Marc Forgione On Opening New Restaurant, One Fifth, In Iconic NYC Space - Exclusive Interview

If you're big into the dining scene here in New York City, chances are you know Marc Forgione. He's the chef behind some of New York City's top Italian spots, including Restaurant Marc Forgione in Tribeca and Peasant in Nolita. He recently opened his latest restaurant, One Fifth, in Greenwich Village, which overlooks the historic Washington Square Park and combines Italian cuisines with classic New York flare. Forgione has been known to take over former popular spaces and turn them into his own (hello, Peasant) while surprising his guests with authentic dishes that have his own original flavor. One Fifth is no different.

During an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Marc Forgione chatted about opening his new restaurant inside the historic One Fifth Avenue building, working with his father (the legendary chef Larry Forgione), and his newfound love of sourdough. Forgione also dished on how winning "The Next Iron Chef" helped his restaurants reach a bigger audience. Plus, we even found out about his favorite meal to cook at home with his son.

Opening his latest New York City restaurant, One Fifth

I came in [to One Fifth] last week for a tasting, which was lovely, and we were talking about opening One Fifth in Otto's former space. What does that mean to you, and what kind of challenges did you face along the way when opening?

I had to do the same thing when I took over Peasant, but it was a little bit of a different situation because I kept it with the same name. Whenever you take over, we'll call it an "iconic" space that's been there for years. People come in there with expectations of continuing to please them in the way that the restaurant did before for 20 years, and I'm not doing the same food as Otto.

I was curious to see what was going to happen with the neighbors and the regulars, but everybody has been coming in, and they're so excited that we are bringing this space back to life. They're calling it their space. They're so excited that it's opened again. I think they were all really depressed when that space was closed. So was I. It's one of those perfect New York City restaurant spaces that I'm very honored and humbled to keep going.

How is One Fifth different from your other restaurants here in the city? And what are you most excited about sharing with your customers in this space?

One Fifth is showcasing the Union Square Farmer's Market as much as possible because it's so close. It's my first restaurant that is so close to Union Square Market. The first seven or eight items are actually vegetarian, which is a new direction for me, and I've been having so much fun with it. We're doing not only dishes but even pasta. We're juicing red peppers and putting them into a dough. We're making the little shell dough out of everything that's green at the market, whether it's spring onion tops or fresh herbs. And the pinza program, which we're very excited to share with New York, is something that I'm doing in conjunction with my dad. He's consulting, and he's been looking for a way to get New Yorkers into eating pinza because he fell in love with it in California. So far, the reaction's been great.

Speaking of pinza, what has it been like working with your dad on this project?

It's been great. Like I said, he's been working on this dough for years, and it's been really fun for myself, the chefs, the cooks, and everybody. We've now been making the dough for about two months, and we've already seen it evolve and almost get better and better every week from little things that we find out.

Creating Italian dishes not seen anywhere else

The restaurant combines Italian tradition and New York surroundings. Why is that so important to you for this restaurant?

That's how I grew up. We're focusing this whole restaurant concept on the way that the Forgios eat at home. When we have a holiday or birthday party or something, it's very food-centric. My dad's a chef, I'm a chef, my brother's a chef, my mom's a great cook, [and] my sister's a manager of Peasant, so everybody pitches in and there's food all over the table, and little portions, and it keeps coming out. We don't really sit in the living room; we sit in the kitchen. That's what we wanted to do with One Fifth. That's why I set up the menu the way it is, where you can sit there and order for an hour and get to taste a whole bunch of different things.

When I was there, I had the smoked fettuccine with uni, which was fantastic. What is the trick to incorporating uni in an Italian-style dish like that?

It's funny you brought up the uni. I had somebody say to me the other day that there are things on the menu that [they wouldn't] be able to see anywhere else. I guess I don't think about it too much because I've been a chef for a while. We have these beautiful baby trout that nobody else is serving that size, and the original extra virgin olive oil gelato. We're using veal tongue in the vitello tonnato. The reason I'm bringing all this up is because the uni, for example, was brought to us by one of our purveyors, and when we tasted it, we built a dish around it, which is what Italians do — take something that you really like, and you figure out how to make it shine.

Another dish that sounds very interesting is the duck in the jar. What's the preparation behind something like that?

