What Inspires a Chef?

Every November we fill the pages of Long Island Pulse magazine with gourmet delights for our annual Dining, Wine & Spirits issue. In this year’s issue you’ll find a list of exquisite dishes you really should eat right now, a guide to eating bad food well and foodies reminiscing.

Food is memory. The art of cooking or sitting down to a meal with friends and family, or simply that act of taking that first bite has the ability to transport us to another time and place. Summer childhood clambakes, a cozy meal with friends by the fire, that family dinner where your brother managed to fall out of his chair and break his collarbone. True story. Food is nostalgic, offering a sense of home few other things can.

We asked some of our favorite Long Island chefs about their food memories. The food experience that either changed the way they think about food or inspired them to become a chef.

Here are some of their responses.

Chef Romero Auer, Elegant Affairs

Romeo pic high res

I was most influenced at the point of my career when I got exposed to food of different ethnicities around the globe and saw how food can have a big impact on our lives and health. I was fortunate to work for a global special event and restaurant group with European roots, and I could bring together Mediterranean cuisine and Asian food and use old European techniques to create dishes, which we never thought of before. We were one of the first restaurants in the 1990s located in the center of Vienna to bring together an Asian/Mediterranean and local kitchen. We brought talent from all over the world to this kitchen and I was the lucky chef to lead that group of multicultural chefs for five years.

Executive Chef Ryan Keough, Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Garden City


The way I think about food today is different than when I started in this industry. When I was first starting out, I was hungry to learn as much as possible, and I would go to work eager to learn about different ingredients and spices to complete menus, growing my knowledge to be a better cook. It was difficult for my mind to process all the ways to cook, and it wasn’t even cooking yet. I found myself hooked when my days in the restaurant turned into nights, and I spent all of my time just trying to learn as much as possible and keep progressing to the next step. I would stand in the cooler of whatever restaurant I was working in at the time and just be curious about all the different products and processes–pieces of pork hanging in coolers, drying for house cured salamis; meats dry aging for 40oz, dry aged tomahawk rib eyes, fish curing on bottom racks for a house-made salmon gravlax for a Sunday brunch. I looked up to my chefs as teachers and masters of their craft.

Today, I look at food differently than when I was younger. Food brings balance to my life–this is not only my career but what best describes who I am. Food now means the future for me. I do everything now for one person: my daughter. She has taught me more than any chef that I worked for and she doesn’t even speak yet. She nods and talks in baby, and strangely enough we can understand each other as if we are old friends. Food has changed its meaning to me; just like the seasons, it is ever-changing in so many ways and will continue to be throughout my life. Food, and the industry itself, made me into a different person – there are a lot of growing pains in this industry, and it takes a lot out of you. This career path is for people who are go-getters who want to create and keep creating every day, and who want to share their love of food with family and friends or even a stranger that they will never meet.

Executive Chef Sandy Dee Hall, North Sea Tavern

image: hannah mattix/metro

image: hannah mattix/metro

Tasting the dishes for the first time when I got my position at the Breslin in NYC. It changed the way I think about food because of the boldness in flavors, and it was drastically different than any other experience I had before. That exact moment I decided I wanted to open a restaurant and create dishes with bold flavors and make it accessible so everyone can enjoy my farm-to-table cuisine.

Executive Chef Maurizio Marfoglia, Tutto Il Giorno Sag Harbor, Southampton, Tribeca

Maurizio Marfoglia Credit Luca Babini

I used to help my grandmother cook when I was younger and it left a lasting impression on me. She used to pay me in candy to “help ” stir the risotto since it needs to be stirred frequently. I fell in love with cooking then and it certainly inspired me to become a chef.

Chef de Cuisine Eric Werner,  Sandbar in Cold Spring Harbor


I always love hearing my mother’s stories about how much I loved to eat growing up from a baby until now at the age of 26. One of my first words as a baby was “more” referring to wanting another cheese omelet my mother had just made for me. Trying new foods is a must for me to not only expand my knowledge but for future flavor combinations and dishes. Food has always fascinated me and I had started in the restaurant business at the age of 13 as a bus boy, moving my way up to the kitchen where I started to do preparation. It was when I was 18 that I decided to go to the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. There is where I learned the fundamentals and foundations of cooking, as well as making connections with fellow students and instructors at the school. Vermont in itself is just exquisite; the food, nature and the people are sublime. It is in Vermont where I found my true passion and appreciation of food. The produce that you receive from Vermont is organic, natural and plentiful. It is the only state that is not only self-sufficient but also trying to be 100 percent eco-friendly and green. How a farmer can take the simplest of seeds and create beauty and a work of art. Farmers are the heart and soul of our world that keep the population alive, without them we would be lost. Handling specialty items like foie gras or truffles is one of the perks of being a chef. Also, the finesse and savoir-faire I love…it is such an enjoyment for me, to express myself in my food.

Executive Chef Seth Levine, Penthouse808 at Ravel Hotel

Seth Levine headshot

For me, it wasn’t an actual food experience but rather it was when I was a boy watching my favorite movie, Willy Wonka. The scene when the golden ticket winners enter the factory made me eager to create inventive, fun food. My style now is described as ‘whimsical,’ similar to the visions I had while watching Willy Wonka growing up.

What inspires your cooking? Was there a food experience that changed the way you think about food? Tell us in the comments.