Monthly Industry Insights
Hear from industry leaders their guilty pleasures, the oddest thing in their refrigerator, their inspirations and take on new trends. We've asked all of questions and have the answers for you here.
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March's Featured Interview: Justine MacNeil, Del Posto
Justine is the Pastry Chef at Del Posto, a Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group restaurant. She recently presented a culinary demonstration at the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of NY.
What made you want to become a chef?
I didn't know what I wanted to do after sustaining an injury that stunted my dancing career right out of high school. I worked at the local grocery store as a teenager and one of my best friends there was especially interested in baking and taught me how to bake very simple things. We decided to both go to culinary school and then go back home to NJ to open a bakery. I ultimately ended up going alone, but after my first job at Craftsteak in the city I was hooked on restaurant energy and never became ready to go back to Jersey to open that bakery.
What was your favorite class in culinary school?
My favorite class in culinary school was bread for sure. Super challenging but extremely rewarding.
What is the newest trend you see emerging?
The newest trend I see emerging is definitely going back to basics. People searching for classics and putting their twist has always been an approach to food, but I feel it more prevalent now so, than ever before. Comfort food with a whimsical feel.
What’s the strangest thing we would find in your refrigerator?
I don't have really any strange food in my fridge per se, mostly just take-out leftovers. However I will say that I always have a stash of peppermint patties in my fridge and freezer. They're most definitely my vice.
If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Vivoli's in Florence. The gelato has been made there for 3 generations and I would love to sit there and sample each batch as they pull it out of the ancient gelato maker that they still use.
Is there one comfort food that you're secretly obsessed with having at home?
Cacio e pepe. Although I could hardly say that its a secret, I feel like most people that know me, know its my absolute favorite food. But every time I'm in need of delicious comfort food, my boyfriend will whip up a batch for us at home.
Which talent would you most like to have that you don't possess?
I would love to be able to sing. I couldn't carry a tune if my life depended on it, and I always admire a great singer.
What’s your favorite meal to cook for friends?
Meatballs and pasta. It's what my mom cooked every Sunday growing up. It reminds me of comfort and home.
Who was your mentor as you were becoming a chef?
When I was first starting and many years in, whenever I would have a problem or needed help talking through a situation, I often turned to Jenny McCoy, my pastry chef at Craft. She always cut through a situation with me and helped to guide me towards resolution.
If you could cook for and dine with anyone, who would that be?
My parents, they've always been my biggest supporters.
More about Chef Justine MacNeil:
It would be a mistake to talk about chefs as if they came out of the womb yearning to cook. For every talented cook who grew up on a farm, started washing dishes at 12 and became addicted to the energy of a kitchen, or spent their summers fishing for dinner and foraging for a side dish, there are a host culinarians who fell into cooking. Many chefs went to college before they discovered cooking, had careers before becoming chefs or had dreams that didn’t include being stuck behind a 6-range burner all night long. Justine was no different.
Growing up in central New Jersey, Ms. MacNeil grew up a dancer. She loved ballet from an early age and pursued her dreams throughout high school. After touring the northeast hunting for a collegiate dance program, an unfortunate injury screwed up her plans. But, luckily, Justine was up to the challenge. During an uninspiring stint in community college, she began baking with a friend’s mother and thought to herself that cooking could be an option. She enrolled at FCI in New York City at barely 20 years old and, 7 years later, she is the proud pastry chef of Del Posto on Manhattan’s West Side.
Along the way Ms. MacNeil made stops at Craftsteak, the Dutch and Craft, before settling at Del Posto as a sous chef in 2013. Under Chef Brooks Headley (James Beard award winner, punk rock star and champion of all things vegetarian), Justine learned the importance of playfulness in cuisine. Technique and careful planning can get you far in cooking, but a sense of humor can draw diners to a space. Mr. Headley’s constant re-invention of pastry norms rubbed off on Justine and have left a recognizable mark upon her cuisine.
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