Dining

The Tastemakers: Michael Chernow

The owner of The Meatball Shop and Seamore's talks food, family and his new TV show
Photo: Alex Stein
Michael Chernow

Welcome to The Tastemakers, a series in which we ask top culinary talents a few questions about the world of food and drink.

If you've ever had the pleasure of diving into a warm, saucy bowl of meatballs at one of The Meatball Shops in NYC, you'll understand why co-owner Michael Chernow has become a culinary force to be reckoned with.

After working for years in an Italian restaurant and falling in love with the comforting cuisine, Chernow opened the first Shop in 2010 with his partner, Daniel Holzman. Since then, he has helped to open five more locations, launched NYC seafood hot spot Seamore's and starred in FYI's new TV series Food Porn. But when we asked which of his accomplishments in 2015 he was most excited about, Chernow was quick to answer: "the birth of my son."

We chatted with Chernow about his year in food, what's in his fridge and what's to come for him in 2016.

How did you get started in the industry, and what made you realize that you wanted to work in food?

"It started when I was about 13 years old, and I was delivering food on the Upper East Side. From the beginning, I was really passionate about people, and food was a way to get to them. Food and people just go together.

I opened up the first Meatball Shop on February 9, 2010. I had worked in an Italian restaurant in the East Village for about eight years, and in that restaurant, there was always this amazingly delicious dish called the rigatoni ragù—basically, just pasta with meatballs and sausage. I ate that rigatoni ragù, sans the rigatoni, every day for eight years. So if there's ever a question about my passion for meatballs, that's where it all started."

What are a few items that are always in your fridge?

"Apples, Greek yogurt, eggs, seltzer, Sir Kensington's ketchup and kale. I'm a super-healthy guy (when I'm not on the road shooting Food Porn)."

Who is the person you most admire in the food industry?

"Danny Meyer. I just feel like his philosophy and his general point of view are things that I aspire to. I read his book early in my career, and it totally inspired me to be the leader I hope to be. I'd just love to follow in his footsteps. And his partner, Richard Coraine, is like my restaurant uncle and my mentor—I run everything by him. Really that whole group has helped pave the path for me, even though I never worked for Danny. Everything about him has just been a big driving force for me."

What ingredient or dish are you tired of seeing on menus?

"There is a dish that I think is kind of cliché, but I just served it at my restaurant, so I can't say that! So I'd have to go with carpaccio. Tuna, beef, whatever. It's tired."

What is the worst job that you've ever held in the food industry?

"I was a dishwasher and a busboy at this hard-core Mexican restaurant on the Upper East Side as a kid, and it was just pretty gut-wrenching."

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What's the most exciting thing you've done in the last year?

"I had a son. So that's pretty incredible.

And I shot a TV show and opened a new restaurant, so it's been a pretty big year."

What do you cook for yourself when you don't feel like cooking anything?

"Typically, I'll take some almond milk or yogurt and mix it with oats—that's really my go-to when I don't feel like doing anything. Or I'll just order in. But I'm typically never at home, so that's a very rare occasion."

What do you like to drink after a long day, if anything?

"I'm not much of an alcohol drinker, but I am launching a new beverage brand called Well Well, and it's really pretty delicious stuff. It's watermelon juice with cherry and lemon, so I actually drink that all the time. We're launching soon, and I'm excited for people to try it."

If you had to give up meatballs or seafood for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

"Oh, that's a really tough question. But, honestly, I could live without meat. Seafood is my favorite thing!"

What are you most excited about in the coming year?

"I mean, so much has just happened to me in 2015 that it's crazy to even think about next year. I guess I would say the potential of opening up another restaurant. I'll probably end up opening up one more Seamore's, but I don't have anything on paper yet."

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