airlines, grocery stores, and food production. I am consulting for a wine bar/restaurant in Chicago and for Northwest Airlines. I am involved in numerous organizations, Windows of Hope being one of my personal favorites. I'm involved with a number of schools and charities. I am an advocate of giving back and being part of the community. It's something that you do for more than just the networking or the publicity.

Q: What steered you into this business?

A: When I was 13, I wanted to buy a motorcycle, so I went to work in a pancake house as a dishwasher. I quickly changed positions when I found out I could make $ 1.00 more an hour if I worked the pancake grills. I liked working the grill.

I have always been interested in food. I had a Sicilian grandmother and a Lebanese grandmother and grandfather. My mother is a New England farm girl. I grew up on a farm my family owned in Massachusetts. We later moved to Florida. We kept the farm, and visited every summer. I had a natural affinity with the farm, animals, and the food my family cooked there. I enjoyed cooking, but at the time it was not considered a serious profession.

When I was 15, I worked as a dishwasher at a large country club that opened near our home in Florida. The kitchen was run by a French chef and a German chef who had trained in France. They had recently come to the United States, and were looking for an apprentice. They offered me the apprenticeship. It paid more than washing dishes, so I took the job. They took me under their wings, and I enjoyed it. I would work the breakfast shift before school and then I would come back and work an early dinner service after school. I did this all through high school and never thought anything of it. It was a way of earning money. I continued to explore different positions within the kitchen. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the kitchen, the work, and the work ethic.

Although I did well in school, I was never the studious student type. When I was about 17, a new clubhouse at the country club opened up, and I was put in charge of about 30 people. It was only open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the weekend. It was in this position that I realized I was good with people. I had learned from other people how to supervise, work with people, and get people to do what you needed them to do.

Then I graduated high school, and went to college with the idea that I was going to follow in my father's footsteps. I went into pre-law but continued to work in restaurants. I moved to Tallahassee to attend Florida State for my second year. I went to work for another country club that had a classical chef. One night we hosted a dinner for the Confr � rie de la Cha � ne des R � tisseurs (a professional association). A representative of the Culinary Institute of America was there drumming up the students. He came into the kitchen and talked us into coming to visit the school. I visited the school out of curiosity. I loved the facility and program so much that I decided to enroll. My parents basically disowned me because I quit college and went into a career that at the time they did not believe was acceptable. I had a strong attraction to culinary arts. Thinking back now, I believe it was the discipline that attracted me.

Q: What did you do after graduation?

A: I graduated in 1975 and took a temporary job as a Banquet Chef at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. Then I worked as the Assistant Saucier at the Four Seasons, and became the Saucier a couple of months later after the Saucier quit. That was one of the greatest jobs I ever had. The Four Seasons was a very professionally run restaurant and kitchen. Everything was prepared from scratch, and menus were changed four times a year and were ingredient-driven. The food and service were serious business. I worked with a high-level professional team of people. It was here that I realized that as much as the cooking was important, so was the front of the house, service, marketing, promotion, and advertising. The food is a major part of a restaurant, but it is still just a part of the restaurant. I also saw that anybody that was very successful, no matter what their position was in the restaurant, always acted like they were owners. They didn't treat it as if it were just a job. It was a lifestyle.

After working at the Four Seasons, I was offered a position to open a restaurant in Key West, Florida, as the Executive Chef of a big restaurant at the Pier House Hotel. I put together a kitchen, the menus, and got involved in the design, construction, and marketing. From Florida, I went back to New York to work as the Executive Sous Chef at the newly opened King Cole Room at the St. Regis Hotel.

Q: It's interesting that you haven't said that you ever interviewed for a job. You never had to look for a job. You had a network and connections, so you fell into jobs.

A: I've interviewed but not applied for jobs.

I stayed at the St. Regis for about a year and then became the Chef of a new restaurant, Christopher's on East 63rd Street. From there, I worked as the morning Sous Chef at Le C � te Basque, one of the oldest, best-known, and finest New York City restaurants. It was an extremely competitive work environment.

I took a position as Chef in a small 45-seat restaurant by the United Nations that had no written menu. Basically, the menu changed daily and consisted of four appetizers, main courses, salad, and desserts. We offered a four-course lunch and four-course dinner. The kitchen staff consisted of a dishwasher and myself. It was truly an interesting experience. I worked there for about a year, basically by myself. It was this solitary time that helped develop my cuisine. There were no menu restrictions other than it had to be good. There was always a fish, bird, and meat on the menu. You did everything yourself including desserts and butchering. There was no one there to help you, so discipline was crucial. I developed my own style and perfected kitchen organization.

A year later, I was offered a position at La Crémaillère, a French country restaurant in Banksville, New York. I stayed there for seven years.

Q: Did you wish you had done your bachelor's degree?

A: I still wish today I'd done a bachelor's degree. I have taken business courses at New York University, the New School, and art classes at the Japanese Institute and the Japanese Society. I have educated myself, but I probably would have been able to get into ownership sooner if I had taken the business courses earlier. It has taken me a really long time to get where I am today.

Q: What kind of advice would you give young culinarians?

A: Education is incredibly important, as is your ability to work with other people. As much as the chef is involved in the cooking, he/she also has to acquire the skill of working well with people.

Knowledge of history, finance, cuisines, and people from around the world has to be much more today than in years past. I would get a solid education before venturing on my career path. There are so many things that I never thought would be part of my job, from architectural design to colors to music, finances, and loans. I could not have accomplished anything that I have without the cooperation and assistance of hundreds, if not thousands, of people during my career. The ability to lead people along will get people to work with you. Your success is almost guaranteed because you can count on other people to help you develop a great team. You can't do it by yourself. So develop leadership. Those leadership abilities are something that should be taken seriously as part of your training and part of your education.

Q: What trends do you see developing?

A: I think one of the things that didn't exist that much before was how much the public and consumers look to the food industry to influence what people eat and what they cook and eat at home. The reason we have better restaurants in the United States today is mostly because customers want better restaurants and are demanding better.

There is a thirst for knowledge about food that didn't exist 20 years ago. I think it is ready to blow across the country. Just look at the Food Network, magazines, the higher profile of American chefs. People want to know where their food is coming from, who is cooking it, and why it is being cooked a certain way. People across the board are taking more interest in what they are eating and where it comes from. And I think that is going to overall have an increased impact on how we are eating 10 years from now.


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This page created October 2008