The duck in a jar is literally, not to be redundant here, but a family recipe that I've been making for years. In particular, for Christmas, I used to make it for my grandmother, who is no longer with us, but we always have some type of duck liver or foie gras mousse. The way that we make it is like a straightforward pate — duck livers, a little foie gras, shallots, heavy cream — and then we serve it with the very Italian American giardiniera.

Marc Forgione is a big fan of sourdough

Sourdough comes into play with many of your dishes, especially when you make pizza. I'm curious how that came into play with your cooking, and why do you feel sourdough works so well with making pizza?

Yeah, my pizza at Peasant is sourdough. We stuff sourdough with the duck in a jar actually, and every once in a while, we do sourdough pasta. I love the flavor; I love that little tang. I got bit by the sourdough bug like every other chef during COVID when we had to do stuff at home because we didn't have restaurants, and it stuck with me.

So it was during COVID when you really started playing around with sourdough?

Yeah, I've always liked sourdough, but I've never played with it the way I did during COVID. You can ask my wife, trust me. I kind of turned my kitchen into a bakery and had a lot of fun with it.

On Instagram, you were doing something interesting with basil breadcrumbs, which look really tasty. Can you talk a bit about why that's special to you and why people should be trying it?

It's a nice way to incorporate the fresh basil flavor as opposed to using the leaves. It actually holds for quite some time if you make it the right way. You can always go back to it or take it out of the freezer if you freeze it, and it adds a little crunch as well, which I always like in my dish.

What do you mean, going about it "the right way"? Is there a specific tip or trick to do it?

You never let it get hot. The green will turn brown.

His time on The Next Iron Chef and possible other TV projects

We have to talk a little bit about "Iron Chef." I know it's been a little while, but what was it like being on TV and getting that recognition? Has that continued to impact your career path?

I decided to go on "The Next Iron Chef," I'll be honest with you, not really thinking that I was going to win. I went on to get more people to eat at my restaurant, and that's the God's honest truth, I can tell you. I got on, and the rest is history [since I won] it. Everyone that was close to me and everybody that was a regular at the restaurant at that time knew how good, not me, but knew how good we were. That was a way to introduce what we did back then and what we do now at Restaurant Marc Forgione to a much broader audience. It's been off to the races ever since.

Do you have any other TV projects in the works coming up that you're able to talk about?

No, I don't currently have any shows or anything like that. I've got my hands full with the restaurants.

Would you ever do something else like that again down the line?

I never say never. If the right thing came about, why not?

You've also been helping out with City Meals for about 30 years. Why is that organization important to you?

I do as many charities as I can — in particular, City Meals on Wheels. There's nothing worse than not being able to feed yourself or get food to your house, and as a chef, it's a no-brainer: getting delicious meals sent to people that can't get them.

I recently saw you on NBC New York Live talking about One Fifth. Are you planning on doing any other TV appearances in the future?

Whenever there's an opening, there are always TV opportunities. As they come, depending on what they are, why not?

Marc Forgione on cooking for other big-name chefs

You've had a lot of big-name chefs come into your other restaurants, including Mike Lanham from Gramercy Tavern. Are there any chefs that have come in that made you starstruck or any chefs that you are hoping maybe will come to One Fifth?

I love cooking for my peers and the other chefs. So far, since we've been open, we've had Eric Ripert come in already, and Alfred Portale came in to say hello. I feel bad; I'm probably forgetting some people here. But I love cooking for other chefs. Growing up in the business, I always respect and understand how hard it is to be a chef in this business. Whenever they come in, I always do my best to make them feel welcome.

Do you ever get nervous cooking for another chef?

The only chef I get nervous cooking for would probably be my dad.

What is your go-to dish and drink that you have at home? What's your favorite thing, if you have a favorite thing?

In the summertime, we do pizza nights. I have a little three-year-old dude. I bring home the dough and we make some pizza. In the winter, I love a good Southern-style ragu, where we braise the meat first and it takes all day to make it. It makes Sunday fun when it gets cold out. Put the football game on, and we'll serve the pasta first and then the meat. It makes a whole meal, and it takes all day to do it, which is fun and Sonny helps to do it.

One Fifth is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are available via Resy, with tables held for walk-ins. To learn more, please visit One Fifth's website and follow One Fifth on Instagram.

This interview has been edited for clarity.