Bryan Forgione, the new executive chef at Society Café in Encore, took over when Kim Canteenwalla left to open his own Summerlin restaurant, Honey Salt, and so far, the transition looks and feels entirely seamless.
Outwardly, not much has changed at Society. It’s still a three-meal restaurant, and many of the dishes developed by Canteenwalla still grace the menu. But Forgione, a bright and articulate 32-year old Culinary Institute of America graduate, is already putting his personal imprimatur on several dishes. He’s tweaking Society’s well-loved meatballs (which you’ll still be able to find at Honey Salt) with fresh ricotta cheese, for instance, and is adding a heady spice rub to the pastrami he uses in sandwiches.
Looking deeper, Forgione has quite a pedigree. Both of his parents also attended the CIA, and his father, Larry, is one of the truly iconic chefs of the baby-boomer generation. Larry put several dishes into the American food culture, including cedar-planked salmon and the commonplace free-range chicken, an ingredient he pioneered that is now almost de rigueur in serious restaurants.
Bryan’s brother Marc has a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City. His other brother Sean is currently training with Larry in Napa. The boys’ mother, who has a Czech background, is, Bryan says, an “incredible home cook.” And we should mention that in spite of his age, he has two teenage kids. “I started young,” he says, shrugging away my astonishment.
I asked the chef to discuss a single topic and its origins, and his insights were sharp, concise and valuable: “Everything I know about kitchen life, I learned from my family,” he says. First, though, he defined what is meant by kitchen life; “Kitchen life isn’t just cooking. You have to know how to run a kitchen, relate to your staff and manage your time.”
He cited four basic rules, each learned from different family members.
From his father, he says he learned to respect the ingredients. “When my father was the chef at New York’s River Café, he sourced the best ingredients.” Bryan then presented me with calamari from Point Judith, Rhode Island, to prove his point—deftly fried rings and tentacles laced with sport peppers. This must be, for the record, the best calamari in the city.
Mom taught him to cook with love. “Our family dinners were incredible. My mother did amazing meatballs, roast chicken and berry shortcake, the James Beard recipe.” (Beard was a family friend, as a matter of fact. Bryan called him “Grandpa Yoda.”)
Marc, with whom he maintains a healthy, noncombative sibling rivalry, taught him not to take himself too seriously. “I’ve always worked in a mellow kitchen, one where the atmosphere was relaxed. Having fun with the food is truly important,” Bryan says.
And, finally, it was Bryan’s children who taught him to find balance in his life. “It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by this job, but you have to make time for the really important things, like your family,” he says. “I love my days off just as much as my work.” Let that be a lesson to you, too.