Chef Larry Forgione

Larry Forgione

Chef Larry Forgione

Twenty years ago, when iceberg lettuce abounded in American produce sections and romaine was still somewhat of an elusive delicacy, our country’s chefs were taking their cues from Europe, and discovering what Larry Forgione instinctively knew all along: that regional, seasonal farm-fresh food tasted better than the pre-fab, “polyester food” being sold in most supermarkets, and served at many restaurants.

While ingredients in Europe were raised expressly for chefs, in America, home cooks and professionals alike were at the mercy of supermarket culture. After spending his childhood summers on his grandmother’s farm eating tasty chickens that were allowed to roam free, and freshly harvested, perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables, Forgione knew that everything he needed for the very best cooking was available, if not in his own back yard, at least within his own country. It was just that no one knew where to look.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and then staging in some of Europe’s very best kitchens, Forgione returned home to help put American cuisine on the culinary map. He opened An American Place, where his pan-seared buffalo steaks, terrine of three American caviars, and old-fashioned banana betty awed the city’s Europhile foodies, and earned him three stars from the New York Times.

Forgione committed himself to using only domestic ingredients, and to do so he cultivated a supply from small farmers, producers, and foragers, guaranteeing that if they raised the produce and meats, he would buy them. Remembering those succulent chickens that wandered freely on his grandmother’s farm, Forgione also started the first “free range” chicken farm in 1980 in Warwick, New York, and coined that very term. Later in his career, he founded “American Spoon Foods,” a specialty company producing the highest quality jams, unique dried fruits, and specialty sauces.

The efforts of Forgione and other American chefs (such as California’s Alice Waters and the legendary James Beard) culminated in the regional food movement that seeks to promote each area’s heritage and seasonal specialties. And as a result, Americans were introduced to such home-grown novelties as morels, black walnuts, wild rice, venison, quail, monkfish, mahi-mahi, and the endless varieties of American oysters.

In addition to New York City’s An American Place, Forgione subsequently opened The Beekman 1766 Tavern in Rhinebeck, New York.

A host of awards adorns the hallways of his restaurants, including a James Beard “Chef of the Year” award and an Ivy Award (best chef as chosen by his peers). He also co-founded the “Annual American Chefs Tribute to James Beard” benefiting New York City’s Meals-on-Wheels.

His long awaited cookbook, An American Place: Celebrating the flavors of America was out in May 1996 and is still a classic.

All these honors, bolstered by a packed dining room, confirms Forgione’s place as the “Godfather” of American cuisine — with nary an iceberg lettuce leaf to be found. His son, Marc Forgione has become equally celebrated as a Master Iron Chef.